Rockaway Beach Downzone Proposal Splits Community Members
Downzoning became a major issue at a recent meeting of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association and will be discussed again at a meeting that is tentatively slated for July.
The idea of downzoning Rockaway Beach is nothing new. A study performed by a consultant hired by the civic association about 15 years ago recommended it, but the city agency with oversight, then known as the City Planning Commission, rejected the idea.
Now, with an administration that is prone to preserving the existing character of neighborhoods, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. has retained a consultant to evaluate the zoning in most of his district - Hammels west to Neponsit. During a presentation at the April 26 meeting, the consultant, Paul Graziano - who has done similar work with Councilman James Sanders Jr. in Far Rockaway - outlined the current zoning and the changes he says would be beneficial.
Jonathan Gaska, District Manager for Community Board 14 says there are several pros to downzoning.
"From the quality of life standpoint, it has a lot of pluses," said Gaska. "It checks very large, out of character homes built...and prohibits large scale [buildings]. "By reducing the density of what is permissible, it increases parking, school seats...that over development [affects]."
Not all those at the meeting felt rezoning, or downzoning, would suit their needs.
"Each of the property owners should be notified [about this meeting]," said Brian Heffernan, of Heffernan Realty. "Issues that effect Neponsit are different than Belle Harbor...then Rockaway Beach. Once you explain the value of their homes could be affected, they'll be up in arms."
Yet, homeowner Katherine Twyford is more concerned with quality if life.
Twyford lives on Beach 91 Street and is against landowner Chris Donnelly's quest to develop his land. "I don't want a six-floor building at the end of my block," Twyford told The Wave after the meeting.
Meanwhile, downzoning could have an effect on those who buy or sell land in Rockaway Beach.
"If you want to sell to a developer who wants to built to the max, it may affect property values," Gaska said. "It's a trade-off of what you want. If you want to sell and get out of town, you may be upset."
Twyford, who has no intentions of relocating, is not concerned about property value.
"I'm not worried about five years from now," she told those at the meeting. "I want to be a resident here. I want quality of life. I don't want to sell."
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon is in favor of a downzone. "All these years we've waited for a change," said Simon. "Every nook and cranny is being bought and built to the max."
Graziano explained some of the thinking behind his recommendations.
"The quality of life issue cannot be taken in dollars," he said. "When replacing green space with walls it makes a difference. What I came up with is balanced. It keeps the best of the best and allows for development."
Developer and resident Michael Kerris proposed a second meeting to allow more homeowners to attend.
"I'm looking to protect people's rights," said Kerris, who is also an attorney, after the meeting.
Heffernan agreed to pay the postage for the mailing to homeowners.
On April 27, the president of the civic association, Delores Orr, told this newspaper, "The executive board will carry out the wishes of our members [who voted for a second meeting with all homeowners invited] upon receipt of a list and postage from Brian Heffernan."
Orr said a standard notice would be sent out for a meeting that would likely take place in July.
Addabbo, who attended the meeting, said the public debate was great.
"The bottom line is it's merely a proposal," he said. "If they don't want it [maybe] Neponsit or Belle Harbor will. Each community is a separate case."
Currently the majority of the Rockaway Beach area is zoned R5 and R6, which are meant for higher density, multi-family residences, Graziano said. This zoning allows for four to five story buildings. A mix of three different zonings would replace the R5 and R6 designations.
R4-A would allow some single and two-family, detached homes like those on Beach 91 between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the water Graziano explained. R4-1 would be for single and two-family semi-attached homes like the new housing where Rockaway Playland was (between Beach 97 and 98 Streets). R5-B is a multifamily zone allowing for, the most, three stories. Graziano said it would be roll houses with on site parking.
On May 16, Graziano gave the presentation for rezoning to the Chamber of Commerce and the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (for Belle Harbor, Neponsit and Rockaway Park).
If the civic association passes the proposal and the Department of City Planning certifies it, a seven-month process of public hearings begins. Following the certification, it goes to Community Board 14, the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council before it becomes law.