BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
An early proposal by the Department of City Planning to revamp certain zoning regulations would also remove some parking requirements, to the chagrin of many Queens community leaders.
The plan includes a slew of adjustments to current zoning regulations that the agency believes would together encourage affordable and senior housing and create more attractive buildings.
A major aspect of the plan calls for modernizing zoning laws that were established in 1987. Broadly, the DCP believes regulations in certain districts create tight, ugly buildings, which the agency would address by increasing height maximums five to 15 feet and removing penalties for buildings that are set back from street level, among a number of other changes that Chairman Carl Weisbrod called “very, very modest” at an April 6 media roundtable.
The plan also has a component to address the City’s growing senior population: the DCP proposes relaxing density restrictions on senior housing and eliminating certain special permits for nursing home development.
The parking reduction involves the removal of off-street parking for affordable housing in a “transit zone” – areas in mostly western and southern Queens that are accessible by public transportation. According to the DCP, most low income homes either do not have cars or cannot afford the off-street parking lots provided by their buildings, making those lots a burden on developers. The agency believes eliminating parking requirements would encourage the development of affordable housing.
Community Board leaders, however, were skeptical of these assertions.
“Once again it’s Manhattan-centric,” CB 5 chair Vinny Arcuri said.
In Ridgewood, which falls in the transit zone and which Arcuri’s board covers, “you can’t fit another car on the street on alternate side [street sweeping] days,” he continued. “They’re double and triple parked. So if you reduce the requirements for off-street parking, where are they going?”
CB 10 chair Betty Braton noted that her district, which also lies in the transit zone, is heavily populated by drivers despite being served by public transportation.
Braton explained that she has recently collected commuter Census data for her board and found that “a majority” of CB 10 residents drive to work, opting out of the subway or buses.
CB 2 Chairman Pat O’Brien also responded to a specific element of the DCP’s parking plan: parking reductions for new and existing housing on a case-by-case basis through discretionary review.
“You’ll have to double the staff at the BSA or DOB or whoever’s going to do it, because every one of [the developers] is going to want to do it,” he said.
In a statement released Tuesday, Borough President Melinda Katz reiterated these concerns.
“In a transit desert like the Borough of Queens, the reality for many families is having to rely on cars to get to work,” she said. “For our seniors, we want them to maintain an independent, active quality of living for as long as possible. Our current mass transit system – including subways, buses and Access-A-Ride – is simply insufficient in reliability, frequency and reach to warrant stripping parking requirements.”
Completion of a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the zoning proposal is expected in the spring, and public review will run from the spring through fall. A full rundown of the plan is available at nyc.gov/DCP/AHOUSING.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.