R2A Zoning Gets Mixed Reception
The Queens Borough President’s Zoning Task Force met in late August at Queens Borough Hall. It was the first such meeting since March, and those in attendance heard John Young of the Department of City Planning (DCP) say that in the intervening five months five more rezonings have been approved. That brings the total of approved rezonings in the borough in recent years to 30, out of a possible 70. In the borough president’s conference room, Young spoke to an audience comprising civic association and community board members, with other interested parties included.
Young said that the success of New York City has always depended on its ability to change and grow. Queens has had change forced upon it in recent years through overbuilding and illegal tenancy conversions. Borough President Helen Marshall said that such conversions started in Corona, where she lives and began her political career. Before she had to leave on other business, Marshall told the meeting that adjustments have been effected in 12 areas, in an attempt to stem the construction of residential buildings that are larger than the respective residential districts are designed to bear. Developers, however, are “savvy,” she said, and often put basements in place before the rezoning that is meant to stop their building plans can be put into effect. Young mentioned not only the five places with approved rezoning but additional studies too. The approved areas are Bayside (since April), Springfield Gardens (also April), Kissena Park (May), Cambria Heights (July) and East Flushing (July); those areas certified for additional study include College Point, Whitestone and Far Rockaway. Other areas under study include Middle Village/Glendale, Douglaston/Little Neck, Dutch Kills and Woodside/Maspeth.
Young commented approvingly about a new low-density district in Bayside that may be applied in other places; he then heard disapproving comments about it. Bayside is, according to DCP literature, “characterized by large concentrations of one- and two-family detached and . . . semi-detached houses.” In the single-family areas that are zoned R2, recent development of outsized houses, popularly and contemptuously known as “McMansions,” has prompted establishment of a single family “contextual” zoning district called R2A, to replace existing R2 districts within Bayside. According to the DCP, R2A “would apply bulk, height and setback controls similar to those of other contextual districts, but adapted to the low-density detached framework of the existing R2.” R2A regulations “would still permit expansion of existing homes, but with a more predictable building envelope, consistent with the scale and character of neighboring homes.” In the judgment of Alan Weinstein, an architect, and Chris Petallides, an engineer, R2A is a false hope. Petallides said that its bulk, height and setback controls impede opportunities for homeowners to improve their properties. Weinstein said that the problem of overbuilding is best addressed not by zoning but by better policing of the Department of Buildings. He called for “intelligent legislation, not just reaction” to violations of current zoning, adding that R2A “makes me shudder.”
Young’s reference to the Woodside/Maspeth zoning study, which was the topic of a public meeting in Woodside in mid-June, aroused interest among representatives of Forest Hills and Elmhurst because of its proposals for Queens Boulevard, which runs through those towns also.