2006-07-07 / Front Page

Rockaway Beach Downzone Proposal Gets Another Hearing

By Miriam Rosenberg


D. Brian Heffernan, seen in a photo from the April meeting, believes that "people  should be informed of what is taking place" and "ponder the implications" of any rezoning of the area.
D. Brian Heffernan, seen in a photo from the April meeting, believes that "people should be informed of what is taking place" and "ponder the implications" of any rezoning of the area. In an attempt to get as many homeowners as possible involved in the discussion of a plan to downzone the community, the Rockaway Beach Civic Association has scheduled a follow-up meeting to address the subject, which had divided the community.

At a recent meeting, Paul Graziano, who was hired by Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. to evaluate zoning in his district, outlined the current zoning and the changes he says would be beneficial to the Rockaway Beach community.

Many in the community, however, do not believe that the downzoning would be beneficial to homeowners.

Delores Orr, the president of the civic association, discussed the agenda for the coming meeting with The Wave.

"Basically, we will present the Sunny-Rock Study [the original proposal for downzoning] and the consultant will present the new proposal that will incorporate any new zoning resolutions that have been put in place since that study was completed 10 years ago. He will also address the question of commercial zoning for Rockaway Beach Boulevard."

Delores Orr said that quality of life issues should be considered in the decision. 
Delores Orr said that quality of life issues should be considered in the decision. The proposal to downzone parts of the area brought heated discussion between those at the meeting, but the attendance was limited and a decision was made to hold a second meeting to try to get more homeowners involved.

D. Brian Heffernan, the owner of Heffernan Realty, was one of those who spoke about his concerns for and reservations about the proposal.

For the past few weeks, Heffernan has run a paid open letter to Rockaway homeowners in The Wave in which he suggests that any downzone would result in lowering the values of homes and property.

On Wednesday, Heffernan, who both lives in and owns property in west end communities, told The Wave his only concern is that "people be informed of what is taking place" and to "ponder the implications."

Orr said that Heffernan "doesn't have all the facts" and is "looking at it from the standpoint of a real estate broker and developer, not as a resident of the community."

She said that Heffernan "leaves out the quality of life for people."

Yet, Heffernan said he has "no agenda" and that "one way or another I make a living" regardless of zoning regulations.

Even though she hasn't talked to everyone, Orr said those she has spoken to "want the neighborhood to remain one or two family homes."

At the April meeting, Chris Connelly explained he would lose money on property he owned in the area that he wanted to develop, if the area was downzoned.

Also at that meeting, homeowner Katherine Twyford of Beach 91 Street stated she was against Donnelly's quest to develop his land just down the block from her home.

"I don't want a six-floor building at the end of my block," said Twyford.

In response to The Wave's May 19 report on the meeting, James C. Burke posted this response to the article on the newspaper's blog: "This is a quality of life issue... We don't need these huge multi-family units going up all over the place... These developers/realtors are ruining the very reason why most of us live here."

Orr said a notice of the meeting is going out to all members of the civic association, instead of to all the homeowners in the area as originally planned.

"Brian Heffernan has reneged on providing a list [of homeowners] and postage," explained Orr.

Heffernan said that since he didn't know when the next meeting was to be held "it would be pointless."

The majority of Rockaway Beach is zoned R5 and R6, which allows for higher density, multi-family residences, Graziano said. This zoning is for four to five-story buildings. A mix of three more restrictive 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 located, between Beach 97 and 98 Streets. R5-B is a multifamily zone allowing for, at the most, three stories.

Graziano has also given presentations about proposals for rezoning to the Chamber of Commerce and the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (for Belle Harbor, Neponsit and Rockaway Park).

Barbara Larkin, the President of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, said that her organization will soon hold a meeting on the downzoning plan.

"We are waiting for residents to respond to our last newsletter, which requested that they get back to us after doing some [of their own] research. Within the next two weeks we will be holding a board meeting to discuss the issue. It is our understanding that, unless an overwhelming majority of our residents desire to see the change, [it won't happen]," Larkin said. "Over the past three or four years, we have had complaints about the oversized houses that are being built. But, Belle Harbor is a unique community and the R2A [zone] may not be for us. The good people of Belle Harbor are sending in comments for and against [the downzoning plan]. We have a diverse board. We will see what happens."

If the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, or any of the civic associations in the area, chooses to support downzoning, the general public will also get a chance to weigh in.

Following passage by the civic association, the proposal goes to the Department of City Planning for certification. That starts a seven-month process of public hearings starting with Community Board 14's Land Use Committee. The proposal then goes before the whole board, to the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council before it becomes law.

The Rockaway Beach Civic Association will meet on Tuesday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall at 333 Beach 90 Street to address the downzone issue.

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