2008-05-09 / Front Page

CB 14 Faces Tough Tuesday Decision

By Howard Schwach

The members of Community Board 14 face one of their toughest decisions in recent years when the question of rezoning the west end comes before them at their regular meeting next Tuesday evening, May 12.

Members of the Rockaway Park Property Owners and Residents Association, a group opposed to high-rise development on Beach 116 Street, pose with City Councilman Tony Avella at a meeting last Tuesday. They are, from left, Hank Iori, Avella and Noreen Ellis.
And, no matter what they decide, their decision may have long-lasting ramifications for the entire west end and particularly the Beach 116 Street shopping area.

City Councilman Tony Avella, the chair of the council's zoning committee, made the choice clear at a community meeting that was held at PS 225 on Tuesday night.

"The community board has two choices, and they are choices that only the community can make," Avella told the 200 residents in attendance at the meeting. "It can say no to the entire zoning plan and stop the upzoning of Beach 116 Street, but lose all of the benefits of the plan in the rest of the community, or it can approve the plan and get everything else they want while accepting the upzoning of Beach 116 Street."

Avella was speaking in response to a city plan that would change the zoning regulations for five Rockaway neighborhoods, including Rockaway Park.

While most locals who were at the meeting indicated that they like the majority of the rezoning plan because it would put a halt to overdevelopment, the great majority at the meeting balked at the changes for Beach 116 Street, which would allow eight-story buildings to line the street from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the boardwalk.

That zoning plan must go through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process, often called ULURP. The Department of City Planning certified the zoning plan last month. The first step in the ULURP process is for the community board to vote to either accept or reject the plan.

While the board's vote is only advisory in nature, Paul Graziano, a zoning specialist who was at the Tuesday night meeting, told the crowd that there was a good chance that city planning would pull its application should the community board reject it, leaving the entire west end vulnerable to overdevelopment.

After the community board votes, the proposal moves to the borough president, who also has an advisory role in the process. From there, it goes back to city planning for tweaking and then to the city council for a final vote.

Presently, Beach 116 Street is zoned R-5 with a commercial overlay, which allows for three-story buildings with commercial units on the ground floor. The new plan would change the zone to R-7A with a commercial overlay, which would allow eight-story buildings with commercial units on the first floor.

Most of those who spoke at last Tuesday's community meeting vehemently opposed the larger buildings preferring rather an R-5D zone that would allow for five-story buildings along the shopping street.

Noreen Ellis, the zoning chair for the Rockaway Park Homeowners and Residents Association, said that her group wanted to "maintain the quaint character of Beach 116 Street," which drew snickers from many in the audience. "We have to protect the residential character of the neighborhood," Ellis said. "We are taking the quaint character and appeal of Beach 116 Street and we're changing it for the worse."

"We do not need more housing units on Beach 116 Street," a resident said. "We don't have the schools, the roads or the room to handle the extra population eight-story buildings would bring. I still don't understand why we need it or why the city wants to put it here."

Geraldine D. Chapey added her voice to those opposed to the plan. The state regent told the crowd that Rockaway is too fragile and threatened by storms to allow more people to live in that particular area.

Kevin Callaghan pointed out that Beach 116 Street was already a bottleneck with too many autos and buses idling at stops on Rockaway Beach Boulevard. "This is not rational planning, it's irrational planning," Callaghan said, calling for the city to complete an Environmental Impact Study on the area prior to allowing the zoning change. "We are being held captive by developers who want to make lots of money out of our community," Callaghan added. "We have to keep the density down."

Only one voice called for approval of the plan, a woman who identified herself only as Rebecca. "You may be angry about this," she said. "Beach 116 Street is a disgrace. We have to bring in developers, investors to change that. What's our alternative to this change? Will developers come in if they can only build five-story buildings?"

When asked by Avella how many wanted the lower density plan, nearly everybody in the room raised their hands. When asked, however, how many wanted to lower density at the expense of losing the downzoning in the rest of the community, only three responded by raising his or her hand.

"Density is destiny," Callaghan said, meaning that Rockaway will rise or fall on the zoning decisions that will be made in the near future.

Now, that destiny is up to the community board, which will meet at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Beach 90 Street at 7:45 on May 12.

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