NY Guyanese oppose rezoning of Richmond Hill

Dear Editor,

Residents of Richmond Hill are opposing a move by New York City zoning officials to downzone the area making it difficult to expand one’s home or build large homes.  This will prevent families from expanding their living space or having adequate space for worshipping in mandirs, masjids and churches.

A public hearing was held on Wednesday evening in Richmond Hill on the proposed rezoning of the Richmond Hill area. The Queens Zoning Board plans to downgrade the area making it virtually impossible to construct multi-dwelling units on certain blocks. The rezoning emphasizes keeping the one and two-family houses ending other multiple dwelling units that had existed prior to Guyanese settling in the area.

At the public forum, Guyanese spokespersons complained about the lack of interest shown in the proposals advanced by area residents for balanced development. Their proposals were not given consideration. This was the sixth in a series of meetings at which the Guyanese community expressed their dissent for the proposed changes.  However, as community leaders complained on Wednesday evening, the zoning board has ignored their opposition to the downzoning of the area and has not included their suggestions on how to deal with the shortage of housing in the area among the growing immigrant population.  It is felt that the area is downzoned primarily because of the changing faces in the community with the area losing its Italian and Irish dominance.

The public forum was organized by the Richmond Hill Economic Development Corporation led by activist Vishnu Mahadeo. This gentleman should be applauded for his work for he is one of the few who is taking on the battle to have fair zoning in the community and who is also an advocate for other rights for the community.

The community leaders at the forum expressed concerns that the proposed downzoning for the majority of properties in the area of focus will not allow exemptions for religious institutions.  There are a dozen temples and a few masjids and churches serving the Guyanese community in the area.  Vishnu Mahadeo told the planning representatives that the Guyanese community “is now evolving from the basement and house temples to the more established looking mandirs, mosques and gurdwaras.“

Other community advocates also spoke on the impact of the downzoning on the social and economic structure of Richmond Hill. Attorney Albert Baldeo lashed out at the zoning commissioners and leaders of District 9 for not respecting the views of Richmond Hill community leaders. Darmin Bachu, a lawyer and chairman of the RHEDC, said: “Immigrants want to move in here, and they want as much housing as they can get. They want to celebrate this place in large numbers, and the business community wants the highest zoning it can get.”

It is felt that the area should be upzoned to allow for high rise buildings to accommodate the growing population.  The city stands to benefit with higher property tax if the area is rezoned and development is allowed.  Speakers told the Board that rezoning should provide for much needed housing opportunities.  It is noted that the downgrading will impact on investment and affect the surroundings of the area, taking away much needed jobs and space for community get-togethers.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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