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Here's What the City Council Wants to Change in de Blasio's Rezoning Plan

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 10, 2016 7:32pm
 Councilman Jumaane Williams, left, consults with a colleague, while Councilman Vincent Gentile looks through paperwork at the City Council hearing on the mayor's controversial rezoning.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, left, consults with a colleague, while Councilman Vincent Gentile looks through paperwork at the City Council hearing on the mayor's controversial rezoning.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

CIVIC CENTER — The City Council questioned key elements of Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial citywide rezoning proposal at a public hearing Wednesday, signaling what changes they'll demand in exchange for approving the plan.

The mayor's plan, known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability, would make changes in the city's zoning code that would apply to every neighborhood in the city.

READ MORE: Here's What You Need to Know About the Mayor's Citywide Rezoning Plan

The plan was opposed by nearly every community board throughout the five boroughs. It then moved to the City Planning Commission, which gave it a minor tweak. Now the City Council, which has final say over the proposal, is weighing in.

Here's what they want:

► PARKING

ZQA would eliminate existing parking requirements for developers who build senior or affordable housing in neighborhoods that City Hall considers easily accessible by mass transit. 

Outside the "transit zones," developers would be required to leave just enough parking spaces to accommodate 10 percent of the units.

Several council members, particularly from Brooklyn and Queens, objected to lifting the parking requirements, as well as to which neighborhoods were considered "transit zones."

It was unclear what, if any, compromises council members wanted regarding parking, though some suggested allowing the spaces to be rented to neighborhood residents.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been said that's not possible, as the land is federally financed and governed by federal regulations dictating it can only be used for seniors, not even for their visitors or employees of the building.

► APARTMENT SIZE

Under ZQA, the city will decrease the minimum size an apartment can be, in order to facilitate the construction of "micro-units."

The minimum size for a senior would be 275 square feet, which Queens Councilman Donovan Richards suggested is too small.

"I just know from my own grandmother, she couldn’t fit her hats in an apartment that size," he said.

► HEIGHT

A major point of contention citywide is the height increases under ZQA for senior housing, which Been said are vital in order for buildings to have elevators.

"We have many, many seniors who are basically trapped in their homes because they cannot navigate the stairs," she said.

Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield flagged the issue of allowing senior developments up to 65 feet tall in low-density residential districts that currently have a maximum building height of 35 feet.

The residents of those neighborhoods "want their small little homes with their little driveways," Greenfield said. "They're not looking necessarily for that influx."

City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod indicated he was open to negotiation, but Been balked.

"I completely understand the concern. I also just want to point out that seniors come from every neighborhood," both low rise and high rise, she said. "They want to stay in their neighborhoods but they don't want to be trapped in a building that doesn't have an elevator."

Greenfield suggested the administration require a special Board of Standards and Appeals permit for tall buildings in those low-slung neighborhoods so "there would be more review."

Been objected to adding in a community board review process.

"I feel very passionately about this, because I have to look seniors in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry, but we have a waiting list of seven years. That's probably longer than you'll be alive,'" she said.

"To say to them, 'Let's go through a process that takes one, two years to get a special permit' is a hard thing to say."

► COMMUNITY BOARD INVOLVEMENT

The height increases are of concern to constituencies that had secured limits through "contextual zoning" fought for by community boards and local civic groups.

Gentile suggested requiring community board approval for buildings that would exceed contextual limits.

"You talked about in terms of benefit to seniors," Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile addressed Been. "How do you ensure from a contextual viewpoint that this will not destroy the contextual nature that we worked so hard to achieve?"

Been said they had made an effort to preserve the contextual elements, "but as important as those issues are, we are faced with a crisis with our seniors.

"And it is very hard to say to a senior who is facing being homeless or not knowing where they are going to spend their final years, Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t provide housing because people are concerned about height,'" she added. "That is a very hard conversation to have."

Gentile responded that a community board approval did not involve a lengthy process.

PERMANENCE OF SENIOR HOUSING

The exchange between de Blasio officials and the council members became heated when Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos said that senior housing created under ZQA will not be permanently affordable.

"That is a lie," Been said. "And I refuse to allow it."

HPD can generally only demand 30 years of affordability. But the zoning provision under ZQA that allows a height increase for senior housing does not allow the units to be used for anything other than senior housing, even after the affordability commitment expires.

In doing that, Been said, the city incentivizes developers to re-up HPD approaches them to stay in the program for another 30 years.

"We make it very, very difficult to exit our program," Been said.