Vallone: Rezoning Is Biggest Board 1 Issue In 2010
Fresh from taking the oath of office on January 1, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. told Community Board 1 at the board’s January meeting that the upcoming Astoria rezoning will be the biggest event of the new year.
Entering his third term, Vallone promised to continue working as hard as in his previous eight years in office. “I will bring more goods and services to Astoria, pass more bills and be the number one advocate for more police, the environment and public education,” he told board members gathered at Astoria World Manor.
Speaking to the board for the first time since re-election, Vallone said he was very happy with the 75 percent plurality he received in November in the council’s 22nd District.
Looking to the future, Vallone said, “We’re rezoning almost all of Astoria, from Vernon Boulevard to Steinway Street, all the way down to 34th Avenue.”
After speaking with every local organization involved and with hundreds of individuals, Vallone said, “We’ve worked hard.”
“There are basically only two zones in Astoria, R5 north of the Grand Central Parkway and R6 south of the Grand Central Parkway,” Vallone explained. “In R6, you can do whatever you want. That’s why you see many skyscrapers on residential streets. R5 and R6 were not meant to deal with what we have today. We have come up with a plan with a goal to allow responsible development in areas that can support it but not to allow somebody to put up a skyscraper next to a residential home.”
A presentation by the Department of City Planning and a public hearing on the Astoria rezoning will be held at the February 16 meeting of Community Board 1, Zoning Committee Chairperson John Carusone said.
“Some people will disagree on both sides,” said Vallone. “But 95 percent in the middle will agree. [Rezoning] is going to be a great thing for Astoria to make sure that the Astoria we love will be here for our kids.”
Vallone said he would keep up the fight against graffiti and pointed to two new laws he introduced. The first requires photo identification for the purchase of etching acid, which is sometimes used in graffiti. “You need to show an ID to buy Sudafed (decongestant),” he said, telling of how he came to the idea to draft legislation to require stores to take and keep photo ID records for people purchasing etching acid.
The second is the phase-out of rolldown security gates. “I think they make neighborhoods look like war zones at night,” Vallone said of the roll-down gates. The gates are attractive targets of graffiti and not really good for business, he added.
“People will be able to see through [the new required gates] and they are much safer for our first responders (police and firefighters),” Vallone added. “They don’t have to guess what’s in there.” Store owners will have until July 2026 to comply and solid roll-down security gates will no longer be sold after July 2011.
Vallone paid tribute to recently deceased board member Julie Wager, calling his death “a great loss”. Newly installed Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik introduced himself to the board and also remembered Wager, saying he was a person who really made a difference in other people’s lives. A moment of silence was observed in Wager’s honor at the behest of Board Chair Vinicio Donato.
In other business, the board provisionally approved the Residential Streetscape Preservation Text Amendment, noting if their four recommendations are not adopted, the approval is considered to be rescinded.
City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden on Monday, January 25 announced the beginning of public review for a proposed nearly 240-block rezoning in the vibrant neighborhood of Astoria. The proposal would prevent out-of-scale development by replacing decadesold zoning with new contextual zones and firm building height limits, extend commercial zoning to support business opportunities along primary corridors and transit hubs, and provide zoning incentives for affordable housing through the Inclusionary Housing Program. The plan was developed at the request of and with extensive input from City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. and local community groups in response to concerns about out-of-character development in the area.
“Since 2002, City Planning has been replacing old zoning in Queens with fine-grained plans that are tailored to fit each unique neighborhood, and we have rezoned almost 4,500 blocks in the borough in that manner,” Burden explained. “Astoria is renowned for its ties to the Greek heritage of many of its residents, and it is a culturally rich shopping and dining mecca. We have worked extensively with the community to craft a comprehensive new zoning plan so the neighborhood will no longer be threatened by out-ofscale new developments. This rezoning is designed to preserve and strengthen the diverse and distinctive character of the community, promote affordable housing through the Inclusionary Housing Program, and channel growth where appropriate to wide streets well served by public transit.”
“After five years of hard work with the Department of City Planning and members of the community, I am very pleased with the proposed rezoning plan, which addresses the needs of an evolving neighborhood and preserves its unique history,” Vallone said. “We have now created an opportunity for homeowners to improve and expand their property in context with the surrounding area while preventing the creation of out-of-character buildings.”
The rezoning proposal area is bounded by 20th Avenue on the north, Steinway Street on the east, Broadway on the south, and Vernon Boulevard, 8th Street, 14th Street and the East River to the west. The proposal builds upon the success of three previously-adopted contextual rezonings in Astoria, including the Broadway (2001), Steinway Street (1998), and West Astoria (1989) rezonings, each of which were more limited in scope. At present, Astoria is served by nine bus lines and the N and W trains running on the elevated line above 31st Street, with four stops in the rezoning area, including the terminal station near Ditmars Boulevard.
Currently much of the rezoning area is covered by two expansive residential zoning districts (R5 and R6). In the portion north of the Grand Central Parkway, R5 zoning allows taller and bulkier buildings than the two- or three-story structures typically found there, and new buildings or enlargements do not have to be aligned with the front walls of neighboring buildings. South of the Grand Central Parkway, high rise buildings of up to 20 stories tall have been constructed in areas zoned R6 located either east of 21st Street or west of 12th Street to Vernon Boulevard since this zone lacks firm height limits and street wall line-up requirements. Updating these zoning districts with new contextual zoning would provide greater predictability for future development and complement Astoria’s built character. The rezoning would:
• Reinforce established development patterns and ensure more predictable growth along wide streets with new contextual zones and height limits applied on a fine-grained basis, including the following changes:
• Generally replace R5 zoning north of the Grand Central Parkway with R5B zoning on many residential side streets to limit building heights to a maximum of 33 feet (three stories);
• Implement R5D zoning on wide, primary corridors, including Steinway Street and 23rd and 24th Avenues to limit building heights to 40 feet (four stories);
• Implement R6A and C4-2A zoning at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard to limit building heights to 70 feet (seven stories);
• Generally replace R6 zoning south of the Grand Central Parkway with R5B, R5D and R6B zoning on side streets to limit building heights to 33 feet, 40 feet or 50 feet, respectively;
• Implement R6A and C4-2A zoning on primary corridors, including Steinway and Crescent Streets, Broadway and 30th Avenue, to limit building heights to 70 feet;
• Implement R7A and C4-4A zoning on portions of 21st Street, Vernon Boulevard and Newtown Avenue to limit building heights to 80 feet;
• Update commercial overlays and provide new commercial zones to reflect existing commercial development and provide opportunities for new businesses to open to serve residents, while reducing the depth of overlays to prevent commercial uses from encroaching onto residential blocks, and
• Encourage the creation and preservation of affordable housing through the Inclusionary Housing Program the first time the program has been used in the neighborhood on 21st Street between 28th Avenue and Broadway, on Vernon Boulevard between Welling Court and 31st Drive and on block fronts in a commercial district at the intersection of Newtown Avenue and 31st Street.
The community board now has 60 days to review the proposal, after which it will go to the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council as part of the city Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). For specifics of the zoning proposal or more details on the ULURP time line, visit the DCP Web site.