2007-02-02 / Front Page

Rockaway Park Votes 'Go' On Rezoning

By Miriam Rosenberg


A map of the proposed rezoning shows the changes in store for different areas should the plan go through.A map of the proposed rezoning shows the changes in store for different areas should the plan go through.

After eight months of meetings and debate, Rockaway Park residents came together last week - in a vote that is purely advisory - and supported a proposal to rezone their community.

The non-binding vote came at a Community Board 14 Land Use Committee meeting held at PS 225. At the meeting, the proposed plan was laid out and explained by a consultant hired by Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., Paul Graziano, of Associated Cultural Resource Consultants, who told the crowd that the goal was to decrease the density in the area from Beach 108 to Beach 129 Streets.

"That's been the plan all along," Graziano said at Wednesday's meeting.

When a community pursues what is properly known as a "contextual rezoning," it's to modify the zoning so that it reflects what either already exists in the neighborhood or what is desired in the future. Typically, the goal is to prevent someone from buying a property that is like the others around it and then building it to the maximum allowable size under the property's zoning - thereby making it out of character with the rest of the area and increasing the population density. For example, knocking down an SRO and building an apartment building, or knocking down bungalows to build attached housing.

Brian Heffernan, a member of the Land Use committee and owner of Heffernan Realty, proposes that residents slow down and look at the consequences of a downzone such as value of a person's home going down.  Brian Heffernan, a member of the Land Use committee and owner of Heffernan Realty, proposes that residents slow down and look at the consequences of a downzone such as value of a person's home going down. When considering a rezoning it's important to know the development potential - under the existing zoning regulations - of your property and that of your neighbor's, said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska. "It's irrelevant what your property looks like, it's what the land under it is zoned," he said.

Of course, even if a property is downzoned, someone who wants to develop it into something larger can seek a zoning variance, which is subject to layers of approval.

Graziano outlined the areas under discussion: The north side of Rockaway Beach Boulevard, from Beach 116 Street to Beach 129 Street, where all of the present zones would change to a new zone, R3X, which calls for only one and two-family detached homes.

Jim Coyne said he wants to see the downzone proposal passed so that his son can enjoy the same quality of living he has experienced all his life in Rockaway.Jim Coyne said he wants to see the downzone proposal passed so that his son can enjoy the same quality of living he has experienced all his life in Rockaway. Currently the Rockaway Park community is divided into four zones.

The R3A (one and two family, detached homes) zone runs from Beach 124 to Beach 129 Streets, between Newport Avenue and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

The current R3-1 (one and two family, detached and semi-detached homes) zone runs from Beach 117 to Beach 129 Streets, between Beach Channel Drive and Newport Avenue.

The current R3-2 (all types of residences, detached and semi-detached, including low-rise attached homes and small multi-family apartment houses) runs from Beach 116 Street to approximately Beach 122 Street, between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Newport Avenue.

Consultant Paul Graziano, of Associated Cultural Resource Consultants, answers a question from the audience about the new zoning proposal. Consultant Paul Graziano, of Associated Cultural Resource Consultants, answers a question from the audience about the new zoning proposal. The current R4 zone (all types of homes, detached and semi detached, including low-rise detached homes and small multi-family apartments) is between Beach 119 Street to Beach 124 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Newport Avenue.

"R3 is the closest thing to an R2 zone which allows for two family homes," said Graziano.

On the south side of Rockaway Beach Boulevard all the following areas would become an R4A (one and two family homes, detached) zone.

From Beach 125 Street to Beach 129 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Ocean Promenade stays as it is zoned now - R4A.

From Beach 120 Street to Beach 125 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Ocean Promenade (which is now zoned R4-1 - one and two family, detached and semi-detached) and from Beach 117 Street to Beach 120 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Ocean Promenade (which is currently R4).

Fran Stathis of Beach 128 Street speaks with Graziano after the meeting ends.Fran Stathis of Beach 128 Street speaks with Graziano after the meeting ends. The area between 108 Street and Beach 116 Street, on the south side of Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which is currently zoned R5 (all types of residences both detached and semi-detached) would be designated R3A and R4A for detached one and two family homes.

"R3A for the bungalow area, which is between 108 and 109 Streets, is the closest fit to the bungalows which come from a prior era," explained Graziano. "There's not a single zone that comes close to it."

If the response to Graziano's presentation is any indication, the proposal should have the backing of the community.

"I suggest to committee, if you look at communities in Bayshore and Bayside, it's the lower density communities that are most vibrant and most healthy with less stress on their schools and infrastructure," said one gentleman. "I would suggest you embrace this man's proposal."

Lew Simon, Democratic District leader and resident of Rockaway Park also was in favor of the plan.

"We've been listening to this for over a year. As we talk, apartment buildings and condos get built. Instead of all this rhetoric, how do we get this started now," said Simon as applause erupted in the room.

Several other people attending the meeting joined Simon in asking for a quick resolution to the zoning proposal.

While the meeting was only an informational one, a non-binding vote was taken of the approximately 75 people there.

And while it seemed everyone voted in favor of starting the downzoning process of right away, not everyone was favor of a quick decision.

Brian Heffernan (resident, committee member and owner of Heffernan Realty) advised residents to take their time and do their homework on the issue.

He suggested modifying without a complete downzoning.

"Let's do modification," said Heffernan who believes property values would decrease. "I'm not representing developers... I don't believe a downzone is best for the community. Status quo is fine with modification.

"Study it. Read it. Call your attorney and accountant. Tell them the community is thinking of downzoning. Ask them, 'what should I do. I'm concerned for my estate."'

Jim Coyne answered Heffernan by saying he felt the majority of people would be in favor of the plan.

"I think if you took a poll 90 percent of the people would say they are in favor of reducing the density of the community," said Coyne, as the sound of applause filled the room. "I want to see this downzoning passed so that my son could enjoy [the quality of life] I have enjoyed here in Rockaway."

Michael Tubridy, also a CB14 committee member, has lived in a downzoned area since 1990.

"Everything has gotten better," said Tubridy. "The value of my home, today, is a few dollars more then it was two decades ago."

To residents who questioned if they could rebuild their homes to the old zoning if it were destroyed by disaster, Graziano said if the homes were not deemed totally destroyed by city inspectors and insurance adjustors, they could be rebuilt to the old zoning.

He also said that with the new zonings, there would be fewer homes in non-compliance with zoning laws than there are now.

Since Graziano presented his proposal at a Rockaway Park Homeowners and Residents Association meeting last June, he has made one change in the plan.

"[It] was at the request of homeowners between 124th and 129th streets, Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Newport," Graziano told The Wave. "I had initially examined that area, which is currently zoned R3A, and left it that way. After reexamination, it's clear that it should also be included in the proposed R3X zone."

During the same time, the association has held several meetings to discuss the issue, but has come to no consensus about it.

Residents will have ample opportunity to comment on the proposal.

"Paul will be working with the community to make recommendations," said Chris DiOrio of the Department of City Planning. "Probably in three or four months we should have a proposal and can come back and present it. As soon as we have a community consensus, we'll put together an application and bring it to the city."

If the Department of City Planning certifies the application it begins the lengthy and public Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).

The application first goes to CB14, then the borough president's office, followed by the City Planning Commission and then the City Council. It could take months or years depending on the consensus of the community. At each level residents are encouraged to attend review sessions and make their voices heard.

Addabbo's liaison, Tom Dellanno said if people have any questions about the proposal, they can call (718) 718 318-6411 and speak to the councilman directly about the issue.

Gaska said that the board will be briefed on the plan at its meeting on February 13, but there will be no public hearing or vote until the community board receives the application, which could happen in the late spring.

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