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Advocates Not Given Enough Time to Weigh Zoning Reform Plan, They Say

By Katie Honan | March 24, 2015 10:53am | Updated on March 24, 2015 4:21pm
 The Department of City Planning will host a hearing on March 25 to discuss zoning changes to help move along affordable housing plans.
The Department of City Planning will host a hearing on March 25 to discuss zoning changes to help move along affordable housing plans.
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Courtesy of Nadine Johnson Associates

NEW YORK CITY — Community leaders say they weren't given enough time to consider a Department of City Planning zoning proposal intended to make it easier for developers to build affordable housing units across the city.

The 150-page plan released to community boards and advocacy groups on Feb. 20 details changes to current zoning laws, including allowing taller structures without forcing developers to create as many parking spaces and easing up on certification requirements for senior housing.

The goal of the plan is to update an old city code that might be deterring developers from building more affordable units, according to the proposal.

City Planning scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday to discuss the proposal, which doesn't give communities enough time to consider how it will impact neighborhoods, according to community advocates like Len Maniace, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.

"New Yorkers need time to understand what is proposed and to have a citywide conversation about the future of our city," Maniace said. "I hope there will be a good, long look at these [zoning] proposals because they could have huge effects on our city's neighborhoods."

The Historic Districts Council is planning to rally in front of City Hall at 3 p.m., just before the hearing Wednesday, to testify against what they're calling an "anti-neighborhood proposal."

"By using a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to this, we kind of feel that [the] administration is disregarding all of that really hard work and community input of what they want their neighborhoods to look like," Historic Districts Council executive director Simeon Bankoff said. "This is very much top-down planning."

Proposed reforms outlined in the plan include reconsidering the floor-area-ratio (FAR) and height standards for affordable senior housing, and eliminating some certification and special permit requirements for nursing homes.

"The plan points out that many of the city's zoning regulations are outdated and often inadvertently impede the production of the new housing and calls for a review and reform of the regulations to facilitate and encourage increased production and new housing, particularly affordable housing," the proposal states.

The public hearing on Wednesday is intended to gather comments from residents
about what they think should be included in the plan, City Planning spokesman Joe Marvilli said.

"There will be more opportunities for engaging with DCP on the proposals and for formally providing input once the official public review process gets underway," he said.

Residents can submit their thoughts online through April 6, a DCP official noted. 

Some community members said they were concerned the relaxed zoning regulations would end up benefiting developers that want to build higher.

"Suddenly opening up buildings which can, as of right, be 10 to 15 feet higher than their neighbors is a recipe for some bad mistakes," Bankoff said.

The public hearing will take place in Spector Hall, at 22 Reade St., starting 4 p.m. on March 25.