The Holliswood Civic Association has and has had an effect on the quality of life that we enjoy in our neighborhood. The following is intended to provide a short HISTORICAL enumeration of some of the Association’s efforts on behalf of its members and the residents of Holliswood.
Changes in Zoning
In travelling through Holliswood, has it ever struck you that on many streets, there are large stately trees and picturesque plots of land. This rather bucolic picture is sometimes disturbed by the presence of houses that seem to be crowded together.
To prevent this pattern from being replicated, the Holliswood Civic Association undertook and spearheaded an effort to have the zoning for our area changed so that a minimum of 60 foot frontage and a depth of 95 foot would be required known as R1-2 District. The motivation behind this was the recognition that many builders were buying larger plots in Holliswood, and placing as many homes as possible on what had been a single frontage. For example, on Romeo Court, the planned building of two homes on an oversized lot was limited in the midst of foundation excavation by the following change in zoning (The builder voluntarily built one house to comply with the zoning).
The Association initiated this change by filing the necessary request with the City Planning Commission. Many of the current board members and other residents testified at the Community Board 8 hearing in support of this zoning amendment. The City Planning Department supported the amendment explaining that It would further the existing patterns of the neighborhood which is countrified with its winding streets few sidewalks and different elevations. In reporting on this zoning change, THE QUEENS LEDGER stated many members of the Holliswood Civic Association spent much time and energy to have their area rezoned. The civic association was the coordinator of this activity. This is why there are civic associations.
In 2003, Amanda Burden, Director of New York City Planning Commission and John Young, Director of Queens Borough Planning Commission engaged in a walking tour of Holliswood in response to our request for a zoning amendment. On June 17, 2003 the City Council adopted the Holliswood Rezoning. The zoning map changes are now in effect.
The Battle against Variances from the Zoning Amendment
After the above zoning amendment became effective, some owners attempted to avoid its application to their properties by seeking a variance. In short, this procedure requires several filings with governmental agencies, the last of which is a presentation before the Board of Standards and Appeals. This Board has the legal authority to grant a variance and allow an owner to avoid the limitations of a particular zoning rule. The owner of the property at 85-78 and 85-82 Santiago Street initiated the process to have a variance granted to allow for the construction of two residences, which would have frontage less than required by the zoning.
Members of the Civic Association Board appeared six times at the hearing in lower Manhattan to voice the Civic Association’s objection to the granting of this variance because it would nullify the effect of the zoning change and provide precedent for other owners to make similar requests. After several adjournments of the matter, the Board of Standards and Appeals agreed with the Civic Association’s position and denied the application for the variance.
Undaunted on February 7, 2007, the owner then initiated litigation in the Queens Supreme Court to challenge the Board’s decision. In dismissing this litigation, the court stated the granting of the variance would have resulted in the creation of a substandard lot, which is less than the required lot area and frontage and would have produced an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood. Although the petitioner is unable to develop the property without the requested variances, the record reveals that strict application of the zoning ordinance was necessary to promote the public health, safety and welfare, and that the need to promote the public good outweighed the injury to the petitioner ( Zhong v. Sprinivasan, Index 3 20932/2006, Justice Cullen, July 3, 2007).
Preventing a toilet in the McLaughlin Avenue Playground
Most residents are familiar with the playground on McLaughlin Avenue and Francis Lewis when they use the parkway or McLaughlin Avenue. This Playground, which is the smallest in Queens, has been recently renovated and was always considered to be a neighborhood playground close to the larger Cunningham Park area. It has swings, sliding ponds, and various climbing bars for younger children. It also has a sprinkler for use in hot weather.
Ten years ago without Civic Association input, a proposal was put forth to install a bathroom facility at this location. It was to be funded by the discretionary funds available to then Council Member Sheldon Leffler (middle in the photo below, left Mr. Bob Block former President of our Association). When this matter finally became publicly stated, the Civic Association attended a meeting of Community Board 8 and provided many witnesses who testified against this proposal on the grounds of public safety, the absence of any guarantees of adequate staffing, and the possibility that it could be the source of attraction for pedophiles.
Unfortunately, the Community Board voted in favor of the installation of the bathroom. Undaunted, the Civic Association Board went directly to Councilmember Leffler’s office to make their concerns known to him. As a result of the meeting with him, he appeared at the next community board meeting and withdrew the funding of this project and had it applied to the larger Cunningham Park area. In doing so, he made note that he was unaware of the community opposition to this project when he first agreed to fund the restroom at this playground. The Queens Ledger quoted then Council Member Leffler’s reference to the Civic Association’s above meeting with him as follows:
“After I met with and spoke to several representatives from both sides, I thought a great deal about this project.” Leffler said in a letter written to Community Board 8 on January 17th, the same day he met with the Holliswood residents. “Projects such as these should be improvements to communities that are looked forward to by those who reside nearby.” He continued in the letter. “They should not be considered negative actions that are forced on substantial segments of the community.” In an apparent reaction to Leffler’s withdrawal of the funds, the Board sent a letter to Borough President Claire Shulman the next day, urging her to provide funding for the bathrooms. Sources told the Times/Ledger it was unlikely that Shulman would have the money in her coffers to fund the project this year, however.”
Prohibiting your receipt of unrequested circulars
Most of our residents are aware of the fact that the New York statutory law protects them from the unwanted delivery of circulars on their property by placing an appropriate notice on their lawns. Several years before this law was passed, the Civic Association in response to complaints of its members. Because the presence of these circulars is evidence of an owner’s absence, the Civic Association corresponded with various department stores and commercial delivery services to limit their distribution to those residents who wished to receive them, years before the law was passed.
In response to our request, most of these entities voluntarily agreed to provide a telephone number for our members to advise that they no longer wished to receive these circulars. Later this program was no longer needed as New York State provided a means of making this known to a delivery service. Currently, signs prohibiting circulars on private property are available from your Civic Association.
The Future and You
Whatever your personal view on these issues and the Association’s response to them, nobody can reasonably question that our neighborhood is better served by a Civic Association that is active in monitoring the quality of life and responding on behalf of its members to those issues that affect us all and keep our neighborhood the lovely place it is.
The Board needs volunteers to help keep Holliswood as desirable as it is. We welcome any Holliswood resident to join our Board which meets once a month.