Critics up in arms over rezoning vote 1

Some Queens critics of the mayor’s recently passed rezoning initiatives, such as Bob Holden, left, and Sherman Kane, expressed their frustrations with the plans.

The City Council’s modifications to and passage of Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning initiatives to create more affordable housing have done little to sway some Queens critics of the two-pronged plan.

“It’s better than originally proposed, but I’m still against it,” Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and a Community Board 5 member, said. “How could we be for it?”

For Sherman Kane, co-chairman of CB 9’s Land Use Committee, the legislative body that passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability did little to address his community’s concerns before passing them 42-5 and 40-6-1, respectively, on March 22.

“The developers are going to be champing at the bit to get rezoning done without there being any increase in police, schools or infrastructure,” Kane said. “They barely even addressed parking.”

The two plans were proposed by the de Blasio administration last year to address the city’s affordability crisis and help accomplish the mayor’s goal of creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.

MIH will require permanently affordable units in new developments and enlargements of more than 10 units.

The Council modified de Blasio’s original proposal to provide another level of affordability for new units and made it so the lawmakers choose how many affordable units a developer will be required to include in the structure.

Some, however, claim that’s not enough.

Paul Graziano, a Flushing-based urban planner, noted that many people in poorer areas of New York City still will not be able to afford the new units created under de Blasio’s plan, a point brought up by lawmakers representing parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, as well as Holden.

“Historically speaking, this has always benefited developers,” he said. “It never turns out to provide enough affordable housing.”

The first level of affordability requires 10 percent of the units be affordable at 40 percent of area median income. Before it had called for 25 percent of the units at 60 AMI. The second option has 30 percent of the units set aside at 80 AMI and the third has 30 percent at 115 AMI — with 5 percent of those at 90 AMI and another 5 percent at 70 AMI. The fourth option, the one added by the Council, has 20 percent of the units at 40 AMI.

Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), the sole Queens legislator to vote against both plans, said he “isn’t so certain” MIH goes far enough to help those who truly need affordable housing.

But that isn’t his only concern with the plan.

Grodenchik worries that in some parts of the city, including Queens, the income generated from market-rate units in new developments may not be enough to support development.

“I’m not sure whether the 80 could even support the 20,” he said. “In Manhattan, yes, but in other parts of the city it’s questionable. The proof will be in the pudding.”

Another possible issue with MIH is the absence of the 421-a tax abatement, which expired last year. According to published reports, real estate experts have said MIH is a lost cause without the tax incentive in place.

Grodenchik said he hasn’t heard talk of 421-a affecting the legislation.

Graziano said it’s just another flaw in a plan that, he claims, won’t create the housing needed.

“Add to that the lack of 421-a and large-scale developments as financially structured today, whether affordable or not, have essentially dried up,” he said. “The reason that there still is massive activity going on is the giant amount of projects which were already in the pipeline before 421-a expired.”

Most of Queens, and other parts of the city, were more concerned in the month leading up to the vote with how Zoning for Quality and Affordability might affect their neighborhoods.

The plan will relax or eliminate parking requirements for senior housing in “transit zones” and allow for slightly higher buildings in areas zoned for multifamily dwellings.

The Council modified or eliminated the increase in height proposed by de Blasio in some zoning districts, but critics still worry it could affect already highly populated areas.

Kane reiterated that the greater density would put a further strain on city infrastructure and called the city’s plan “unjustified.”

Holden worries residents may soon see one- or two-family homes “right next to a larger building.”

Holden, and many others, argue that phenomenon can undo community-specific rezonings that took years to accomplish.

“They felt that all their hard work was undone in one fell swoop,” Grodenchik said.

For areas like Middle Village, which proponents insist the plan will not affect, that would mean the erasing of downzoning passed during the last administration.

“We actually organized 75 volunteers to get that done,” Holden said.

Holden did say he’s happy Middle Village was not included in the transit zone, but did say he is worried about the parts of Ridgewood that are.

The areas of Woodhaven and Ozone Park that Kane’s board represents were not as lucky as Middle Village in that respect.

Portions of both neighborhoods are within the transit zone, maps of which can be found at qchron.com.

“If anything, we need more parking in those areas,” Kane said.

Kane, and others, cited disappointment that the Council voted on the modified plans a week after they were announced.

“They never came back to the community boards,” Holden said. “You’re supposed to have a transparent mayor but he never came back to the people. The plans should have been vetted and discussed. We didn’t have that opportunity.”

Kane called the “bait and switch” a “violation” of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

“They changed without any input from the communities,” he said. “And it’s over 400 pages. This kind of change they proposed should be given years to look over.”

Chuck Apelian, Land Use Committee chairman for CB 7, said “the city didn’t listen to us.

“We were opposed to ZQA and MIH because it was a global plan, a citywide plan that went against local input and nothing was changed,” he added.

Grodenchik also noted how he was given “no time to go back to my community boards to see how they felt about it.”

As did all but two community boards in Queens — 1, with the caveat that some parking spots be kept, and 3 saying yes to the entirety of the plans — the four that Grodenchik represents said no to MIH and ZQA. He cited their opposition as just one of the reasons he cast the same vote, in addition to his concerns with the plans.

“I did what I felt was best for the community,” he said.

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