Background, Commentary, Queens, zoning

Report from the Zoning presentation

After tonight’s zoning presentation, I am fairly well satisfied that the current proposal is a good one. The existing zoning requires developers to build too many parking spaces, and the proposal would reduce those requirements as much as is feasible.

I had a chance to talk briefly with Tom Smith, the planner who is most directly involved in this project. He pointed out that my R5B proposal would invite people to tear down existing single-family houses and replace them with multi-family homes that would then be required to have more than one space per lot, resulting in a net increase in cars. Essentially, the R4 and R4-1 zones are the best we can hope for without rewriting the zoning code.

The most promising prospect for reducing parking requirements would be to expand the “Long Island City subject area” (PDF) to include Sunnyside and Woodside. That’s a much bigger deal, though, and I can understand why they didn’t want to bring it up in this rezoning.

With regard to the zoning of Sunnyhills and the Phipps Gardens, Tom observed that any new development would essentially require “a gas explosion” and maybe an earthquake too, so I didn’t need to be concerned about that. In the current draft, Sunnyside Towers would be rezoned R6A, which conforms to its current use.

There is a proposal to amend the zoning code, which prohibits sidewalk cafes on any street with an elevated railroad, except for a specific list of streets. The amendment would add Queens Boulevard to that list, which makes a lot of sense because the el does not cover the street there. I fully support this part of the proposal. Lily Gavin was in attendance, and I mentioned that I look forward to eating al fresco at Dazie’s someday.

The other people who spoke had various objections and concerns. A couple of them agreed with me about reducing parking requirements. Al Volpe disagreed with me, but chose to take a bizarre dig at bicycles, which hadn’t been mentioned up to that point. Gert McDonald of the United Forties spoke about providing parking for everyone, but I was distracted while she was speaking, so I didn’t hear everything she said. If anyone else heard her argument, please fill me in.

A number of people, including Angel Gil and Sherry Gamlin, pointed to the crowding in the schools and asked if there was a way to get more school space to accommodate the increase in population. I agree completely: my son’s second grade classroom squeezes 29 kids into a trailer, and it makes things difficult. John Young from City Planning said that when the proposal is finalized it will include an estimate of the potential population increase, but he did not discuss any steps that could be taken to accommodate that increase, either with schools or with transit.

Young said that once the proposal is finalized, it will have to be reviewed by the Community Board, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Each group will have to hold hearings, and the entire process takes around seven months. I will keep an eye on the proposals and try to make sure that no districts with high parking requirements creep in, but please let me know if you see any.

So far this looks like a good proposal. I appreciate the efforts of Jimmy Van Bramer and his staff, Joe Conley and the Community Board, and the City Planning staff, to make the process accessible and understandable to all.

Background, zoning

Commercial zoning in the latest draft proposal

Jimmy Van Bramer’s staff got an updated version of the zoning proposal, dated May 19, and passed the maps on to Christian Murray, who posted them on his Sunnyside Post blog.

The main differences I could find between the February maps that I posted previously and these May maps all relate to commercial zoning along Greenpoint and Roosevelt Avenues.

To understand this, you need to know about commercial overlays. These are zoning districts that are established along avenues for retail businesses serving the neighborhood. They only extend 100-200 feet back from the street. The districts that start with C1- are meant to be 1-2 story buildings, and the ones that start with C2- are a bit higher, and the ones starting with C4- are significantly higher. The second number indicates parking minima, where the ones that end in -1 require lots of parking, those that end in -2 a bit more, and so on.

These avenues currently (PDF) have a commercial overlay C1-2 from 41st to 44th Streets and from 59th to 65th Street, and C2-2 from 50th to 58th and from 65th to the BQE. There is also a district (not an overlay) from 47th Avenue to half a block north of Queens Boulevard and from 44th through 48th Streets that is zoned C4-2.

The February revision of the proposal (PDF) would have changed the overlay from 41st to 44th to C1-3, the overlay from 52nd through 59th and from 65th to the BQE to C2-4, and the overlay from 59th through 65th to C1-4. The area from 47th Avenue to just north of Queens Boulevard was split into a C4-5X zone along Queens Boulevard and a C4-4A zone along Greenpoint and 47th Avenues.

The May 19 draft that Christian posted does away with the commercial zone along Queens Boulevard. Now the area south of the Boulevard is a solid R6A district with a C1-4 overlay along Greenpoint Avenue. That C1-4 overlay continues along Roosevelt Avenue, pretty much all the way to 65th Street.

Overall, I think this change is good. In C1-4 districts, parking requirements are waived unless at least 40 spaces are required. For a supermarket or other retail store, it would have to be at least 40,000 square feet (two-thirds the size of the Stop and Shop on 48th Street) to require any parking at all. That’s an improvement over the C1-3 district, which would require 25 parking spaces to be built for a supermarket over 7500 square feet. Ideally, I would prefer C1-5 which has almost no parking requirement at all, but I’d much rather work to get the R4 and R4-1 districts upgraded to R5B. I might prefer more commercial density, but I’m focusing on parking in this discussion.

I’m planning to attend the meeting this Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 at Sunnyside Community Services. If you’re planning to go and want to coordinate with me, send me an email or leave a comment!

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: