East Shore communities’ downzoning fight is Staten Island’s fight (editorial)
on June 17, 2015 at 9:32 AM, updated June 17, 2015 at 9:48
If you wanted to find an example of government bureaucratic thinking at its most obtuse, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than the Department of City Planning has exhibited in their feeble effort to defend the existing zoning in four East Shore communities.
In response to the efforts of community activists in Rosebank, Fort Wadsworth, Shores Acres and Clifton to change the zoning in their neighborhoods to prevent large-scale, high-density townhouse development, such as what’s coming on the former Mount Manresa property, City Planning officials bluster that it can’t be done. Why? Because that’s the way the zoning is, and under it, some multiple-dwelling development has already been built in the area.
By City Planning’s circular logic, the community has no choice but to allow a lot more townhouse development. Never mind the impact of all those new houses, all those people, on the community — the schools, the traffic, the overall quality of life. Never mind the effect on their investment in their homes.
The zoning that is in place now — R-3-2 in most places — must remain in effect, according to the city agency, because that’s what’s there now.
‘It is what it is’
So presumably, the people in these communities that stand to be overwhelmed by a glut of townhouse development in the coming years should just pipe down and understand the wisdom of the saying “It is what it is.”
Fortunately for our borough, East Shore residents are determined not to go quietly. Having learned the hard lesson of Mount Manresa and the utter folly of trusting the powers that be to do what’s right by the community, they have taken matters into their own hands.
“We’re trying to be proactive, not reactive, and protect our communities’ security for the future,” explained John Guzzo, president of the Rosebank Homeowners and Tenants Association and member of Community Board 1.
He was one of many concerned residents who attended a meeting of the community board the other night at which a plan that offers an enlightened, alternative vision for their East Shore neighborhoods was a major topic of conversation.
Last summer, at the behest of the Rosebank Homeowners and Tenants Association and the Committee to Save Mount Manresa, which learned much from its own unsuccessful fight, urban planner and rezoning expert Paul Graziano put together a comprehensive plan encompassing 84 blocks and more than 1,000 properties in the four East Shore neighborhoods.
The analysis calls for downzoning swaths of “contiguous blocks where the majority of buildings are single-family detached houses on lots of 40-by-100 feet or larger,” but are currently zoned R-3-2, which allows attached housing.
Mr. Graziano, who has had similar contextual plans adopted across the city, most notably Queens, rightly concluded that the R-3-2 designation “encourages tear-downs of these single-family houses [replacing them] with multi-family apartments, condominiums or other speculative development.”
If City Planning has its way, that’s just what will happen on the East Shore as population pressure mounts. The East Shore is a beachhead in the build-out assault here.
For that reason, Mr. Graziano urges large-scale rezoning, such as was done in Queens and, closer to home, in Westerleigh, where more than 75 blocks were rezoned in recent years.
Mr. Graziano pointed out, “Rezonings like this are happening all over the city,” in areas that now have low-density characteristics in actuality, but are zoned for substantially higher-density development.
But the agency’s rationale in resisting the change is familiar to anyone who has ever run up against a “that’s-not-the-way-we-do-it” bureaucrat.
Rosebank and Clifton, it says, “consist of a mix of one- and two-family detached homes and only a handful of small scattered vacant sites. The majority of this rezoning proposal would limit future development on these vacant lots to single-family homes only, which does not reflect the existing character of the area.”
So single-family detached homes don’t reflect the character of a neighborhood of “one- and two-family detached homes”?
Further, City Planning gripes the Graziano proposal calls for downzoning in neighborhoods that already have “pockets of one- and two-family detached homes” but are zoned (R-3-2) for attached housing. “There is no planning rationale that would support gerrymandering the districts in these substantially built-out areas,” the agency concludes.
So these pockets must have attached housing around them for consistency’s sake?
Finally, the flimsy argument which tells you everything you need to know about City Planning’s mindset: Rezoning the Mount Manresa site to permit only single-family detached homes lacks “a planning rationale” because the area’s current zoning “reflects the surrounding context of mostly attached homes, mixed with one- and two-family homes.”
So the beautiful, pristine 15 acres of Mount Manresa had to be sacrificed and desecrated with attached housing so it would conform to the development that surrounds it?
- Joseph Bilotti spoke for many Staten Islanders when he said at the meeting the other night, “It’s atrocious what they did to Mount Manresa…. We don’t want that happening elsewhere. We’re ruining a good Island.”
We all know what this is about: City Planning wants to maximize the number of housing units in a given neighborhood in order to maximize the amount of property taxes — and indirectly, other taxes — generated by that neighborhood.
The East Shore’s fight is all of Staten Island’s fight.
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