Next Round of Downzoning Headed For Dyker Heights? – QNS.com

Next Round of Downzoning Headed For Dyker Heights?

By Helen Klein

By this fall, the Department of City Planning (DCP) is expected to have a plan for down-zoning Dyker Heights. At the June meeting of the Dyker Heights Civic Association (DHCA), which was held in the parish hall at St. Philip’s Church, 80th Street and 11th Avenue, representatives of DCP said that the agency had begun its work on rezoning the community, with the goal of developing contextual zoning districts that are in keeping with the existing built environment. One of the purposes of the visit to DHCA, they said, was to gather information from area residents. The Dyker Heights/Fort Hamilton rezoning was promised by DCP to begin following the conclusion of the Bay Ridge rezoning, which became law on March 23rd of this year. Richard Jacobs, of DCP, the project manager for the Dyker Heights rezoning, said that the agency was hoping to have a preliminary plan ready as early as September, with a certified proposal ready later in the autumn. From the point of certification, it takes a zoning proposal approximately five or six months to go through the review process, beginning with the community board, proceeding to the borough president, then to the City Planning Commission and finally to the City Council. Jacobs stressed, “We are committed to the project. We did have a lot of success with the Special Bay Ridge District,” he said. In Bay Ridge, Jacobs recalled, DCP had rezoned 249 blocks. The area of Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton being looked at comprises 170 blocks and approximately 7,400 lots. When those two areas are rezoned, the entire Community Board 10 area will have new zoning. The key to rezoning, noted Jacobs, is retooling the underlying zoning for the community, which dates back to 1961, to coalesce with the existing built environment. To that end, he said, the agency uses contextual zoning districts that were created in 1980 and which, he stressed, “Are meant to preserve the character of detached homes and semi-detached homes.” In the case of Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, the rezoning largely means scaling back what is allowable to conform with the one and two-family rowhouses, detached houses and semi-detached houses that characterize the neighborhoods. Currently, said Jacobs, the communities have three zoning districts – R3-1, which is the most restrictive and which allows only detached and semi-detached one and two-family houses; and R4 and R5, which, said Jacobs, “Permit all housing types, not only detached and semi-detached but small multiple dwellings,” to be built. The R3-1 area is generally bounded by 86th and 82nd Streets, between 10th and 14th Avenues. The R4 zone, said Jacobs, is, “Generally south of 73rd Street.” It extends to the Fort Hamilton area, Jacobs added, and, “Goes around the R3-1.” The R5 area runs between 73rd and 65th Streets throughout the community. It is on the R4 and R5 areas – which represent the bulk of Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton – that DCP is going to focus. Those areas, emphasized Jacobs, “Really need additional protection. Fedders houses right now are permitted on large lots in the R4 and R5 areas.” The result is out-of-character, out-of-scale structures that are mushrooming in various locations, and which are decried by those who live nearby. “One and two-family contextual zoning districts,” Jacobs added, “prevent that sort of development.” A key to understanding the way zoning works, said Jacobs, is to realize that down-zoning, “Won’t protect each and every lot from development.” What it will do, he went on, is, “Protect predominantly one and two-family residences.” The “lower density contextual zones” that DCP is looking at for Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, are the ones that the agency selected for its rezoning of Bay Ridge. “There are appropriate zoning districts,” he added, “which only permit one and two-family houses, where they could no longer raze the one and two-families and build multi-family dwellings. The idea of contextual zones is to match the built context.” Generally, DCP evaluates neighborhoods on a block-by-block basis. While earlier zoning approaches were more monolithic, with street after street coming under the same zoning regulations, the contextual districts, said Jacobs, permit an approach that is, “Very fine-grained.” In Bay Ridge, he pointed out, the resulting zoning map was like a many-pieced jigsaw puzzle. “We anticipate something similar for Dyker Heights,” Jacobs added. Many blocks are a mixed bag, residents pointed out. In those cases, said Jacobs, DCP will, “Pick the predominant type. Zoning,” he stressed, “does not work on a lot by lot basis.” On blocks that are mixed, with larger multi-family structures of relatively recent date, Jacobs said that DCP was likely to lean toward the older structures remaining when deciding what contextual district to map. The plan that DCP presents in the fall, said Jacobs, would be a starting point for conversations with the community, the community board and the preservation committee started by City Councilmember Vincent Gentile. Both CB 10 and Gentile’s preservation committee worked closely with DCP on the Bay Ridge rezoning. While zoning is intended to limit the height, bulk and use of structures, it does not dictate aesthetics, Jacobs stressed. “As long as they comply with the building code,” he told the crowd, “we can’t really dictate the types of materials used. It also doesn’t dictate green spaces, an issue that one resident asked DCP “to consider,” pointing out, “There’s more of a green aspect to this area.” Another issue that residents brought up was the strict limits on the amount of lot that could be occupied by an individual structure. “I suggest you ease up on lot coverage,” one woman noted. “We want to maintain the neighborhood’s character, but we are finding that our children and grandchildren are moving to New Jersey because they can’t even build a small family room.” The solution, the woman opined, was to allow some expansion at the rear of the house, while maintaining stringent restrictions for the front. Another issue of concern to those who attended the meeting was parking and the lack of it. The increase in the number of multi-family dwellings, Laura Grassi pointed out, meant that it was becoming harder and harder for her to park her car close to her own home. ‘The parking issue,” she stressed, “is one of the biggest reasons people are leaving Bay Ridge.” “The best way to avoid that,” remarked Fran Vella-Marrone, DHCA’s president, “is to create a zone where you don’t have those types of buildings. That’s the first line of defense.”

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