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Community board heads upset over affordable housing for seniors

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Borough community board heads were outraged over the potential loss of parking spaces Tuesday at the city’s Department of City Planning presentation on the proposed zoning text amendments needed to push forward the mayor’s affordable housing plan for seniors.

City Planning requires changes to zoning regulations in order to meet the goals of the mayor’s affordable housing plan. The presentation on zoning for quality and affordability and mandatory inclusionary housing focused on new senior housing across the borough.

But in those changes, parking space in Queens, the transit wasteland, would disappear from city-owned affordable housing for seniors.

According to City Planning, population growth across the city will continue growing rapidly, including in the borough. The overall Queens population will reach 2.4 million and the senior population will grow by 30 percent, an estimated 90,000 by the year 2040, according to the agency’s projections.

City Planning senior planner, Laura Smith said at the presentation a well-designed building for seniors would require adding one to two stories so elevators become mandatory, which would prevent developers from squeezing units together. Changing the building’s facade would enable it to blend in with the neighborhood, even allowing space for commercial business.

The agency said the existing requirements for accessory off-street parking make it harder to meet the city’s need for affordable housing. Off-street parking, particularly in structured facilities, is quite expensive to construct – costing as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per space. Residents of affordable housing cannot pay the fees necessary to recoup the cost of constructing these spaces, at about $200-$300 per month, and in many instances these provided spaces sit empty since the limited number of low-income residents who do own cars park them on street. In less-dense areas, parking may be provided as surface parking that costs less to build, but nonetheless still takes up considerable space that might otherwise be used for housing, open space, or other uses, according to City Planning studies.

According to the agency’s officials, senior housing within a half a mile of a major transit hub would have no parking at all.

Neither Eric Kober, director of Housing, Economic and Infrastructure Planning nor Smith physically visited any of the borough sites they mentioned as examples in their proposals and study.

The community board chairs and their representatives were not pleased to say the least at the parking proposals and Borough President Melinda Katz had questions.

“So we are building less parking spaces. What is your vision when this happens practicall­y?,”she asked.

“I want you to drive through the Liberty Avenue corridor late at night and tell me if there is a need for parking or not,” Elizabeth Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, said.

The board pointed out the lack of transit hubs across the borough and the difficulties seniors face during the winter. Board members said for seniors having their own vehicle gave them a sense of independence and it was cruel to take that away.

“You don’t have to go far. Why don’t you just try parking outside of Borough Hall tonight?” George Stamatiades, vice chairman of Community Board 1, asked the City Planning officials.

DCP said they will take into account into the feedback seriously for the proposal.

The Borough Board vote on the proposal will take place in November.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

Updated 3:35 pm, October 20, 2015
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