2005-10-07 / Community

Bayswater Begins Downzoning Process

Community Board 14’s Jonathan Gaska and Councilwoman Melinda Katz (right) discuss the rezoning as Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer takes notes.Community Board 14’s Jonathan Gaska and Councilwoman Melinda Katz (right) discuss the rezoning as Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer takes notes. By Miriam Rosenberg

Contributing Editor

Residents of both Bayswater and portions of Far Rockaway came together at a community meeting hosted by the Bayswater Civic Association on September 27 to hear proposals by representatives of the Department of City Planning for downzoning their communities in the wake of, what many believe is, over-development.

Residents who came to the Bayswater Jewish Center said that they are worried about lots with single homes being replaced with row houses, sub-division of homes and the fate of the 100 plus year-old mansions in the area.

“As I see this neighborhood being destroyed, my whole history is being destroyed,” said Deborah Smith, whose family has lived in Bayswater for 100 years. “We need to get together … if we are going to stop this. We need to do something now, or by the time we try to save it there won’t be anything left to save.”

John Young (the director of the Queens office for the Department of City Planning – DCP) and Chris DiOrio, the DCP’s planner for the Rockaway community explained the proposal for rezoning.

DiOrio said the agency wants to change the over 40-year zoning laws to lower density contextual zones to reduce floor ratios.

Currently, the areas of the proposed rezoning – Bayswater and part of Far Rockaway – are described as general housing types permitted.

In Bayswater, the majority of the zoning is divided between R5 (which is ‘as of right’ allowing most any type of building) and R2 (which is for single family, detached housing). The area also has some R3-2 zoning where detached, semi-detached and attached houses can be built.

The proposal calls for breaking up the zoning in Bayswater into R1-2 (single family detached); R3A, R3X, R4A (one to two family detached homes); R4-1 (one to two family detached or semi-detached houses) and R2.

The Far Rockaway area proposed for rezoning is bound by Cornaga Avenue and Empire Avenue to the south, Brunswick Avenue to the north, Nameoke Street to the west and the Nassau County line to the east. That area is now an R4 (general zoning for detached, semi-detached or attached homes). That zoning would be divided into R3X, R4A and R4-1 zones under the proposal.

The meeting had some contentious moments when some residents voiced their opinions that the zoning changes will come too late for where they live.

While most seemed to favor the proposals, Gershon Kayman, an orthodox Jew, felt that his community was being left out of the process. He said that most orthodox Jews only learned about the meeting in synagogue on Saturday.

“People should understand the severe consequences to the value to their property – value is going to go down,” said Kayman, a real estate attorney.

Kayman suggested several things such as requiring minimum heights for buildings.

In replying to Kayman, Phyllis Rudnick said 1,100 to 1,200 copies of the civic association’s newsletter – The Bayswater Breeze – were mailed to homes announcing the meeting as well as advertisements in The Wave.

“If you look around [the room] you’ll see a lot of people from the orthodox community,” Rudnick replied. “You showed. These people did not show up. Don’t say community at large did not get everyone involved.”

Artist Patrick Clark, who designed the memorial for Tribute Park, seemed to speak for most in the room concerning property values.

“I did not move into the community to see a big [increase in the] value in my property,” Clark said. “If my priority was to make money, I can sell now.”

Councilman James Sanders, Jr. (who is conducting a study for down zoning the entire 31st Councilmanic district) addressed the large crowd that attended the meeting.

“This is not just for the Rockaways,” said Sanders. “These developers act like a [bouncing] ball. They go from one area to another. We have to get all at one time or they move to another part. I wish the mayor would tackle this for the entire city. If not the entire city, we have to save this area first. It’s meetings like this that [show why] we’re going to downzone, and downzone yesterday.”

Both Young and Community Board 14’s district manager Jonathan Gaska promised that residents would have several opportunities to comment on the rezoning proposals.

“We look at how the community it directly affects thinks,” said Gaska. “If it doesn’t support the plan, we won’t vote for it.”

Councilwoman Melinda Katz, chair of the Land Use committee, told those at the meeting that the City Council will move on the proposal“ as quickly as we can.”

City Planning must first certify the proposal. It then goes before Community Board 14, then the Queens Borough President’s office, the City Planning Commission and finally the City Council. Young said the process could take up to seven months, but he hoped to expedite it at City Planning.

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