In response to the overdevelopment of many Queens neighborhoods, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has initiated a unique zoning study in hopes of preserving the existing residential character of areas in his Northeast Queens district.
“Improper and overdevelopment have seriously eroded the quality of life in Northeast Queens and throughout the city,” Avella said. “Changing the zoning to reflect the actual character of a neighborhood is the best way to prevent such construction.”
The zoning study is being conducted by urban planner Paul Graziano, of Flushing, with cooperation from the Historic Districts Council and a $15,000 grant from the councilman's discretionary funds. Graziano is chairman of the Queens Civic Council's zoning and land use committee.
College Point, Bayside and Douglaston are not unique in being inundated with developers taking advantage of the fact that zoning allows for multifamily dwellings where one-family homes now occupy large lots. The City Planning Commission last did a comprehensive zoning study for all five boroughs in 1961.
“Someone may buy a large home on a big lot not realizing that in the same-sized lot next to them a series of attached two-family houses can be legally constructed,” Graziano said.
The study comparing existing housing in District 19 with the zoning map has already begun. Andy Ippolito, president of the Property Civic Association in Bayside, said the mapping of his area is nearly complete.
“It’s a disaster in our community,” he said. “We’ve had 13 beautiful homes come down in the past year. The zoning is too high for the houses sitting on the land.”
Gerry DePaola, president of the Robinwood Property Owners Association, which is near the Throgs Neck Bridge, is eager to have the 10 square blocks of his community down-zoned.
“We have six Queensmarked homes here,” he said. “Many of the Tudor-style houses in our area are from 100 to 150 years old.”
Many of the lots in the Robinwood community are 40 by 100 feet. Zoned R-2, multifamily homes can legally replace the elegant historical one-family structures there. DePaola said they had tried to get their entire neighborhood landmarked, but it was too late. Too many changes had already been made.
“We are a simple case,” he said. “We just want to keep things the way they are.”
Graziano is examining each block and street in Northeast Queens, looking for general boundaries of areas that have a cohesive character. His study will point out recommendations for changes in zoning that reflect existing population densities.
He will also be looking at deed restrictions and the architectural or historical significance of certain communities. Zoning should reflect about 75 percent of the structures in a particular area. If zoning is changed, buildings that don’t comply will be grandfathered in, but new high-density structures will not be permitted.
Mandingo Tshaka, president of the Bayside Clear Spring Council Civic Association in southern Bayside, is pleased about Avella’s zoning study. His area, zoned R-3-2, is composed of many one-family residences as well as post-WWII garden apartments.
“It would be great if we could get some of our community down-zoned,” he said. “It'\’s a tragedy to see the beautiful old houses replaced by ugly boxes. People coming in have no emotional attachment to the neighborhood. Everywhere I look, they’re tearing out houses, adding on, making two-family homes.”
Marjorie Ferrigno, of the Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association, said she likes what Avella’s doing and supports his study. Her community, however, in which covenants are attached to the deeds, does not need rezoning.
“We were the pioneers in fighting to keep the character of our community,” she said. Homeowners hired their own lawyer and initiated a court case to enforce the covenant restrictions.
Avella began the zoning study, which is expected to be completed in October, of his whole district because not every community has the resources to hire its own attorney. It can take up to 10 years to get a single area down-zoned.
Avella has also introduced legislation in the City Council to force the Department of Buildings to enforce deed restrictions or covenants.
Graziano and Avella are also actively fighting the city's Landmark Preservation Commission’s plan to begin charging homeowners fees for renovations to preserve the landmark quality of their houses.
“It’s great to do it all at once instead of just dealing with one neighborhood at a time,” Graziano added. “About half of the communities in the district are properly zoned. We just want to preserve the environment that exists now before it’s too late.”