In 2007, at the request of Councilwoman Melinda Katz, the Department of City Planning (DCP) initiated a series of contextual rezonings in the central Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. The action was largely motivated by concern among neighborhood residents over a steady influx of new development that they believed was out of scale and character with the area’s existing architecture. DCP has instituted the changes in three stages:
Forest Hills South Rezoning
The downzoning of this 41-block, predominately residential district in the neighborhood’s southern end was approved by the City Council in October 2007. The new zoning restricts development on most blocks to one- and two-family detached houses (which have traditionally dominated the neighborhood) and institutes additional requirements regarding the size of front and side lawns.
Special Forest Hills District Rezoning
A rezoning of Forest Hills’ primary commercial district, a 10-block area centered around Queens Boulevard and Austin Street, received City Council approval in March 2009. The new regulations encourage the development of larger ground-floor retail and community spaces along the thoroughfares, open up Austin to previously banned residential development, and eliminate heavy commercial uses (such as auto repair shops).
Cord Meyer-Forest Hills Rezoning
This plan to rezone the Cord Meyer section of northern Forest Hills is still pending. In recent years, a number of the area’s traditional Tudor, colonial, and Cape Cod-style homes have been demolished to make way for larger, contemporary brick mansions.
Existing zoning already restricts development to detached, single-family houses, but the new regulations (modeled on the zoning changes proposed for North Flushing) would introduce building height restrictions, prohibit owners from paving over front yards, and eliminate a loophole that exempts an entire floor from Floor-Area Ratio calculations if it includes a garage.
The proposal has pitted older neighborhood residents against Cord Meyer’s growing community of Bukharian Jews, who argue that they need bigger homes to accommodate their multi-generational families and have threatened legal action if the changes are enacted. Queens Community Board 6 and Borough President Helen Marshall, however, have already approved the plan, and the City Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for April 22, 2009.