Board 2 Votes On Hunters Point Zoning Plan
At the beginning of the Community Board 2 April meeting, Board Chairman Joseph Conley said that by the end of the evening the board, after hearing testimony, would vote on a Department of City Planning proposal for rezoning in the Hunters Point Subdistrict of Long Island City. Then, he said, its members, and everyone else in the audience, could go home to figure out less complicated matters, such as their tax returns.
By evening’s end, after more than one vote had been taken, the board showed itself to be generally in favor of the City Planning proposal. However, speaking of tax returns, it could be wished that the board had an analogous version of Internal Revenue Service Publication 17, in order to begin to understand the tangle of opinions and qualifications supporting the approval of the City Planning proposition.
The meeting was considered important enough to bring out Amanda Burden, chair of the City Planning Commission. She commented on the Hunters Point’s "unduly complicated" zoning, then turned the presentation over to Neil Gagliardi and John Lynch. Gagliardi said the Zoning Resolution of 1961 favored businesses in Long Island City while restricting the housing already there, making it nearly impossible for improvements or expansion and discouraging construction of new housing. Subsequent revisions have alleviated the situation slightly for some but have added complications. Gagliardi said the new plan attempts to remove current residential restrictions and expand mixed use, which is the placing of residential and light industrial sites within the same neighborhood.
On a map, the Hunters Point Subdistrict is a crazy quilt of different zoning colors. It runs roughly from 2nd Street to 23rd Street; from Borden Avenue to 44th Drive and along Jackson Avenue from Borden Avenue to a point a couple of blocks below the CitiCorp building, with sections of avenues in the 40s left out. At present, mixed use is allowed only on the north-south corridors such as Jackson Avenue. The plan would expand mixed use to the east-west mid-blocks under the zoning code M1-4/R6B with floor-area ratio, or FAR, of 2, allowing a base height of 30 to 40 feet and a building height of 50 feet, or four to five stories. The two-block section between 2nd and 5th Streets, which includes the old Pennsylvania Railroad power plant, would be mixed use, with a building height limit of 120 feet, or 10 to 12 stories. The west side of the Jackson Avenue corridor would permit expansion from a current FAR of 4 (80 feet or 6 to 8 stories) to 5 FAR (125 feet or 10 to 12 stories), which obtains on the east side. Gagliardi highlighted an L-shaped M1-4R7A zone, a large one with wide streets, and two smaller such zones to the west of it, and said the four-story loft building at 5-33 48th Avenue could stand as an example of what’s proposed for structures to be built in the area. In summary, the plan loosens restrictions on new residences and alterations on standing ones, with higher density along major corridors, he said, adding that new buildings would "line up" with existing ones.
Board 2 Member Lisa Deller asked about possible encroachment of "big box" businesses such as Home Depot and John Lynch said that the FAR regulations in effect would fend off that possibility. Gagliardi said that there would be room for larger food stores than now exist in the neighborhood without the danger of utterly gigantic ones. He also pointed out, while making an explanation to Deller about "use groups", that the plan contains allowances for the establishment of such businesses as custom jewelry manufacturers, not currently allowed. Gregg Switzer had a major concern: signage. He said he is aware that signs within the subzone can be as high as 60 feet, can go atop buildings and can be illuminated. Lynch said all that was true, and drew a few unappreciative chuckles by hastily adding that the illumination couldn’t be "flashing." Conley said that Citibank’s Citi sign, shining atop the building in which he was speaking, should be no example; that new signs should be located at ground level, not crowning any structure within the subzone. Switzer also said the plan seems to prohibit tree plant-ings, but Lynch said planting requirements exist. Conley wanted better assurance that such requirements would be followed. Peter Donnelly said the study of the land beneath the buildings hadn’t been given enough attention; it had once been marshland and thus could be problematical even now, he said. Lynch said the land has supported buildings for many decades, and buildings to be added would resemble them. Gagliardi said studies made as the plan was being prepared identified both hazardous waste sites and the qualities of the subsurface.
A long parade of public speakers commenced. The early speakers were in opposition, starting with Eric Greenberg of Green Mountain Graphics, 11-30 45th Rd., with 12 employees, who said the plan would drive industrial rents up. He said his lease is up in the summer and he may not be able to stay. "Rents chased me from Manhattan, rents are chasing me from Long Island City," he concluded. Ernie Smith of Penn & Fletcher, 21-07 41st Ave. and the people from Titan Machine Corporation, 36-27 Vernon Blvd., are both outside the Hunters Point Subdistrict but, like Greenberg, foresee rapidly rising rents. Another protester said that residential expansion would generate pressure for conversions to apartments and drive industry out. Adam Friedman of the New York Industrial Retention Network said the plan would put developers on notice to put manufacturers on a month-to-month basis. Those favoring the plan included Stuart Match Suna of Silvercup Studios, who liked the idea of incorporating residency and manufacturing but had to admit he found the whole picture confusing. Another man said that those disparaging the plan don’t live in Long Island City and are only bemoaning the impending loss of cheap rent. A woman identifying herself as a local resident expressed sympathy for goals expressed by the plan, but detected impending alterations that would threaten old row houses on 11th Street if they were considered to be in the way of a move toward greater residential density. Stuart Gelbert, who owns property at 5th Street and 48th Avenue and has spent 35 years in Long Island City, said that the future there is not in manufacturing but in the service industry, and the plan favors the latter. Another man, a baker with a client base in Manhattan, countered that he loves Long Island City and does not want to be forced to move to an M3 zone in Maspeth," though he might have to if, as he expects, implementation of the plan raises speculative pressure.
The board’s mandate to vote wasn’t made easier by the presence of many new members. Conley told the new people that it was their right to vote but that many of them might wish they didn’t have to, owing to the complexity of the issue at hand. He warned, though, that an abstention would be counted as a No vote, by the rules governing community boards. For a few minutes, board members discussed adding amendments, particularly one regarding signage, lest they have to judge the plan more harmful than good and reject it. Indeed, Board Member Edward Eretz made a motion of rejection, beat down any attempt to amend it, and voted against it as it went down to a lopsided defeat at the hands of new members and old. The motion, called "a complete waste of time" by another member, actually seemed an effective means to set up another motion, which would support the plan, with amendments. The latter vote specified that no signs be more than 30 feet high and that the preservation of certain old residences, particularly on 11th Street, be considered. It passed.