Some blocks are graced by quaint two-bedroom, one-story rowhouses — with small front yards, tiny porches and peaked roofs. These houses have become the latest focus in a clash throughout New York between homeowners who want to develop their properties to the limits allowed by law, and preservationists lobbying for stronger laws to protect those properties from development.
The preservationists argue that single-family rowhouses imbue some neighborhoods — particularly in Queens — with their essential character. But under existing zoning laws, there is no specific designation for single-family rowhouses that provides protection against increasing the number of units, or against out-of-scale and out-of-character expansions.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” said Richard Hellenbrecht, the vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella association of more than 100 community groups. “Lovely, affordable homes being squeezed out by monstrosities.”
The architecture is secondary, said Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant from Flushing. “What it is is affordable rowhouses of modest means, and for people of modest means.”
“It’s stuff worth protecting,” he said. “We’re talking about the basic character of a neighborhood.”
Ms. Lin — unwittingly, she says — thrust herself into the center of the debate soon after buying her rowhouse at 146-15 56th Road for $558,000 in 2013. She had started to renovate, but quickly determined that it would make more sense financially to tear the house down and build a bigger place.
It also made logistical and emotional sense: She wanted a home big enough to house not only her two young children but also her father and brother.
Melinda Katz, a Democrat and the Queens borough president, has vowed to press for protections for single-family rowhouses.
“The rowhouses and the communities that form around that are so important to our future,” she said in an interview. “We value the low-density portion of our neighborhoods.”
“Where will our parents live when they come over from China?” asked Lin Xin, an employee with a contracting firm that had been involved in several of the projects in Queensboro Hill. “Why do you think we work so hard? Why do we scrimp and save? This is why. We want to be reunited with our families. We want to sit around the same table together.”