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Flushing residents question plans for ‘one-family’ home

From the Queens Examiner:

Residents in Flushing are getting increasingly frustrated with a lack of details about a one-family, eight-bedroom home under construction at the corner of 157th Street and 33rd Avenue.

Plans for the home also call for ten bathrooms, and residents are concerned that will result in eight en suites with two extra bathrooms in two common areas, signifying plans for a possible rental or Airbnb listing.

But efforts to get a detailed look at the plans beyond the zoning diagram containing dimensions of the home and lot coverage on the Department of Building’s (DOB) website have proved fruitless, residents say.

“I hired an expediter to go to Borough Hall to look at the plans,” said Janet McCreesh, president of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association (BFHA). “He went three times over an eight-week period, but was told the plans weren’t there.”

The zoning diagram on DOB’s website shows a home with two floors, as well as an attic and cellar, all permitted in a one-family home under the current zoning of the neighborhood.

But State Senator Tony Avella says that even with an extended family living under one roof, the home is unusually large.

“That is still a lot of bathrooms and bedrooms,” he said during a rally outside the home last week, before conceding, “it may be out of character, but under current zoning laws it would still be legal.

“Part of the problem is the lack of transparency from DOB,” he added.

The original plans for the home were approved in the fall of 2016, and then amended in December, at which time the front entrance to the home was changed from 157th Street to 33rd Avenue. Since then, residents say they have been unable to get a look at detailed floor plans for the home.

A DOB spokesperson said the amended December plans were sent to Avella’s office, and since then the only changes made were that some of the tubs in the bathrooms were replaced with stand-up showers.

But a spokesperson for Avella said the plans that were sent to their office in December were the original plans approved in September, and efforts to reach out to DOB for more details on the new plans with the entrance on 33rd Avenue have been ignored.

When a DOB spokesperson was informed that the plans sent to Avella’s office in December were the September plans and not the amended December plans as they previously stated, the spokesperson only replied that any elected official or member of the public who wished to view the plans could visit the agency’s Queens office at Borough Hall.

The site first got the attention of neighbors in January of 2016, when BFHA and Avella’s office organized a rally to protest the demolition of the home that once stood at 33-05 157th Street.

They argued that it was just part of a larger destruction of their neighborhood, which residents have been trying for years to get the city to recognize as a historic district to preserve its character.

“We changed the zoning to protect it and there are deed restrictions, but you can see that’s it’s not working,” said urban planner Paul Graziano, who is running this year to represent the area in the City Council. “[Landmarking] is the only thing that will prevent this slow-motion train wreck from happening.”

While the city refuses to landmark the neighborhood, which is on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places, Avella has introduced a bill in Albany that would empower residents to request the creation of an “architectural district.”

Under Avella’s proposal, an architectural district would provide greater protections than zoning, but would not require that neighborhoods meet the higher threshold a historic district requires.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission would be required to review each application and determine whether the request has merit.

“Broadway-Flushing is a perfect example of a neighborhood that continues to lose its aesthetic value, home by home, while the commission refuses to grant it the necessary protections,” Avella said in a statement when he introduced the bill last year. “LPC’s reluctance to grant historic status has endangered the architectural character of many neighborhoods throughout New York City.”

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