Appointment Clash Shows Boards Getting ‘Too Political’

by richard gentilviso

Frank Skala completes his first two-year term as a member of Bayside Community Board 11 at the end of this month. However, Skala, who also serves as president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, has run into a problem with his reappointment. Although he submitted his application weeks ago, City Councilmember Tony Avella has not signed it.

“I’m a little disturbed by what has happened,” said Chairperson Jerry Iannece at the March meeting of Community Board 11. With Avella reported to have refused Skala’s application, Iannece said he will now speak to Borough President Helen Marshall regarding Skala’s reappointment to the board.

Iannece described the incident as an example of politicization of community boards. “This is a major problem that is going on and I think it is wrong,” said Iannece, indicating there was no apparent reason to deny Skala’s renewal application.

In 2001, term limits forced an entirely new membership in the Queens City Council as well as a new borough president, replacing elected officials who, in many instances, had been in office for more than a decade.

Among the consequences was the revival of a previously ignored process requiring current community board members to reapply every two years. In one incident, Long Island City Councilmember Eric Gioia objected to the re-election of Joseph Conley as chairperson of Queens Community Board 2 after Conley ran against Gioia in a primary election.

Each of the 59 community boards in the five boroughs consists of up to 50 unsalaried members. Although they are appointed by the borough president, half are nominated by their local city councilmember.

Community boards have an important advisory role in dealing with land use and zoning, the city budget, municipal service delivery and many other matters relating to their communities’ welfare. Although the board voted to approve it, Skala recently voted against the Bayside rezoning proposal, a measure Avella strongly supports.

“There is nothing in the charter that requires [a Councilmember’s signature] and nothing that prevents [Skala] from being reappointed,” said Board Member Steve Newman.

“If a community board member has to look over his shoulder every time he votes to be fearful of reappointment, that is wrong,” Iannece, who ran against Avella in the 2001 council primary election, said.

The City Planning Commission will vote on the rezoning of a 346-block area of Bayside this week, as the first significant change in New York City zoning since 1961 takes another step forward. The proposal, which includes newly designed R2A zoning districts, was introduced last fall by the Department of City Planning in response to growing concern by residents over out-of-context housing structures dubbed “McMansions”.

After months of discussion, the zoning text changes establishing an R2A district that provides new floor area definitions and building height and setback regulations, and zoning map amendments were mostly approved by Community Board 11 in January.

“We are in favor [of the rezoning] with certain criteria,” said Iannece. The board disagreed with rezoning R2 mapped areas to R1-2 and proposed several changes regarding R2A regulations. “The only way our sentiments will be heard is to testify at the hearings,” said Vice Chair Jim Rodgers.

In addition to preventing outsized development, the Bayside rezoning is intended to preserve existing neighborhoods and maintain the area’s low-scale density. The study area consists of mostly one- and two-family detached and semi-detached homes, although multi-family and attached homes are found in the area near 48th Avenue.

One such resident and homeowner, Nikolaos Lapsatis of 217-37 48th Ave., appealed to keep his property zoned R4 since rezoning to R3X effectively makes his house illegal. “There are five [nearby] homes that are legal three-family houses,” said Lapsatis.

“We agree the five homes should be allowed to stay [legal],” said Iannece, deferring the matter to Councilmember Avella. In a March 3 letter, Avella wrote Lapsatis that he would not ask the Department of City Planning to change the plan.

In other business, an application by the New York Fire Department and the Department of City Administrative Services to purchase a property at 40-14 214th Pl. for use as a parking lot for the personal cars of firefighters was approved by the board.

However, permission for the enlargement of an existing non-conforming manufacturing building at 59-25 Fresh Meadow La. and the extension of a term of variance for Bally Total Fitness at 245-02/34 Horace Harding Xway was denied.

Editor’s Note:

After Skala agreed in a private conversation with Avella to “tone down” his behavior at community board meetings, the councilmember agreed to sign his application for another term. n

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