The Civic Scene: City agrees to protect boro’s residential nabes

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For years, civic association leaders have pleaded with the Department Of City Planning to change the outdated 1961 Community Facilities Zoning Text. At meeting after meeting in the Queens borough president's conference room, City Planning promised revision was just around the corner.

Well, the text has finally been printed, a little late for exhaustive study prior to a scheduled City Council Subcommittee meeting on Zoning and Franchises on July 21. But there is finally text for civic leaders to examine prior to the round of hearing to be held at the community boards all over New York City.

The good news is that the City Council and the Department of City Planning, which represents the Bloomberg administration, has finally agreed to protect Queens residential communities from the damage of unregulated community facilities due to outdated zoning text.

At the July 21 hearing in the City Council Chamber, a number of Queens civic leaders spoke out in favor of the text changes.

Irving Poy spoke for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall in praise of the attempt to keep medical facilities, doctor's offices and houses of worship from adding parked cars, traffic, and other inconveniences to quiet residential areas.

Poy said homeowners have invested life savings in purchasing homes. He said that the public hearings will result in refinements "that will restore the balance between community facilities and host neighborhoods."

Patricia Dolan, an executive vice-president of the Queens Civic

Congress, an umbrella group of 125 civics agencies. She spoke of the concern of homeowners, co-op owners and tenants in every part of Queens with hospitals, clinics, and medical centers disrupting their quiet residential neighborhoods. It was pointed out that facilities in homes may deprive New York City of tax revenue. In some neighborhoods social service agencies, adult homes, shelters, schools, colleges and universities may overwhelm a neighborhood with traffic, noise, trash, displaced parking, loss of privacy and bring a lower quality of life.

Tyler D. Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association, spoke of the deterioration of his community due to religious facilities. He stated that a survey of six-block area in 1990 showed only seven tax lots that were public facilities. By 2000 there were 41 tax lots which were religious institutions. Today there are a total of 47. The original 1961 zoning resolution had based parking in religious use public facilities on building occupancy rather than on the number of fixed seats so they use folding or stack chairs.

The new proposals would prohibit this action and would permit religious institutions to build in unused M 1 areas which are a buffer between manufacturing and residential areas. Larger religious groups could easily use fallow areas of the city thus saving the residential tax base. Cassel stated that there are warehouses just 3 blocks from his area which could be used for this purpose.

The West Cunningham Park Civic Association, Bob Harris president, complained about doctors' facilities taking over Union Turnpike. On a five-block stretch from 188th Street through 193rd Street there are five doctor's offices, one dentist and one pediatric ophthalmologist. The current complaint is about a doctor and his wife who bought an office formerly used by a doctor and want to make two offices of the space.. They want three variances, of the zoning rules, so they can add a two-floor basement and first floor examining room to the building.. The community is concerned. An office could come in there "as of right", unless one can prove there is saturation of medical facilities, but the extra room would require a special variance permit. Loss of the tax base is not the problem here but loss of privacy and medical use on R 2 residential blocks is the problem.

The irony to this situation is that just a mile away on Union Turnpike and 162nd Street there is a long deserted International House of Pancakes restaurant which could be a medical facility and 10 blocks further west at 152nd Street a former Carvell ice cream stand has been torn down with a sign announcing it is the site of future medical building.. There is lots of parking at these two locations. Why disrupt residential communities?

Others testifying included the Bay Terrace Housing Co-op, Douglaston Civic Association, the Little Neck Pines Civic Association, the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation, West Siders For Viable Neighborhoods, and CIVITAS, a union of citizens on the Upper East Side and East Harlem.

In the months ahead, many groups pro and con will testify at the community boards. My concern is that this process could take a year. Time is important for some communities. Hopefully things can be speeded up.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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