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Queens Chronicle

Bayside Rezoning Proponents Cheer Comm. Board 11 Vote

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Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2005 12:00 am

After two years of planning and nearly four hours of heated argument, the controversial, newly revised downzoning plan for Bayside was passed by Community Board 11 on Monday night.

Hundreds of homeowners, architects and concerned citizens came out to MS 158 in Bayside for the long-awaited vote on the zoning proposal that is designed to decrease the density of houses and limit the types of dwellings in the area.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Councilman Tony Avella, the chief initiator of the proposal. “We were always hopeful the board would vote this way and we are going to move ahead expeditiously. We will also continue to take a look at the unintended consequences.”

The “unintended consequences” was the primary argument against the new R2A designation. The most significant reasons given for rezoning are the overdeveloped homes, called “McMansions” and the multifamily dwellings that are replacing single-family houses on large pieces of property.

While most would agree that changes to the current zoning regulations are vital to maintaining the character of the Bayside community, those opposed to the proposal feel that revisions within the current plan can be made to correct the loopholes.

“I’m a homeowner in Bayside and I understand and agree that we do not want these ‘Jolly Green Giant’ atrocities in our neighborhood,” said John Anastasi, one of many architects who came out to voice their opposition. “But what they are doing is unconstitutional. We should not be told that we cannot build an extension to our homes or that we are not allowed to have a 10-foot ceiling. All they did tonight was put a Band-Aid on an infected wound.”

The proposal to rezone the Bayside area began two years ago when many constituents of Avella’s filed grievances regarding the various detached and semidetached one- and two-family homes that were being replaced by new semidetached or attached structures with multiple units, and oversized structures that were out of character with the community.

As the Bayside area last underwent zoning changes in 1961, Avella, who is also chairman of the zoning subcommittee of the City Council, commissioned urban planning consultant Paul Graziano to do a complete study of the zoning of the 350-block district. The city Department of Planning was notified and included in working out the details.

“The key was not to have political interference,” Graziano said. “We wanted this to be about the community, not the political heavy hands who have ruled in the past. We believe we have developed a plan that puts strength and power in the homeowners.”

The ultimate goal, according to Graziano, is for this plan to become a first step in a long line of rezoning changes across Northeast Queens, ranging from College Point to Douglaston. This design would be a framework.

John Young, Queens director of City Planning, explained the major provisions of the new designation. The new district would apply bulk, height and setback controls, while still allowing expansion of existing homes. The maximum height any building wall could have would be reduced from 25 to 21 feet, developers would only be allowed to build on 30 percent of the property, there would be an allowance of .5 FAR (floor to area ratio), and a maximum of 300 square feet for a garage at the lowest floor level.

After a long night in which 32 members of the community read statements and asked questions, and several other board members participated in both amiable and heated discussions, CB 11 eventually voted on two proposals. The first was an application to change the zoning map with recommendations from the board that R1-2 be excluded, which passed 24-7.

The second was for the approval of R2A with three conditions the board recommended, including that the height of the perimeter wall be changed from 21 to 23 feet, that gable roof designs be allowed, and that City Planning agree to fine-tune the designation based on the wishes of the community and with the assistance of the American Institute of Architects. The vote passed 24-8.

Paul DiBenedetto, a Bayside resident and community activist, was extremely pleased with the board’s decision. “My goal is to keep the old homes here. These mansions are a blight to the old homes of Bayside. They steal our daylight, our fresh air, our trees.”

CB 11 was not always on board with R2A. In fact, on November 16th, its Zoning Committee recommended to the full board that it turn down the plan. However, parts of the proposal were reworked to correct potential loopholes, which may have been taken advantage of by developers. While many agreed that the final proposal is an improvement over the previous ones, several architects, board members and residents were upset about the timing of the vote.

“A lot of people want this done in the daylight, not smacked between Christmas and New Years, which is kind of like planning in August when everyone is on vacation,” said James Rodgers, first vice-chairman of CB 11.

Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, agreed. “This is an election play for Tony Avella. They gave us 69 pages of technical data and gave us no time to review it. Basically what they are telling us is ‘Trust us, we know what’s good for you.’”

He continued: “If the process is flawed, the result is flawed. I really wish (the board members) would have thought about the implications carefully before acting.”

Several others objected to the plan as well, including Loretta Napier, third vice chairperson of CB 11, who stated that she should be able to do what she wants with her investment, Peter Boudavis, engineer and former Assembly candidate, who believes that the R2A designation does not address property values, and William Gati, president of the Queens Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who said that the zoning changes do not deal with the basis of the problem, “ugly buildings that are too large for their context.”

While both Avella and Young declined to wait 30 to 60 days for additional review, both said that they would be willing to listen and that more changes may be made in the future. The councilman added that he volunteered to meet with many of architects in attendance months ago, but that they never called back.

As CB 11’s approval is simply an advisory vote, the next step for R2A will be a review by the borough president and ultimately a decision by the city.

Welcome to the discussion.