Council Member Mark Weprin Discusses His Approach to Land Use Issues

Mark Weprin

Council Member Mark Weprin, the newly elected representative for the 23rd District and son of the late State Assembly Member Saul Weprin, admits that he is no expert in land use law. When Weprin first learned that he would inherit the position of chair of the Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee from fellow Queens Council Member Tony Avella, he pulled out the same land use hornbook he used in law school and started reviewing major land use decisions.

Born, bred, and still living in eastern Queens, Weprin grew up in a political family. His father, Saul Weprin, was a State Assembly Member for 23 years and rose to the position of Speaker. Though Mark Weprin himself had no ambition to run for public office, he was elected to replace his father in the Assembly following Saul Weprin’s sudden death in 1994. In the Assembly, he passed 62 laws involving mainly consumer affairs, education, and criminal justice issues. In January, Weprin replaced his brother, David Weprin, as representative for the 23rd District in the City Council, which includes the Queens neighborhoods of Bellerose, Fresh Meadows, Floral Park, and Oakland Gardens.Weprin views the position as an opportunity to deliver for his constituents on a more local level.

Zoning Subcommittee. When asked whether he was surprised at being appointed chair, Weprin said he was pleased and had been optimistic that he had at least a good shot at the position. Weprin views zoning as a major quality of life issue where the Council has real authority through ULURP. He noted that many of the Council’s other committees maintain just an oversight role, in which they try to expose injustices but have little ability to institute change.

Mediating disputes. Weprin described former Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee Chair Tony Avella as a passionate individual who frequently spoke his mind.Weprin sees himself as someone who looks at each project individually, asks whether it makes sense in its particular form, and considers both sides of a dispute. Weprin views his role as that of a mediator who can help competing interests find common ground.

During the negotiations on the recently approved Rose Plaza on the River development in Williamsburg, Weprin tried to help the parties sort out the public concerns from purely private concerns. He gave much credit to his colleague, Council Member Steve Levin, for advocating on behalf of the community. Through negotiations, Levin agreed to support the mixed-use project and the developer agreed to increase the project’s affordable housing component from 20 to 30 percent.

Contextual rezoning. During his time in the State Assembly, Weprin spoke out against the construction of oversized single- family homes, often referred to as “McMansions.” Weprin worked with the Department of City Planning to apply contextual rezoning throughout his district, establishing maximum building heights and a reduction in buildable floor area in order to prevent out-of-scale development. Weprin described his district as a quiet area in which residents want to protect their quality of life and neighborhood character.

Weprin is currently helping to resolve a conflict posed by developers seeking to build two hotels on the site of a former multiplex movie theater in Auburndale. The developers are aiming to begin construction before a pre-certified rezoning proposal affecting the area is enacted. In Weprin’s opinion, the hotels would create additional traffic congestion and be a significant blight on the residential area.

Untapped resources. Weprin supports Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s emphasis on developing the City’s waterfronts. Weprin also noted Governors Island, over which the City gained control in April 2010, as another untapped resource that “99.9 percent of City residents” have not even visited. Weprin believes Governors Island should be developed into a combination of housing, schools, and open spaces. He expressed faith that the Mayor will successfully manage Governors Island but assumed that the Council will also play a large role in its development.

Community Input. While Weprin has no direct criticism of the City’s overall approach to land use, he is concerned that it sometimes ignores community input. He said that when council members only hear from developers, they can lose sight of ordinary citizens and their concerns. Weprin hopes to bring moderation to the table by listening to and accommodating the viewpoints of both developers and community members, noting that local residents often have “smarter, more honest input than the rest of us.” — Matthew Windman

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