Concerns Over P.S.99, Post Office, And Impact Of Potential Landmarking Draw Large Crowd To Town Hall Meeting

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Proposed Kew Gardens Historic District.

The Town Meeting held Thursday, June 21st, at the Kew Gardens Community Center, drew a large and attentive crowd that came to hear updates on four main topics. The first was what steps have to be taken before an area can be declared a historic landmarks district, as has been proposed for a portion of Kew Gardens, and what effects such a district would have on property owners.

Also on the agenda were proposed changes to P.S. 99, the future of the United States Post Office on Austin Street, and the status of plans to develop the parking lot behind Borough Hall.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the Kew Gardens Improvement Association and the Kew Gardens Civic Association.

The first speaker, Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, outlined the steps that must be taken before a neighborhood can be declared a historic district. The nonprofit group is the prime advocate for New York's existing historic districts and for neighborhoods that it feels merit preservation. Preservation efforts fall beyond the purview of city zoning regulations and landmarking is the only regulatory form of protection, Mr. Bankoff said.

He noted that local efforts to seek historic designation for a swath of Kew Gardens (that extends generally west of Lefferts Boulevard, from Kew Gardens Road to 85th Avenue, with a couple of small areas at the northern end to the east of Lefferts Boulevard,) might take five years or more to be either denied or approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because of a lengthy approvals process that includes public hearings at which supporters and opponents have a chance to have their say. In Douglaston Hills, he noted, the landmarking process took fifteen years. "We're trying to get people educated as to what is involved," he said.

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Dominick Pistone and Simeon Bankoff.

He outlined what would happen if designation is approved, covering such concerns as window replacement, air conditioner installations, and color choices for exterior paint, which would all need approvals by the Landmarks Preservation Commission before the work could move forward. He emphasized, however, that the Commission worked with homeowners to reach a mutually agreeable solution and that applications were usually processed within ten days for smaller projects, and within two months for more complicated applications. Any existing changes already made to the historic character of a house are grandfathered in at the time of landmarking designation.

Mr. Bankoff assured the audience that values in a neighborhood with historic designation are equal to or actually surpass those in neighborhoods that do not have those protections because buyers feel more assured that they are moving into a stable environment. Additional information on landmarking and the landmarking process is available on the Landmarks Preservation Commission web site under, and can also be accessed at the Historic Districts Council website,

Mrs. Leslye Cochran, who has been Co-President of the Parents Association at P.S. 99, introduced the next major item on the evening's agenda: Proposed changes at The Kew Gardens School, P.S. 99.

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Signing in.

Most parents and other advocates want to bring in a pre-K program and to extend grades to include 8th Grade, creating a neighborhood school that our children could attend until they entered high school.

The Principal, however, has not been supportive of the campaign for a pre-K program, although she favors retention of the 6th Grade, which is seriously threatened by the introduction of a District-wide Talented and Gifted program that would ultimately take over the space now occupied by the 6th Graders. Kew Gardens' 6th Graders, would have to take the bus or subway to a Middle School.

Adding to the uncertainty of the school's future facilities are published reports that because of a recently declining enrollment, the Department of Education is considering not renewing the lease on the school's Annex, the Leah Weinberg Early Childhood Center, located at the corner of Kew Gardens Road and Lefferts Boulevard. That building, converted from a parking garage, contains 15 classrooms, the P.S. 99 Main Building has 25 classrooms. A proposed addition to the Annex, on the adjacent vacant lot, could house another 5 classrooms, providing ample space for a pre-K program in the Annex and space for the 7th and 8th grades in the Main Building.

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Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew
Gardens Civic Association, opening meeting.

Carol Berger, whose efforts along with those of Sylvia Hack, accomplished the creation and leasing of the Annex, and who now is fighting for the development of the vacant lot for additional classrooms, spoke of the community's need to preserve its neighborhood school. "It's a wonderful school and we want to keep it that way," she said. Members of the audience were urged to write letters to the Department of Education as well as elected officials to support the pre-K to 8th Grade proposal.

The Thursday night audience also heard Andrea Crawford, counsel to the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, describe the uncertain future of the Post Office on Austin Street. The facility is currently operating under a lease that expires in 2011. Along with other parts of Kew Gardens, the property was downzoned in 2005, when its owners sought unsuccessfully to retain the old zoning that would have permitted an apartment house on the site. Ms. Crawford urged all concerned residents to contact Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, as well as Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks, and ask for legislation that would enable the Federal Government to condemn and purchase the property so that our Austin Street Post Office will be preserved.

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Carol Berger and Leslye Cochran.

On the evening's final note, Sylvia Hack, President of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, gave the audience an update on the 2006 proposal of the New York City Economic Development Corporation to build up to 800,000 square feet of housing and offices, plus a 1,500 student high school, on what is now the parking garage site behind Borough Hall. In response to serious objections raised by KGCA and KGIA relating to the parking problems involved, the tentative proposals have been shelved. New ideas may develop after Kew Gardens' parking problems are further researched; and the EDC has promised to keep the Community informed.

Earlier Articles:
  •   Kew Gardens Community Day (2007)
  •   A Parking Lot Becomes a Flea Market
  •   A Touch of Soho on Austin Street
  •   Kew Gardens Merchants - The Bliss Café
  •   Kew Gardens Lights Up for the Holidays
  •   Queens Borough Hall Garage in Kew Gardens
  •   The House on 116th Street
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday