Background, zoning

Zoning revisions in Sunnyside and Woodside

The Department of City Planning has initiated a process to rezone Sunnyside and part of Woodside. They have their agenda, developers have their agenda, and various residents and business owners have theirs.

Here’s my agenda: I think Sunnyside and Woodside have too much off-street parking. Off-street parking encourages people to own cars, and to drive, as shown in this PDF. That’s bad for the neighborhood. Worse is that new buildings are required to have parking that’s really not necessary. The result is that all the new apartment buildings have garages and curb cuts, messing up the pedestrian experience and encouraging people to own cars in the neighborhood.

Business owners in Sunnyside and Woodside should also be in favor of reducing parking minimums. None of them have much customer parking, so most customers arrive by foot. Neighborhood residents who own cars are often tempted to drive to competing businesses outside the neighborhood with more parking. Thus, it is in the interest of business owners to keep residential parking low.

The best thing would be if we could scrap all parking minimums, bringing Sunnyside and Woodside into the same category as Long Island City and most of Manhattan, but as far as I can tell that requires a change to the zoning resolution, which would need approval by the full Council and is thus outside the scope of these hearings.

The next best thing is to push the zoning towards zones with lower parking minimums, and resist pressure in the other direction. We should also keep in mind waivers for small numbers of spaces required under parking minimums. If someone wants a zone with a particular height, I would like to encourage them to go for the subtype with the least parking required, as follows:

  • R4/R4A/R4B or less (100%) -> R5B (66%, waive up to 1 per lot). R4B (100%, but allowing waiver) is an improvement, but would still give us lots of curb cuts.
  • R5/R5A (100%) -> R5B or R5D (66%, waive up to 1 per lot)
  • R6 (70%, waive up to 5) -> R6A or R6B (50%, waive up to 5)
  • R7-1 or R7B (60%, waive up to 5) -> any other R7 category (50%, waive up to 15)
  • R8B -> any other R8 category

The good news is that the City Planning proposal already has mostly low-parking-requirement zones: R5B, R5D, R6A and R7A. There are some areas that have too-high parking requirements in the proposal: three zones in Woodside that are R4-1, and two in Sunnyside (47th Street and Sunnyside Towers) that are R4. These should be R5B. Sunnyhills and the Phipps Gardens would remain R4 under the proposal, which doesn’t make any sense; they should be R7-2.

I hope you will agree with me about the need to keep parking minimums low and waivers high. If you do, please go to meetings and support this agenda. If you have another agenda (changing the density, for example), you may be able to get my support if you also argue for a lower parking minimum.

To help you make up your own minds, here are documents and maps about the proposed Sunnyside and Woodside rezoning, courtesy of Thomas Smith and Penny Lee at the Department of City Planning:

grvsmth (Author)


  1. Sofia Geier

    OK, gonna sound really dumb here, but… in basic language if possible, what are parking “minimums” and parking “waivers”?

    Or refer me to a site that explains in simple terms. Thanks so much.

  2. grvsmth

    Not at all, Sofia! It’s good to know which terms need to be explained. If you didn’t understand them there’s probably ten more people who didn’t.

    Each zone type (R4, R5B, R7-1, etc.) has a particular formula for when someone builds a new residential structure. The city counts up the number of units (apartments) to be built on the lot. The developers are required to build one parking space for a certain percentage of units. For example, in R4 zones, the percentage is 100%, which means they’re required to provide one parking space for every unit. In R4 infill zones, they only have to provide one space for 66% of units. This is summarized in the zoning tables (PDF).

    There is also a waiver in some zones, which means that if the total number of parking spaces required is below a certain threshold, the builder doesn’t have to build any.

    Let’s take the example of someone who’s building a two-family house. In an R4 or R4-1 zone the parking minimum is 100%, so they are required to build two parking spaces. But if it’s an R4B zone, one of those spaces is waived, so they only have to build one space. In an R5B zone, they are required to build one and a third spaces, but one of those is waived and the one-third is less than 50%, so they don’t have to build any.

    I hope that helps!

  3. grvsmth

    Actually, answering your question has helped me a lot, Sofia! I’ve clarified the post a bit. I’ve also changed my agenda to R5B for the proposed R4 areas, and R7-2 for Sunnyhills and the Phipps.

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