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Astoria elected praises rezoning

Astoria leaders said the historic rezoning plan for the neighborhood that was passed by the City Council last week will prevent developers from overshadowing smaller homes in the community with towering buildings.

The Council unanimously passed a plan May 25 that will break down the neighborhood’s two residential zones into more than 60 contextual zones, which encompass 238 blocks. The plan, the first of its kind in Astoria since 1961, will allow for new development in more commercial sections of the community, such as 21st Street and 31st Street.

But it will also impose heights on new buildings being constructed near residential streets.

“There’s no more gray area,” Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said. “Astoria has been saved, it’s a done deal. There are no more exceptions for those developers trying to get their foundations in.”

The councilman said developers have long been putting up buildings out of context with the residential areas of the neighborhood. On some streets, for example, buildings would be set back 15 feet from the sidewalk, while other properties stretched nearly all the way to the curb.

The rezoning plan has been five years in the making.

“The real emphasis behind this was to ensure we had contextual zoning,” Democratic district leader Costa Constantinides said. “Astoria has always been a small middle-class neighborhood with two- and three-family homes. We wanted to make sure that an eight-story building would not pop up next door and change its character.”

The project’s boundaries are 20th Avenue in the north, Steinway Street in the east, Broadway in the south and Vernon Boulevard, 8th and 14th streets and the East River in the west.

Vallone said the plan also encourages “appropriate” development.

“There are provisions that will help merchants,” he said. “Many of the second-floor conversions that exist now were previously illegal. But now it will be allowed. The plan is aimed at more appropriate zoning.”

Currently, areas south of the Grand Central Parkway have high-rise buildings as tall as 20 stories, while portions of Vernon Boulevard and 21st Street have zones with no height limits for buildings.

The rezoning plan limits areas north of the parkway to three stories while it only allows buildings along sections of Steinway Street as well as 23rd and 24th avenues to be four stories. Structures on parts of 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard can have seven-story buildings.

The project will also create commercial zones in the community and encourage the creation of affordable housing, especially near 21st Street, Vernon Boulevard and Newtown Avenue.

“Protecting the character of our residential neighborhoods while providing opportunities for mixed-income housing and new job growth have long been priorities of our administration,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week. “The rezoning of Astoria epitomizes both of these goals, strengthening one of our great neighborhoods.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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