Borough Board Narrowly
A proposed change to the city Zoning Resolution was passed by the Borough Board at the board’s May meeting last Monday by a narrow margin, eight in favor, five against and one abstention.
"The amendment was specifically designed for low-density neighborhoods, many of which are in Queens," Rachelle Raynoff of the Department of City Planning, said. "The proliferation of medical facilities in particular neighborhoods and overwhelmingly larger structures is having an effect on the quality of life. We believe we’ve done a good job with this and we’re glad that the city council Land Use Committee has been our partner and acted in consensus with us."
While the council Land Use Committee might have been in consensus with the amendment, many of the boards voting against it expressed doubts about its applicability. Deregulating parking requirements would affect Community Board 4 more than communities such as Douglaston and Bayside, District Manager Rose Renda-Rothschild said in explaining the "no" vote that Chair Richard Italiano cast at the borough board meeting. "We voted ‘no’ to tell the Department of City Planning, who came up wit this thing, to come back with a proposal that’s more applicable to our community," Renda-Rothschild said. The board also instructed Italiano to vote against the measure because too many loopholes exist. "There are too many ways for people to get around the rules," Renda-Rothschild added. "They have to fill up the loopholes. That’s something else we didn’t like—this thing is too vague."
The changes involve combining several categories of medical facilities into ambulatory health care facilities and reclassifying churches under the more inclusive term, "houses of worship." Only students could use college or school dormitories. Other provisions include prohibiting ambulatory health care facilities in districts zoned for single-family homes and restricting such facilities in other districts zoned for one- and two-family homes. The changes make parking requirements for houses of worship and ambulatory health care facilities more restrictive, with added flexibility for houses of worship to meet new parking requirements. Community facility parking lots with more than 10 spaces located in R1 through R5 residential districts would be required to have screening and planting strips. Rules allowing community facilities to obstruct a required rear yard would be eliminated or limited in their applicability. Houses of worship would be allowed as of right in districts zoned for light manufacturing. Also, the floor area ratios of community facilities in commercial districts mapped within certain residential districts would be doubled to provide new locational opportunities to areas in which medical facilities would be further restricted.
Community Board 6 Chair Joseph Hennessy called the affirmative vote he cast at his board’s behest a compromise. "My gut feeling is, for our recommendations to be considered, this has to go forward with this opportunity, otherwise we could have been shut out," he said. "This way, at least we stay in the [approval] process." Hennessy said the board he heads disapproved the measure by 28 unanimous votes at the Board 6 May meeting. The floor area ratio provision of the measure would make the number of parking spaces required for houses of worship contingent upon the seating capacity of the largest room in the building being used as a church, temple or synagogue. "We felt that to use that criterion to determine the number of parking spaces mandated for a house of worship is unfair," Hennessy said.
Community Board 8 Chair Alvin Warshaviak voted against the zoning change proposal as well. Patricia Dolan, a member of Board 8 and president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, said the community board was unanimous in its disapproval. A letter sent to Amanda Burden, Planning Department director and chair of the City Planning Commission, most of which Dolan drafted, succinctly stated the board’s objections. "The parking requirement for houses of worship would unnecessarily cause Orthodox congregations in particular to take on the onerous economic burden of acquiring land to provide parking for congregants whose religious obligations forbid them to drive to services on the Sabbath," the letter read. "Granting up to 10,000 square feet of additional bulk for Ambulatory Health Care Facilities in R3 and R4 (residential) districts (the predominant residential zoning designation in much of Central and Eastern Queens) by [Board of Standards and Appeals] permit and allowing as of right doubling the potential bulk in C1 and C2 (commercial) overlays in R3-2 districts effectively encourages inappropriate development of land better used for sorely needed housing. The failure to address the bulk bonus, which allows developers of community facilities to double the size of their buildings as a matter of right, is not addressed in the amendment." The letter concludes with the request that the Department of City Planning withdraw the amendment, address its deficiencies and submit a new proposal that will better address community concerns.
Dolores Rizzotto, district manager of Community Board 2, said that the board had voted to approve the zoning text changes, but sought to impose conditions. "We want to keep the rule about keeping certain establishments 500 feet away from churches," she said. Also voting approval with conditions were the chairs or their representatives of Community Boards 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Voting an outright "no" besides Boards 4 and 8 were chairs or representatives of Boards 5 and 14. Richard Hellenbretch, chair of Community Board 13, cast his vote as "no, with regrets." In land use hearings the previous Thursday, May 13, Hellenbretch had testified that his board’s objections to the zoning text changes arose because the board could not vote for the provisions, which applied only to its unique situation.
Community Board 3 abstained, as the meeting at which members would consider the zoning text amendment had not been held as of May 17, the date of the borough board meeting. The only affirmative vote without conditions was that of Community Board 1.