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Animal clinic in Middle Village seeks rezoning

Dr. Thomas seeks to house staff above clinic

By Jessica Meditz
[email protected]

Known for its cornerside navy blue awning and roof with a white picket fence and pet statues, the Animal Clinic of Queens is seeking a makeover.

The clinic, located at 78-46 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village and owned by Dr. Robert Thomas, is slated to undergo a rezoning map amendment, involving the enlargement of the current one-story building with the addition of two stories and two dwelling units.

This rezoning would change the property from an R5 Zoning District to an R5D/C2-3 Zoning District, and will also bring the existing ground floor legal non-conforming Use Group 6 Veterinary Medicine Office use into conformance.

Land use and zoning attorney Sheldon Lobel is handling the case, and his son, Richard Lobel, presented the case for the record at last month’s Community Board 5 meeting.

“Many times, Dr. Thomas and his staff give full time care, including overnight care, to animals. This would allow for convenient 24-hour access to the facility,” Lobel said during the presentation.

The neighboring building, 78-44 Metropolitan Avenue, is also included in this rezoning.

Lobel said that nothing would change pursuant to that property, and it would merely become complying and conforming to city standards.

Thomas’ intention with this proposed rezoning is to allow clinic staff to live above their workplace, as well as maintain the presence of the property in the community.

He added that the two additional stories would be set back roughly 40-feet and 55-feet from Metropolitan Avenue as well as from 79th Street on the north side, meaning they would not change the street view too drastically.

“In short, Dr. Thomas has been a valued member of the community and has provided these services for over 30 years, so this would be a huge benefit to him,” Lobel continued. “I know it’s something that he’s attempted for years in the past, and so this is kind of an opportunity which has presented itself.”

Thomas did not respond to a request for comment as of press time, but he did speak at the CB5 Zoning and Land Use meeting, which was open to the public.

In order for the proposal to be approved and for construction to commence, the plan must be approved by a series of entities as part of the land use review process.

Prior to reaching CB5, seeking their recommendation, the proposal was screened by the Queens City Planning Department.

It will then go to the Department of City Planning, City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards will also have the opportunity to comment.

Walter Sanchez, chair of CB5’s Land Use Committee, noted that the committee and ultimately the full board voted in Thomas’ favor. “The main reason for our request that the city approve the application is that the proposal is not out of character for the next-door buildings or the neighborhood. Dr. Thomas spoke to the adjacent building owners about the project, and he’s been a really good neighbor for the last few decades,” Sanchez said. “We think it looks like a really good improvement to the property, and to us, the setback of the second and third floor shows he cares about his neighbors.”

If all goes according to plan, it is estimated that construction for this rezoning would start in the spring of 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of BQE Media (Queens Ledger). His recent remarks were made in his capacity as chairman of CB 5’s Land Use Committee.

City’s New Top Doctor gives COVID briefing

Dr. Ashwin Vasan has taken over as the city’s top doctor at the two-year mark of the ongoing pandemic.

Officially taking the reins from Dr. Dave Chokshi on March 16, Vasan held his first briefing last week in Queens alongside President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz and Director of NYC Test and Trace Corps, Dr. Ted Long.

“Although it’s only my first week on the job, I understand how important regular communication is with all of you,” Vasan said to the press. “While the losses of the last two years have been profound, we’ve also developed tools in that period that are saving lives, including testing, prevention and new treatments, like antiviral pills.”

“It’s an honor to be the city’s doctor. Something you’ll hear me talk a lot about is the emotional toll that this pandemic has taken on all of us. We have all been through so much over these past two years and continuing uncertainty about the future of COVID can certainly add to the strain on New Yorkers mental health and well being,” Vasan said.

As of March 21, the city’s seven-day and 28-day average positivity rates are trending in the right direction with 1.66 percent and 1.89 percent rates, respectively.

Although he said New York City is currently in a “low-risk environment”, Vasan said he and his team at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is monitoring the presence of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron.

Dr. Celia Quinn said that ‘about 30 percent’ of cases in the city can be attributed to the subvariant, and that while it appears to be more transmissible than other strains of Omicron, it does not appear to cause more severe illness.

“I think the important thing to remember and to emphasize for New Yorkers is that currently, there’s no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe illness, increases risk of hospitalization, or that our current vaccines offer less protection against it,” Vasan said.

With just 55 percent of New Yorkers aged 65 or older who received their booster or additional dose, Vasan and his team stressed the importance of vaccines and reconnecting with health care providers.

As some mask mandates have been relaxed in city schools and other places, Vasan and Katz hesitated to say what it would take to lift a workplace vaccine mandate.

“People who have tried to predict what’s going to happen in the future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face, as they say, and I’m not going to do that here today,” he said.

Dr. Katz added, “Nobody has suggested that we should, you know, because polio levels are so low, we should say that schoolchildren shouldn’t be vaccinated for polio. I think vaccine mandates have a long and important history in public health.

“If you have childhood vaccinations, then everybody grows up to be vaccinated. So it turns out to be irrelevant, right? The point of childhood vaccinations is by doing it at childhood, you’re giving the person maximum benefit. And then they grow up as a whole cohort of people who are fully vaccinated.”

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