Comm. considers its role in Sunnyside Gardens HD

Sunnyside homeowners would no longer need Planning Commission special permits. On February 13, 2008, the Planning Commission heard testimony regarding the Department of City Planning’s proposal to amend the zoning for a 16block area within Sunnyside Gardens. A planned community designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright in the 1920s to house work-ing-class families, architecture historians and preservationists have praised Sunnyside Gardens for its large landscaped courtyards and unique mixture of single- and multifamily buildings.

In 1974, the City zoned the area as a Special Planned Community Preservation District to protect its unique character. The preservation district’s zoning required property owners to apply to City Planning for a special permit before altering buildings or renovating landscaped areas. This special permit would, in turn, trigger the City’s lengthy land use review procedure.

In November 2007, the City designated Sunnyside Gardens as a historic district, the largest historic district in Queens, thus requiring homeowners within the district to submit plans for alterations to any building or landscaped area to Landmarks for approval. 4 CityLand 149 (Nov. 15, 2007). City Planning’s proposal would eliminate the special permit requirement, making Landmarks the sole City agency in charge of reviewing all such plans. In addition to recognizing Landmarks’ new role in regulating the unique character of the district, the proposal sets forth uniform building height, bulk, density and parking requirements, based upon an R4 zoning.

At the public hearing, Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, opposed the proposal and argued that the Commission should not relinquish its current oversight of the area until Landmarks adopts specific agency rules regulating the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District. Bankoff stated that the best scenario would be for the City to establish “proper zoning,” in addition to a robust Landmarks regulatory regime, which would require public hearings regarding all rear-yard additions.

Nadezhda Williams, also of HDC, read a letter from noted preservationist-author Jeffrey Kroessler, in which he claimed that Sunnyside Gardens’ residents did not support the proposal. Kroessler characterized City Planning’s proposal as an “upzoning” that would permit rear-yard sheds and reward the few residents who made illegal alterations to their property.

The Commission is expected to vote on the proposal by March 12, 2008.

CPC: Sunnyside Gardens Spec. Dist. Text Amendment (N080253ZRQ) (Feb. 13, 2008).

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