The Civic Scene: Avella meeting focuses on community facilities

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City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), chairman of the Zoning and Franchises Committee, recently held a hearing at City Hall on “Zoning for the Future.”

Avella’s district is in northeast Queens and has been experiencing problems with community facilities. His hearing is the first step in correcting the abuses of a community facility resolution which was proposed in the 1930s and 1940s and was passed in 1961.

Due to the changing and growing population in the past 40 years the old law is outdated. Too many facilities try to take advantage of the law by buying one-family homes and changing them into facilities, sometimes legally and sometimes illegally; this disrupts and changes the fine one-family communities in Queens and in the other boroughs.

Avella’s hearing brought out community leaders from all over Queens who spoke about the general and specific problems posed by facilities.

The Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella group of about 100 civic associations in Queens, had several civic association leaders speaking of the disruptions of the “as-of-right” ability to convert houses anywhere into facilities.

Fraternity halls, religious institutions, medical centers and all types of schools can be out of character with their surrounding community. The law permits these community facilities a bulk bonus so they legally can be built bigger than residential homes because they are supposed to serve the people there, which they often do not.

Some planned neighborhoods have been built by one builder and have “deed restrictions or covenants” to perpetuate the residential character of the neighborhood. The city has recognized many of these planned communities through historic landmarking designations.

Some civic associations have filed lawsuits to keep builders from building where there are deed restrictions, often spending $100,000 in legal fees. Avella has proposed legislation that would protect communities that have restrictive deeds by making the city enforce them.

Some civic or block associations complained that the law permits community facilities to use folding chairs so they do not have to provide parking spaces. The idea is that if there are no fixed seats then there are fewer people coming to the facility. This means that hundreds of cars have to park on the streets in a residential communities. Residents want this part of the law changed.

Some speakers at the hearing discussed community-based planning, which allows local neighborhoods to zone their own areas. Of course, if too many people move into a neighborhood and do not respect the low-density zoning and want to build and build, then fine middle-class areas can become a jumble of buildings which easily can turn into slums. Just look at some areas in New York City and you can see what can happen.

This is why the current good zoning laws must be enforced and the community facility “as-of-right” rule must be changed. As Avella said, “Land-use decisions are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods and we are entering a critical time for zoning issues.”

Fortunately, we have a number of new council members who were civic association presidents or were on the board of directors of their local civics and want to preserve their communities. We just have to support and work with them on the zoning issues.

Good and Bad News of the Week

The good news is that education is on the agenda. The new chancellor wants grades raised 20 percent in the elementary level and 10 percent in the high school level.

The bad news is that money has been reduced for our schools due to the budget deficit. Money is needed for teachers. Unless everything is geared for the classroom and the teacher the learning process will be impeded. Class size needs to be smaller and support services must be fully available every day.

If dysfunctional families are not helped, their children probably will not learn much. Homeless children must be made stable. If the special education children and the foreign born, who have English reading problems, have their reading scores averaged in with the other children then scores will not go up much.

The more of these children there are, the lower the test scores will be. The illegal alien population has to be stabilized and ended so that children aren’t brought into school far behind their classmates and then naturally score low on tests.

Parents must be made accountable for their children’s behavior in school, and for actually coming to class and doing homework. Teachers can’t do it all when the children are home most of the day.

TV must be more educational and not mindless junk with lots of violence. There must be classroom materials so teachers are not competing with slick movies, videos and magazines. Just giving superintendents a bonus without help for the classroom will not raise learning.

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