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Low-Rise Co-ops Versus High-Rise Development

Bendix Anderson in Board Operations on June 13, 2019

Douglaston, Queens

Queens Nursing Home

Beech Hills co-op in Douglaston, Queens.

June 13, 2019

There’s a war brewing in northeast Queens. Janice Schreibersdorf, who grew up in the Beech Hills co-op in Douglaston and is now president of the co-op board, never pictured herself on the ramparts. But there she is, ready to do battle. 

“We got a letter from the community board at the end of April,” says Schreibersdorf, describing the war’s opening salvo. That letter revealed a developer’s plan to seek a height variance so it could erect a 15-story assisted-living facility for senior citizens on a wooded hillside near the co-op. “We have kids outside, we have grass,” Schreibersdorf says of the Beech Hills co-op, 816 apartments in two-story buildings sprinkled across 45 acres. “It’s really kind of a suburban thing. The nearest six-story building is a mile away.” 

Eric Palatnik, a lawyer for the developer David Marx, described the planned high-rise to Community Board 11 on May 7. The assisted-living facility would stand between the Douglaston Plaza Shopping Center and the Douglaston Golf Course, rising 164 feet, with room for 200 beds. On the same site, Marx also hopes to build a multi-level parking garage with spaces for 180 cars and a four-story building for medical offices. Current zoning laws allow a maximum height of four stories. 

“The proposed development would provide a quality assisted-living facility for seniors, a vulnerable and underserved population throughout New York City,” Palatnik stated. 

But according to Schreibersdorf, the cost of the proposed facility – $5,000 to $9,000 a month – is beyond the budget of most residents of the neighborhood’s low-rise co-ops. “They’re not taking Medicare or Medicaid,” she says. “This is not for our community. We are very working class, very middle class.” 

The developer also contends that the height of his proposed tower should not be a problem. “The proposed development, although taller than buildings in the surrounding area, is appropriate at this site given its isolated, elevated location, and [it] would not impair the essential character of the neighborhood or cast shadows on neighboring residences,” according to Marx’s proposal. (Representatives of the developer did not respond to a request to comment for this story.) 

Schreibersdorf and her fellow residents disagree with the developer’s claim, and they worry about traffic from the new property. “Google Maps will send all those cars directly through our community to miss all the lights,” she says, adding that the proposed development would “dramatically affect our quality of life.” 

Dozens of residents from Beech Hills and the nearby Deepdale Gardens co-op attended the community board meeting May 7. About 300 residents also came to a second meeting of the community board a month later. “We filled the room,” says Schreibersdorf. “We are jumping in full-steam. We want to make it clear that the community opposes this.” 

Schreibersdorf and her fellow opponents to the project are enlisting allies for what could be a protracted war. They have contacted Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, and city council members Barry Grodenchik and Paul Vallone. They’ve also been in touch with the Presidents’ Co-op and Condo Council, a group that represents more than 100 properties in Queens. Schreibersdorf is the council’s secretary. 

The Beech Hills co-op’s attorney, Geoffrey Mazel, a partner at Hankin & Mazel, says, “Their ultimate goal is to protect the interests of the shareholders and their quality of life. This development would change the character of the neighborhood – by eliminating a wooded area and putting in a 15-story building.” 

Schreibersdorf vows: “We’re going to fight this until we can’t anymore.”

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