Council disparages DOB

Zoning text loopholes closed; Council Members blame DOB for problems. Following the City’s 2004 enactment of lower density restrictions in Staten Island, three loopholes surfaced in the zoning text that continued to allow residential development inconsistent with the down-zoning’s goals.

The three problems stemmed from requirements for minimum lot area, lot width and open space. A minimum lot area is required for residential development of a lot; however, once the minimum lot area is met, more than one home can be constructed on one lot if other code restrictions, such as density and distance between buildings, are met. In Staten Island, where large zoning lots are more prevalent, this first loophole allowed more homes to be constructed on one lot than would be permitted if a large lot was split into separate lots. Second, Staten Island has large, irregularly-shaped lots rather than the grid pattern found in other boroughs. The minimum lot width requirement is averaged in cases of irregular-shaped lots, which in Staten Island had allowed development of more homes on one lot than intended by the code. The third loophole emanated from an interpretation of the 30-foot rear open space requirement in the 2004 text, which had allowed more than one building to share the rear open space, contrary to the original intent.

With the text change, the minimum lot area requirement must be applied to each dwelling on a lot. The minimum lot width must be met along the lot’s street frontage; average measurements are prohibited. The 30-foot rear open space requirement must be met for each building.

Opening the Council’s remarks at the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Chair Tony Avella blamed Buildings for forcing the Planning Department to implement the text changes. In Avella’s opinion, the changes would not be needed if Buildings made common sense interpretations. Council Member Michael E. McMahon added that Buildings’ interpretations “boggle the mind” and “too often, Buildings’ interpretations favor developers,” rather than the intent of the code section, which in this case was to decrease density and over-development.

Council Member James Oddo explained that each loophole responded to actual developments approved by Buildings. Oddo claimed that BSA upheld the flawed interpretations and added that Buildings had “wrecked the Council’s credibility in the neighborhoods” because the approved developments went against what the Council claimed to have achieved with the 2004 lower density text.

The Subcommittee approved unanimously, and the full Council approved on December 8, 2005.

Review Process: The Planning Commission, as lead agency, issued a negative declaration. All three Staten Island Community Boards, the Borough Board and Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro approved. The Commission unanimously approved on November 16, 2005.

Council: Lower Density Growth Management Zoning Text Amendment (December 8, 2005); CPC: Lower Density Growth Management Zoning Text Amendment (N 060022 ZRR) (November 16, 2005). CITYADMIN

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