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Odd block out on 70th Street

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A subjective interpretation of a clause in the city’s Zoning Reso-lution may radically change the character of one Dyker Heights block. The block, 70th Street between Fort Hamilton Parkway and Eighth Avenue, was recently rezoned as part of the larger Dyker Heights rezoning. However, the Department of City Planning (DCP) contends that the zoning district chosen for it, R4-1, does not preclude what had seemed, when the rezoning was under consideration, an impossibility – the installation of a parking pad at the front of a narrow attached home. Indeed, the owner of 846 70th Street has already ripped off the porch of the house – one of a row of 19 nearly identical structures – preparatory to putting in the parking pad and curb cut. Smack in the middle of the row, which dates to 1905, the now-porchless house looks bereft, an amputee, compared with the homes that stretch along the row at either flank. The issue revolves around a dry-as-dust definition out of the Zoning Resolution. What exactly is a side lot ribbon, and if you don’t have a side yard – which none of the interior homes on this row of houses does — can you have a side lot ribbon? While it appears to defy logic, it also appears that – according to DCP – you can have a side lot ribbon without a side yard, the rationale given for allowing the homeowner in question to create a parking space in his front yard, something that was supposed to be prevented by the rezoning. The text in question is “statutorily ambiguous,” said Joanne Seminara, the chairperson of Community Board 10’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, during the board’s March meeting. Addressing the group gathered at the Norwegian Christian Home, 1250 67th Street, Seminara explained, “City Planning is saying you can park in a side lot ribbon. When you think of a side lot ribbon, you typically think of a driveway alongside a house. “Well, City Planning is saying you can have a side lot ribbon even though you don’t have any space on the side of your house,” Seminara went on. “You can have a side lot ribbon smack in the middle or maybe in front, as long as you are against one side. But, these houses are very small, so essentially you could take up the entire front yard with a car.” That is one reason why the decision has roiled the block, whose residents are currently considering legal action. It also has CB 10 – which presided over the recent down-zoning of Dyker Heights — fighting back, demanding that DCP re-examine its reading of the zoning text. Indeed, the board voted overwhelmingly at the March meeting to ask that officials at DCP and the Department of Buildings (DOB), “Support a finding that front yard, unenclosed parking is not permitted in any part of the front yard (that is, between the building line and lot line) on lots developed with fully attached dwellings in R4-1 zoning districts.” “During the Dyker Heights rezoning, the importance of preserving this row of houses was stressed,” contended Josephine Beckmann, the district manager of CB 10, the president of the United Neighbors of Fort Hamilton Parkway and a resident of the block in question. While the zoning category generally encompasses detached and semi-detached one-family homes, “We were informed by DCP that the new R4-1 zoning would not permit a front car port. Rather, parking would only be permitted in the rear with a driveway down a side lot,” Beckmann added. Allowing the homeowner to put in a curb cut leading to a front yard parking pad, she stressed, takes away a public parking spot forever. It also, “forever prevents the planting of a tree and takes away green space,” said Beckmann. “This is destroying the landscape of our communities,” she went on. “Destroy-ing a portion of a 103-year-old building to add one parking space by removing a parking space just doesn’t make any sense. “If all 19 homeowners were able to do this,” Beckmann added, “it would obliterate public parking and street trees. Everyone is shaking their head in disbelief. No one can believe this is happening.” Residents of the block are clearly distressed by the turn of events. Rosemarie Guastella, who has lived on the block for half a century and lives next door to the house in question, remarked, “I love to sit, relax, read, but if this goes though, my porch will be alongside a car. I am afraid for the stability of the structure of my house. I cannot believe a city law could allow this.” “We all struggle with parking in our neighborhood,” added Jane Cuccurrullo. “This is not the solution. Those who do this often feel it raises the property’s value. Perhaps they should be taxed at a higher rate for removing a public parking space. Removing a public parking space is terrible for everyone, especially those living off a commercial strip. Wouldn’t it be awful if our block was turned into a parking lot of cars.” While it is 70th Street that is bearing the brunt of the situation at this point, it is possible that other blocks within CB 10 might also face a similar plight, said Seminara. “There are lots of other R4-1s in the district, so something needs to be done,” she stressed. Indeed, the proliferation of curb cuts through Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights has been significant. “No matter where you walk in Bay Ridge,” noted board member Helen Sokoloski, “you see contractors pulling out front yards.” “This could have a ripple effect,” agreed Judie Grimaldi, another board member. For the meantime, though, one solution to the 70th Street conundrum may be found in the Yards text amendment that was just approved by the City Planning Commission (CPC), said City Council-member Vincent Gentile, speaking at the board’s March meeting. That amendment is likely to be voted on in April or May by the City Council, at which point, if it is approved, it would become law. So, Gentile told board members, “If we can keep this floating for about a month, we might be in luck.” By press time, DCP had not returned calls requesting comment.

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