Bayside rezone debate shifts to Boro Hall

By Sophia Chang

Underscoring the plan's controversial content, a dozen residents, architects and civic leaders bickered over the proposal and appealed to Borough President Helen Marshall during the Land Use hearing last Thursday in hopes of influencing her decision on the ambitious rezoning.The hearing came after a Jan. 3 Community Board 11 vote that conditionally favored the Department of City Planning's massive plan to rezone more than 300 blocks in Bayside. It would hold the area to the strictest building regulations in the city in response to critics calling for the end of “McMansions” that are built by developers who use local building exemptions.”We didn't have enough existing zoning tools to address McMansions, so we had to create new tools to address out-of-scale buildings, especially on very typical lots,” said John Young, the department's Queens director, who presented the zoning proposal to Marshall. The city's plan downzones much of Bayside for lower density housing and completely rezones the single-family detached housing areas from R2 to R2A, a designation which makes it more difficult to build large-scale houses on average size lots.The effort is described as the largest rezoning sweep in the borough, launched by City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and based on local urban planner Paul Graziano's research. The Bayside proposal has widespread implications for other residential neighborhoods, including College Point, Whitestone, Laurelton, and Forest Hills, which are considering rezoning. During the hearing, some Bayside residents said tightening the zoning regulations could ultimately hurt existing homeowners in the future and prevent architectural expression.”I resent the idea of changing Bayside to another bungalow community,” said Dr. Blanche Felton, president of John Golden Park Block Association. She said that in particular, the rezoning regulations would make it difficult to modify homes for older residents. “If you live in a pancake house, how can you put in a toilet that can accommodate a wheelchair?” she asked, citing her own husband who has Parkinson's disease. “These are real things to think about, when you're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home today.”Other residents, including outspoken Baysider Brixton Doyle, said the rezoning plan was the city's best weapon against overdevelopment. “The R2A will go a long way in checking abuses” by unscrupulous builders, he said. Marshall said she became familiar with development and zoning issues when she was a city councilwoman representing a part of western Queens. “Overdevelopment started in my district in the 1980s. I've been a long-time advocate” for sustainable development, she said.Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11, reminded City Planning representatives that the board's approval came with certain caveats to protect architectural design and encourage communication between professionals and the city.”Our voice was with conditional approval,” Iannece said. “We have to satisfy all interests concerned.”Under the city's mandated Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, Marshall has 30 days after the hearing to issue approval or disapproval of the rezoning proposal. Her spokesman, Dan Andrews, said she was expected to make a decision by early February.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.