2004-08-04 / Front Page

Avella’s Community Facilities Zoning Changes Headed For Approval

by john toscano

A hearing is scheduled on Monday at City Hall before the Zoning and Franchises Committee, headed by City Councilmember Tony Avella, where it’s expected that Avella’s far-reaching bill to limit the size of some community facilities that have created serious parking problems in residential areas will be approved.

Avella (D–Bayside), calling his proposed zoning change a major priority since becoming a councilmember, has focused his proposal on community facilities, particularly houses of worship and medical offices, that affect the character of residential neighborhoods by creating situations of overcrowding by parked cars.

Avella said yesterday that his focus was on "closing a loophole which allows huge facilities to provide no onsite parking if chairs in the facility are not secured in the flooring."

The proposal was attacked by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish groups whose members are forbidden to drive on the Sabbath and Jewish holy days. They made the point that parking is unnecessary because they walk to their houses of worship, so to require them to secure larger land plots to build a facility that includes unneeded parking space would raise the cost of building and make construction cost-prohibitive.

Their complaints drew support from some councilmembers, including Councilmembers James Gennaro (D–Fresh Meadows) and David Weprin (D–Hollis).

They brought their concerns to Avella, who received them sympathetically. Last Wednesday, Avella proposed a change which the City Planning Commission agreed to.

The change, now incorporated in Avella’s original bill, provides that if 75 percent of a congregation resides within three-quarters of a mile of a place of worship, any parking requirement can be waived if there’s an application for a waiver. Otherwise, the new parking requirement calls for one parking space for every 10 people who attend the facility.

Commenting on the change, Gennaro said the original proposal placed an undue burden on some communities and the resolution of the complaints surrounding it addresses the problem of parking while respecting New Yorkers’ diverse religious practices.

Weprin said that the compromise reached on the disputed proposal "is one that we all can be proud of."

He continued, "The addition of this amendment makes the new, more adequate parking regulations for community facilities, including houses of worship, adhere to the needs of all New Yorkers."

Heshie Baron, a former president of the Queens Jewish Community Council, stated, "We were fortunate that Councilmember Gennaro was first in the... City Council to understand the unintended consequences of the original proposal in potentially stunting the growth of our community."

Another major proposal in Avella’s bill prohibits large medical facilities in single-family districts and restricts their size in one- and two-family districts.

Last Wednesday’s action came before a joint session of the Planning Commission and the council Land Use Committee, chaired by Councilmember Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills).

Katz said afterward that tailoring zoning changes "to ensure the stability of our city’s ever-changing communities is, and must continue to be, a city priority."

If the Avella bill passes on Monday, as he expects it will, it then goes to Katz’s committee and finally the full council.

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