CB 11 unites to oppose illegally zoned housing

By Kelsey Durham

Community Board 11 voted at its monthly meeting this week to stand against legitimizing any illegally zoned housing units within the board’s district.

In a 41-1 vote, with three absent members and one who abstained, the board approved a resolution stating that it “opposes any proposal to permit additional housing units in violation of existing zoning laws in the city of New York.”

The resolution was introduced on the heels of a suggestion by Mayor Bill de Blasio that legalizing some illegal apartments would lead to more affordable housing throughout the city.

The measure says that legalization of illegal units would only further encourage illegal zoning to continue to take place. During the discussion, some members of the board raised points that there are safety concerns with units that violate the zoning laws put in place partly to protect the residents who inhabit the apartments.

“We all know that we do need more affordable housing, but we should make a statement that this is not a good idea for a variety of reasons,” said Henry Euler, the board member who penned the resolution. “There’s zoning issues and safety issues and I just felt that this was not a very good idea.”

CB 11 covers Bayside, Auburndale, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens and Hollis Hills — all neighborhoods which are known to place a high importance on following zoning laws and frequently get involved in hearings that challenge the look and feel of the area.

Janet McEneaney, who represents Bayside on the board, agreed with Euler’s resolution and said illegal housing has started to have a negative impact on the area and needs to be stopped.

“I can’t even find a parking spot anymore because of all the illegal conversions and the homes that have four, five or six families living in a two-family house,” she said. “We need affordable housing units, but they should not be in basements and attics. This is not what we need in Bayside and I do not myself want to see that happen.”

Chris Petallides, the lone vote in opposition to the resolution, said he disagreed with the wording of the document because it was “too absolute” to rule out all illegal units in general. The Little Neck resident, who works as an architect, said some units zoned illegally may not be dangerous and could help provide cheaper housing for people in need.

“In the last 12 years or so, I’ve seen the law of what constitutes habitable units change about 20 times, which means they don’t know,” Petallides said. “They don’t know what constitutes habitability of a unit and they can’t get it right, so we don’t know what they want. What we know is there is a real housing problem and we have to show some compassion.”

Petallides said he believes there are people willing to take the illegal units and make them safe, which he said would benefit the crowds of homeless people scattered throughout New York City. But the rest of the group sided with Euler’s resolution as the community board agreed that uniting against illegal housing was the best thing for the community.

“We spent a lot of time and years working on zoning in this neighborhood so that the character would not be changed,” McEneaney said. “We’ve all worked very hard on this and I don’t want to see the character change.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.