The Civic Scene: CB 8 meeting to address alterations to zoning text

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The world has changed, and that is why reforms to the Zoning Resolution must be implemented. Community Board 8 will hold a public hearing for comment on community facilities zoning text changes April 29.

For years civic and block association leaders have complained about the proliferation of religious, health and educational community facilities that impact on their communities and lower their quality of life.

The 1961 Zoning Resolution permitted community facilities to open in residential one-family neighborhoods “as of right” so local residents could avail themselves of their services. In 1961 the automobile revolution had not made mass movement of people from neighborhood to neighborhood so easy.

In those days a doctor would live in his or her house and see neighborhood patients. A small school would draw in children who would walk to school. People surrounding a small house of worship would attend it or use a city bus or train to attend a larger one. Hospitals were usually built on large boulevards or on commercial strips and were usually not too large.

Things have changed. Now community facilities move into large one-family houses in residential neighborhoods “as of right” and then ask for variances to increase their sizes or buy two adjacent houses and construct larger buildings.

With cars, vans and private buses, hundreds of people can be brought into the once-quiet one- or two-family residential neighborhoods. These facilities often don’t pay real estate taxes so the little homeowner pays the tax burden. I think — and hope — these facilities now pay water, sewage and sanitation fees. Trees, grass and flowers become bricks and concrete.

These larger facilities bring vehicle congestion, parking problems, exhaust fumes, an abundance of garbage on the ground and in bags from people using the facility for parties or just normal trash generation and noise from people talking, calling to each other or slamming doors.

Some religious facilities rent out catering rooms for member or outside events or part of the building to nursery or other schools for member or outside people to use. This exacerbates the problems mentioned above.

Often the people bringing or picking up children double-park, blocking the narrow streets because they are in a residential neighborhood not originally designed for high-vehicle-volume usage. Accidents are just waiting to happen as cars become large vans with tinted windows, which one cannot see through or around as one could with a regular automobile with clear windows.

This overuse of residential neighborhoods has been growing for years. Homeowners and their civic associations have been crying for help. Numerous large groupings of civic associations have coalesced into the Queens Civic Congress, which represents about 100 groups.

The Queens Civic Congress is not against community facilities but is opposed to their going into local residential communities “as of right” and then expanding until they become so large or there are so many of them that the residential homes, which are the backbone of middle-class Queens, become extinct. The Queens Civic Congress would like facilities in residential neighborhoods to operate in the houses as they are and not become gigantic facilities.

Term limits, which took away our old-time council members, brought us a new breed. Many in this new breed were homeowners. While some came from the old-time clubhouses, many had been civic association leaders. Some were both. Some of our new Queens council members had been civic association presidents and had been faced with community facilities, as well as other zoning problems, for years.

Some who I know are John Liu (D-Flushing), Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). There are others, such a Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who are sympathetic to the zoning problems of homeowners, but the above elected officials were civic association presidents.

Avella has stepped forward and proposed several changes in the community facilities rules. He convinced City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), the City Council and the City Planning Commission to take steps to limit the community facilities while also giving them some bonuses to make the restrictions more palatable.

He felt that this was what he could get at this time, although the issue has been simmering for years.

The civic leaders in the Queens Civic Congress, however, studied the proposed zoning rules, found them wanting and recently voted to oppose them. Civic leaders feel there are too many loopholes through which community facilities wiggle and that are not corrected by the new proposals.

Civic leaders want community boards, which have 60 days to evaluate the proposals, to reject them so stronger proposals can be prepared. The results will then go to Queens Borough President Helen Marshall for comment.

CB 8 will discuss zoning text changes at an April 29 public hearing at 7:30 p.m. at Beacon 168, Parsons Jr. High School, 158-40 76th Rd. One should call the community board for two minutes of speaking time. Call 718-264-7895. Next week we will discuss the actual proposals and arguments, pro and con.

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