BRINGING THE ZONING LAWS OUT OF THE DARK AGES - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 1998 Juniper Berry Magazine

BRINGING THE ZONING LAWS OUT OF THE DARK AGES

JPCA and elected officials protest 7-11

Much has been written and many discussions have been held about the proposed 7-Eleven going up on Eliot Avenue in Middle Village. There are many reasons why this site is totally inappropriate for a 24 hour 7-Eleven. Many of these reasons revolve around the fact that Our Lady of Hope is just across the street, and this church has a school located on its grounds. The immediate area surrounding the site is densely populated with residences that are home to many senior citizens and working families. Moreover, Eliot Avenue as it stands now is a very dangerous right of way. From June to December 1997, on Eliot Avenue, between 69th and 74th Streets there were approximately 31 reported traffic accidents, and that is without a 7-Eleven. The placement of a 7-Eleven on this site, represents a clear and present danger to the health, safety and well being of every man, woman and child living in Middle Village. We simply don't need a 24 hour 7-Eleven creating even more traffic nightmares, especially when we have children crossing the avenue to their school, people living just across the street, as well as senior citizens walking to church. If that weren't enough, our community would have to contend with the extra noise, and garbage, from the 7-Eleven, which would further detract from our quality of life.

This type of situation, where a developer builds a structure on a site against the best interests of the community, unfortunately happens all the time. As examples, we have the planned Home Depot/Sports Authority, going up on Woodhaven Boulevard off Metropolitan Avenue, the 74th Street Shopping Center off Grand Avenue, as well as the proposed mega-movie complex that was planned by Forest City Ratner, near the Home Depot site. Developers have always been able to get around the zoning laws. Whether it was building their mega-stores below ground as in the case of the 74th Street Shopping Center and the Metro-Mall, or claiming their stores are classified not as mega-complexes but as hardware stores as in the case of Home Depot, developers are now armed with various schemes, designed to thwart community disapproval of their actions. What our community needs is a permanent solution to this problem. We need relief from uncaring and unscrupulous developers seeking to make a profit out of the lessening of our quality of life. What we need is a zoning law that takes into account mega-structures like Home Depot, and considers an application to build a 24-hour convenience store, separate from the typical corner deli. In short, we need new zoning regulations.

All too often decisions affecting how we live are made by individuals who haven't even heard of Middle Village, Rego Park, Elmhurst or Forest Hills. Many of these decisions involve whether a store is suitable for a certain neighborhood. It is my belief that we must bring back these all-important zoning decisions to the community that is affected by the plan. If Forest City Ratner plans to build a mega-mall off Metropolitan Avenue, why can't my local elected officials, my community board, my civic organizations, and even myself, have some say as to whether this site is appropriate. It is very clear to me that these organizations and individuals should, within a reasonable time period. It's just plain common sense, and it's the right thing to do.

The planning, development, and construction of a mega-mall should all be grist for the mill of community debate. If a developer decides to put a super-store across from my house, is this developer not in fact taking my land away from me. If I paid $50,000.00 for my house when I bought it, and after the store's construction, I then get an offer of $10,000.00, hasn't the inherent value of my land been taken away without just compensation? The people who wrote the zoning laws never envisioned stores like Home Depot or Sports Authority or 7-Eleven. These laws not only must be revised to address modern shopping trends, they must also be revised to address modern community concerns. One of the most important community issues is adequate parking for store patrons. All too often we see structures going up in our neighborhood without sufficient parking for store users. For instance, how can a mega-movie theater be built without adequate parking for its patrons? Look no further than the Midway Movie Theater on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills. How can a mega-nightclub be built adjacent to a residential neighborhood, with no originally planned parking site? Look no further than Calypso City Nightclub in Richmond Hill. If a community had a more definite say in site development, this issue would have been addressed.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not against business development within New York City. I simply think that some planned construction sites are inappropriate locations for the structures envisioned upon them. I can think of many mega-stores in Queens that were built in great locations, minimizing the impact on their community residents. The Price Club in Long Island City, and the Home Depot in Flushing are two examples of mega-stores built in industrial areas that are thriving and not harming anyone's quality of life. There are appropriate places in our City for the mega-stores, 24-hour stores, and huge movie houses, just not in densely populated residential neighborhoods. Once the zoning laws are permanently changed to allow for more community involvement, everyone in Middle Village, Rego Park, Elmhurst, and Forest Hills as well as elsewhere will breathe a sigh of relief.