“It's been seven years and we finally have rezoning in Woodhaven,” said Maria Thomson, CB9 member and president of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation.
Thomson and other colleagues have been trying to get the rezoning passed for that long, and have experienced numerous setbacks as they waited for the board's approval.
“The first hurdle has finally been reached,” she added.
The plan now moves to the Queens Borough President who has 30 days to give her opinion it. The City Planning Commission then votes on the proposed changes and before it reaches the City Council, where the deciding vote will take place.
The entire rezoning area is bound by Park Lane South to the north, Eldert Lane to the west, the Van Wyck Expressway to the east, and 103rd Avenue to the south. It includes 78 blocks in the neighborhood of Woodhaven and 151 blocks in Richmond Hill.
The proposed rezoning would reinforce the area’s one- and two-family low-density residential character, and direct new mixed-use development to major corridors, including Jamaica and Atlantic avenues. The department hopes that the zoning changes will transform those two corridors to provide greater scale and density for buildings.
The proposal would also update commercial overlay zones to support economic development along commercial corridors and ensure that business uses won’t encroach on residential uses on area side-streets.
According to DCP spokesperson Brendan Pillar, the rezoning of Queens has been a major priority of the city. Since 2002, the department has rezoned 6,000 blocks – almost a quarter of the borough.
Although many residents are in favor of the plan, some critics say that it does not account for areas that show population growth - particularly Richmond Hill - according to the most recent Census data.
The Richmond Hill Economic Development Corporation has voiced concern over the plan.
“The Department of City Planning held two public meetings with RHEDC and is yet to incorporate any of the concerns from the property owners and businesses,” said Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the RHEDC.
He said he has over 2,000 signatures from property owners and businesses in the area who are opposed to the rezoning.
Mahadeo, who calls the plan a downzoning, said that these families and businesses want to be able to build additions to certain buildings to account for the growing population and to allow multiple generations of families to reside in one space.
“RHEDC is concerned that proper outreach to the community by the board and the Department of City Planning is poor and sadly lacking any serious input from the community,” he added.
Thomson said that critics should look at the larger picture.
“It's good for future communities,” she said. “Everybody that moves to Richmond Hill or Woodhaven came here because of the character of the community. They looked around and loved what they saw – homes with backyards, trees in the streets, big Victorians, two-family houses – that’s the character of the community.
“It would be a shame to change what brought them there in first place, to change that character, tear them down and put six little apartments in same location,” Thomson added. “That’s not what you moved here for.”
Mahadeo said that the RHEDC is willing to take legal action against the city if his community's concerns continue to be ignored.
“We have signatures showing that people are against this,” he said. “It would leave us no other choice but to go to court.”