2006-08-18 / Community

It's My Turn

By Vince Castellano

In addition to being a realtor, Vince Castellano sits on Community Board 14 and the Board of Directors of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce.

Are you sick of the zoning debate? Are you tired of people yelling at each other, calling each other stooges, fools, sell-outs and worse? Well, I am tired of the outright lying, the dangerous half-truths and the self-serving scare tactics by carpetbaggers who want to make money at the expense of their neighbors. I am not opposed to making money, I just object to being dishonest to do it.

Many people don't realize it, but Rockaway is at a critical point in its history. The city has let it be known that they will re-zone Rockaway based on community sentiment.

This is an historic change of heart for the Department of City Planning. In 1992 Rockaway Beach spent more than a year developing a zoning plan and even though it had all approvals, City Planning rejected it in about 15 minutes.

Rockaway has not had a comprehensive re-zoning since the early 1960's. Many of the development problems and urban blight in Rockaway can be traced to that plan and now we have a chance to fix it.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. How well we handle this opportunity will determine whether Rockaway is a community we want to live in. This is truly the legacy we will leave to the generations that follow.

Recently the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce unanimously adopted a zoning plan for every commercial area in Councilman Joe Addabbo's district. In time, the entire plan will be made public but there is one recommendation in there which is terribly obvious and goes a long way to solving various zoning problems in Rockaway.

The plan proposes a universal parking requirement for Rockaway. It doesn't matter what the zoning is or where you are. There are no exceptions, no loopholes. If you build a new residential unit, you must provide one off-street parking spot for that apartment. It is very simple, but it has far reaching implications.

By requiring developers to provide 100 percent parking, two things happen automatically. First, any new development will have less impact on the existing neighbors. The new neighbors will not be competing with the old neighbors for parking. Secondly, density of new construction will be reduced since the developer must devote his own valuable land for parking space.

For example, if I build a 20 unit building and provide only 15 parking spots, then in effect I am making money at the expense of my neighbors since some of the new residents will compete with the existing residents for parking on the street. With a 100% parking requirement, maybe that lot can only fit 17 apartments and 17 parking spaces.

In addition, by requiring 100 percent parking, all housing becomes more valuable. Housing with parking is always more valuable than housing without parking. Furthermore, no homeowner will live in fear of the nightmare that happened to the people of Beach 91 Street, where a developer built four three-family attached homes on one lot without even one parking space. That developer stole value from his neighbors. But the developer doesn't care since he will sell the houses to some poor dupe who won't realize the problem until it is too late.

Finally, the parking requirement will eliminate incidental housing. Historically, when a new commercial store was built, often an apartment or two would be built above the store. Those apartments, originally intended to be occupied by the store owner, in time became the worst apartments in the neighborhood with the lowest rents and the lowest quality tenants. The parking requirement will end all that. Who will build an apartment above a store when you must reduce the size of the store to devote scarce space for parking?

This new parking requirement in many ways just formalizes existing policy. For many years, whenever a developer came to the community board for a variance to build housing, the board always required 100% off-street parking. The growing parking problem in Rockaway now makes the wisdom of that policy obvious, but it only applies to developers requesting variances. This new parking requirement applies this policy to all new as-of-right development. We will close the loophole for good and for everybody.

The parking requirement is not a panacea. It does not solve every problem, many still remain, but I believe it makes a significant contribution to solving the zoning problems of Rockaway.

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