Increasing Density Not So Easy In Queens

<p>A major rezoning in Jamaica, Queens, to allow more jobs and housing, up to six stories, is cautiously supported by some community boards, and opposed outright by others.</p>
August 27, 2007, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"...A 368-block rezoning plan had been approved by the City Council's Land Use Committee, making final approval a near certainty. The plan would allow hotels and office towers in the center of Jamaica, add a corridor of six-story buildings to Hillside Avenue, and cap development in some residential areas. Though most residents are still hazy about how the plan would affect them, community activists have split over one central question: Can density bring good things to a neighborhood?"

"The rezoning - the largest such proposal to date under the Bloomberg administration - is part of a larger city strategy that would build up secondary business districts in all five boroughs. Jamaica is already a transit hub: Commuters flood into the Long Island Rail Road terminal on workdays, scattering to bus and subway lines, and another stream arrives on the AirTrain, which provides a link to Kennedy Airport. By allowing commercial development in areas now zoned for manufacturing, officials expect to bring 9,600 jobs and 5,200 residences to the area.

Local critics, especially those from the leafy neighborhoods north of Hillside Avenue, have protested that the area's sewers, schools and parking spaces are already overloaded. Planners originally allowed for 12-story buildings along the Hillside corridor, but reduced the maximum height to seven stories in negotiations with the City Council. But even that influx could be "horrendous," said Mark J. Lefkof, chairman of Community Board 8, which represents Briarwood and Jamaica Estates, among other neighborhoods.

"Queens is houses," he said, adding that the plan was devised by "people who are Manhattanites, that don't understand the makeup of the communities and the makeup of Queens as an outer borough. We do not have walls of buildings".

"The board voted unanimously against the rezoning in March.

Planners got a friendlier response from Community Board 12, which represents Jamaica, South Jamaica, Hollis and St. Albans. Ms. Black, the board's chairwoman, said her constituents were willing to support the plan after being reassured that they would not be required to sell their property under eminent domain and that sections of one- and two-family homes would be preserved. The difference in responses, she said, has to do with "socioeconomic status."

"Over here, we're in a blighted area which needed to be overhauled and stimulated for the past 40 years," she said. She said she hoped the plan would usher in "quality living, as I was exposed to when I came to this neighborhood in 1962. Most of us came from Brooklyn, from Harlem, from the South, for the express purpose of getting a little strip of land with some trees."

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Published on Saturday, August 25, 2007 in The New York Times
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