Residents Fight Planned Staten Island Day Care Center
STATEN ISLAND — A planned day care center has provoked the ire of Oakwood residents worried that new driveways would snarl traffic on a major Staten Island roadway.
Members of Community Board 3 voted to deny the application for an exception to the zoning code for the construction of a child care center on an empty lot at 2977 Hylan Blvd. at this month's general meeting.
While the vote cannot stop the city from approving the application, it sends a signal of community opposition to the project.
The planned center — proposed by Alex Veksler, who owns both the lot in question and the existing Steps to Success II day care right next door — would have an 8-foot-wide driveway for parents to drop off and pick up their children.
But residents said that driveway would cause more traffic on the already busy Hylan Boulevard because drivers would not have enough space to turn into the parking lot easily.
"Even if you make that driveway 15 feet, with everybody driving SUVs today, it's going to be a tough turn," said Thomas Barlotta, chairman of the board's land use, planning and zoning committee, at the meeting. "But he doesn't even have 15 feet."
The board has already denied the zoning variance several other times, Barlotta said, and Veksler has revised the plan each time.
"This has been back and forth to us many times," Barlotta said. "The applicant did rectify a couple of the minor issues we had, but the major issues still stand unresolved to our satisfaction."
Veksler said there are plenty of similar buildings with driveways on Hylan Boulevard, and this change would not worsen traffic.
"This is not something that is new to the area," Veksler said. "Everyone's got their objections, and we respect them all. We have to just go through the process, and we'll see."
The new building will also have a rooftop playground, which locals said would generate too much noise in the residential neighborhood.
But Veksler countered that the rooftop playground would significantly lessen the noise for neighbors that normally comes from a street-level playground.
"The rationale behind it is obviously to keep as much noise off the street level as possible," he said. "That is for the purpose of the neighbors."
He said even with his current street-level playground at Steps to Success II, he has not received a single noise complaint from neighbors in the center's nearly three years of operation.
But John LaFemina, president of the Oakwood Civic Association, said he visited Dongan Hills residents who live near a day care center with a rooftop playground, and the noise levels were very loud.
"The noise is unbelievable," he said. "It's a residential neighborhood, and we're going to have the same thing on Hylan Boulevard."
The playground does not need approval by the board or the city.
While the board has rejected the variance for the new day care center, the plan could still be approved by the city's Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
For zoning variances, community boards only serve an advisory role. The BSA makes the final decision after holding a public meeting.
But for Veksler, the zoning laws that require the variances were not in place when he bought the empty lot in 2010.
Before he could close on the lot, the previous owner had to clear up several violations, which took around nine to 10 months, after which the new laws were in effect, he said.
"We purchased [the lot] way before these zoning changes came into fruition," Veksler said.
"We spent quite a while trying to clear up the violations. That actually prevented us from closing in a timely manner. Now we're forced to try to attempt to get a variance."
In the code, new community centers are required to be built on a 60 feet wide lot with 10,000 square feet of space. However, Veksler's center would only be on a lot 50 feet wide with 5,000 square feet of space.
The law also requires a 15-foot-wide driveway, instead of the 8-foot one Veksler plans to build. He also needs a variance for curb cuts to allow drivers to enter the driveway.
The BSA public hearing is scheduled for June 27, and several residents and local civic groups plan to attend.
"We will be going to the Board of Standards with Oakwood Civic and the residents to fight this case," LaFemina said.
His group is also planning a meeting this week to discuss this issue.