Rockaway rezoning approved without change

Beach 116th Street included in Rockaway rezoning. Photo: CityLand.

Avella’s plan to remove Beach 116th Street defeated. On August 14, 2008, the City Council approved the Department of City Planning’s rezoning proposal for the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The rezoning plan impacts 280 blocks, extending six miles from the Nassau County line to Beach 130th Street, including the neighborhoods of Rockaway Park, Rockaway Beach, Somerville, Far Rockaway, and Edgemere.

Zoning in the Rockaways has remained largely unchanged since 1961. In the past several years, increasingly out-of-scale development has endangered the built character of the neighborhood. To address this concern, City Planning’s comprehensive plan includes replacing many existing R3, R4, R5, and R6 districts with contextual zoning districts. 5 CityLand 89 (July 15, 2008). Other highlights include prohibiting construction of new semidetached housing in Rockaway Park in favor of detached homes, and the extension of commercial zoning into a residential district in Far Rockaway. To encourage reinvestment in the Rockaways, blocks adjacent to public transit have been up-zoned, including Beach 116th Street to an R7A district.

Significant opposition to the up-zoning of Beach 116th Street remained when it reached Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing. Chair Tony Avella questioned City Planning’s John Young as to why the R7A designation along Beach 116th Street remained despite opposition from local residents. Avella asked Young to remove Beach 116th Street from the plan, and to “take a little more time and do a better job.” Avella then recommended that Planning create a special use district for Beach 116th Street. Young replied that there had already been extensive discussions over the issue and that the City Planning Commission believed the R7A designation was needed to spur reinvestment. Avella then accused Planning of having an unwritten policy that every downzoning plan must also include an up-zoning elsewhere.

Hank Iori, a member of the land use subcommittee of Queens Community Board 14, warned that the as-of- right R7A construction would not encourage retail growth along Beach 116th Street. According to Iori, the area’s high water table would ultimately cause developers to use the ground floor for parking, not retail. Iori testified that only a special use district for Beach 116th Street would ensure sound growth of commercial development. The meeting closed without a vote.

When the Subcommittee met the next day, Avella said that “98 percent of the rezoning is supported by the community board and the community,” and that the only point of contention was Beach 116th Street. Avella proposed to remove the R7A area and approve the rest of the plan.

Council Member Joseph Addabbo, Jr., whose district includes Beach 116th Street, opposed Avella’s proposal. Addabbo explained that an abandoned hotel and vacant buildings already litter Beach 116th Street; he feared further deterioration and warned against leaving it out. With the upcoming mayoral election and Planning’s low staff level, Addabbo felt it was too risky to wait for the creation of a special use district, which would require its own trip through the ULURP process.

Following Addabbo’s statements, only Avella voted to carve out Beach 116th Street. A second vote then passed, approving the full 280- block rezoning plan without change. Council Member Simcha Felder explained his yes-vote by stating that it was due to support of the plan by Rockaways’ Council Members James Sanders, Jr. and Addabbo. Felder added that if a large matter such as a rezoning occurred in his district, he hoped that other Council Members would trust that he knew what was right for his own district.

Review Process:
Lead Agency: CPC,Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: QN 14,App’d, 32-12-2
Boro.Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 11-0-0
Council: App’d, 49-0-3

Council: Rockaway Neighborhood Rezoning (August 14, 2008).

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