Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tony Avella, civics blast zoning text amendment

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and several civic leaders called on the American Institute of Architects to withdraw a zoning proposal it submitted to the Department of City Planning during a news conference last week on the steps of Borough Hall.

The speakers, who included Queens Civic Congress leader Corey Bearak and Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights co-founder Aaron Bershear, also criticized DCP's handling of the application, which they said would roll back their attempts to preserve the character of local neighborhoods.
AIA's amendment would allow multi-family buildings on small lots in high-density R6 to R10 districts, a taller maximum base height in some R6 to R10 buildings, and a waiver of side yard requirements in some residential districts via a city Board of Standards and Appeals permit.
Buildings zoned R6 are 40 to 60 feet tall and R10 buildings can be 85 feet tall.The AIA could not be reached for comment Monday through its state office or communications department.In a Monday telephone interview, Avella said he was as perplexed by City Planning's handling of the application as he was by the application itself.
"This whole thing is very confusing, because normally it would be DCP initiating any text change," he said, adding that it was "very rare" for a private group to request sweeping changes.Furthermore, as chairman of the City Council zoning subcommittee, Avella said he had not received any official notification about the application or its certification by City Planning, which was issued on Oct. 31. He also said many community boards did not know about it and therefore did not vote on the issue.
"The way I found out about it was through a Brooklyn civic group," he said.City Planning spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said her office notifies the community boards, borough presidents and the Council's Land-use Committee about applications. Applications are also listed on the DCP Web site, she said.She said she could not comment on applications submitted by private parties, but in general, such parties sometimes requested changes to both zoning mapping and zoning text to help achieve their goals.
Raynoff stressed that City Planning certification does not indicate the agency's stance on the application one way or the other. "It means it is open to public review. We are looking forward to good, constructive community feedback," she said.Avella, however, said feedback was the last thing on the agency's mind. He described the process through which the AIA obtained its certification, the Uniform Land User Review Procedure, as an "expedited" one -- a charge the City Planning Department firmly denied.
The councilman further said that DCP's alleged failure to notify some parties of the application was more than a communication problem."It's not a communication failure. It's that DCP is more interested in development than preservation," he said.Avella said he is willing to sit with the AIA and discuss a possible compromise, but he will vote against the application if it comes before his committee in its current form.

©Times Ledger 2008
NB - At the request of CB9M Chair Pat Jones, I represented CB9M at the press conference and spoke on behalf of community based planning. -JRM

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