By Bob Harris
Civic associations and other community groups in New York City have worked for decades to maintain the quality of life in their communities. They have worked with local community boards to either maintain low-density zoning or prevent builders from changing zoning, which would permit high-density building in local communities. This is especially true in the historic districts of Manhattan and the one- and two-family areas of Queens and Brooklyn.
Now the city has proposed two zoning changes which are scaring community groups all over the city. These plans are proposed by the mayor as a way to create more low-cost housing for the homeless. They are well meaning, but poorly thought-out proposals by the city.
The two proposals are called the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability text plans. They are dozens of pages long and very complicated. The first proposal would require the city or private developers to include permanent affordable housing in any new or expanded housing project of more than 10 units. The second proposal would allow height and density increases to expand affordable senior housing and senior care facilities.
Opposition is almost unanimous because of the proposed zoning rules changes. Too many groups in too many boroughs have worked for too many years to tighten zoning rules to maintain the quality of life in their communities to let builders come in to build upward and outward. It is interesting that much of the current large-scale building in Queens is at the edge of the borough along the waterfront where there is no one currently living. I wonder what people will think in a few years when the waterfront is blocked by massive walls of buildings.
One big part of the proposals which has caused the community boards to vote against them is that builders would not have to provide as many parking spaces as in the current rules. The claim against having parking spaces is that senior citizens don’t drive. Critics of the new proposals say that senior citizens do drive and also need spaces for visitors. Considering the lack of street parking in many parts of the city, many people are criticizing this part of the proposal and thus voting against it. As it is now, many cars are double parked in many western Queens neighborhoods at night due to the current lack of street parking spaces.
Things will get worse because there are several dozen hotels currently being built in Queens. Where will people in these hotels park? These hotels can be built according to current zoning rules. Several civic leaders are fearful that if these zoning changes take place, then builders will figure ways to build higher and wider. The new proposals permit builders to build on areas which would be side- and backyard lawns, thus removing more open space and green areas and sunlight and air. Some people fear that these hotels could be sold as affordable housing.
Then there is the problem of builders and developers just building what they want. Currently some builders try to maximize profits by cheating and building things they should not be building. Architects are permitted to “self-certify” meaning they sign their own permit saying they did everything correctly. Can you imagine this? At the last meeting of the Queens Civic Congress this issue was discussed and it was said that many architects are agreeable to having this rule removed due to the “bad apples” who are giving them a bad name.
Civic associations and historic organizations in Queens and Manhattan are fearful that if these new zoning proposals are enacted, this will open a flood gate to developers who will push to have all the zoning protections enacted over the decades removed or weakened and thus destroy the quality of life built up in our city.
(To be continued)