by Julia Vitullo-Martin
On our Community Gazettes, a look at three specific struggles:
Island: Confronting Rapid Growth
Ridge: Fighting the Fedders Houses
• Throgs Neck:
Protecting a Waterfront Community
New York City is undergoing a building boom, with more than 21,000 housing construction
permits issued last year, the highest since 1973. As a result, some neighborhoods
are being overwhelmed by development. Many quiet, tree-lined communities are struggling
with traffic, a lack of parking, and housing that is vastly out-of-character for
areas that are used to single-family homes and big lawns.
New Yorkers in neighborhoods fiercely
protect their communities, and with good reason. The problems of congestion
affect New York City's long-term prospects for business and job growth.
However, halting development altogether is not the answer. Our need to house
a growing population is too great.
Instead, we at the Bloomberg administration are working with local elected
officials, community representatives and builders to address real problems
in these communities, while still allowing housing development of an
appropriate density, type and scale.
OVERDEVELOPMENT AND SOLUTIONS
Many neighborhoods are beyond the reach of subway and bus lines, and so many households
often have two or more cars.
Some new developments in these neighborhoods do not have enough off-street
parking. A moderate-sized lot that once would have been the site of three
single-family homes, might these days be developed with as many as 12 dwellings
generating up to 24 cars. Even with driveways, garages and
curbside space, many blocks cannot accommodate so many additional
These larger dwellings are possible because of zoning rules that go back four decades,
which enable new housing to be larger than its neighbors. The very qualities
that make these neighborhoods attractive and desirable are being compromised
by new multi-family development.In parts of Staten Island, for example, homes once had big back yards; today
they often are developed as multiple buildings with minimal front,
side or rear yards.
Last fall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg?s Staten Island Growth Management Task
Force developed ways to revamp the zoning regulations for the borough that,
when implemented later this year, will result in better housing and a better
Under the plan, parking requirements would be increased from the current one
space per dwelling to two spaces for a single-family house, and three spaces
for a two-family home. This will require somewhat wider lots and reduce the
number of units on many lots.
New rules for developments on private roads and interior lots would be
similar to those for lots that face public streets throughout the city,
ensuring that new construction would enhance, not detract, from neighboring
homes. There will no longer be any new housing without front and rear yards, or with stoops descending directly into the street.
BALANCING HOUSING GROWTH
The Department of City Planning has an ambitious, two-pronged program that seeks
to create new opportunities for housing throughout the city, and to put in place
new zoning that responds to local needs and conditions.
In the Bronx, for example, mixed-use zoning has already been adopted to spur
housing development in Morrisania, even as special preservation rules were
enacted for historic City Island.
Last year, we enacted the first comprehensive revisions to Harlem's zoning in more than
40 years. New zoning for 100 blocks of the community will
preserve the row house character of its side streets while greatly
increasing housing density on the avenues, which are well served
by mass transit.
In Brooklyn, Fourth Avenue in Park Slope will embrace new 12-story
residential buildings, while new development on brownstone-lined historic
blocks will need to match the existing building heights and footprints.
In Queens, zoning changes will ensure that new development reflects the
low-density character of such neighborhoods as Forest Hills, Rego Park and
Holliswood, whereas new opportunities for growth will now be directed to
Northern Boulevard and North Corona's other broad thoroughfares.
And, in keeping with the mayor's ambitious strategy to create 65,000 new
units of housing over five years, thousands of apartments will be built
along Brooklyn's East River waterfront, the west side of Manhattan and other
neighborhoods throughout the city that are well served by transportation.
Zoning for other areas will also benefit from a fresh look.
In the Bronx, city planning studies are underway in Riverdale and Morris
Park. In Brooklyn, we will be updating the zoning for Bay Ridge,
Bensonhurst, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. And in Queens, we are studying Bellerose, Kew
Gardens/Richmond Hill, Bayside, and East Flushing. Lessons learned on Staten Island and in the zoning study of Throgs
Neck in the Bronx will be applied elsewhere, if appropriate.
We will insist on tree planting on sidewalks and landscaping that
camouflages parking to enhance the look and lifestyle of these
neighborhoods. We will distinguish between areas that are far from the
city's mass transit system and others that are better served. Our lower
density neighborhoods deserve the same level of attention as the brownstone
blocks on the Upper East Side, which were rezoned to protect their special
character in the mid-1980s.
If we are to continue to accommodate a growing population and protect our
precious neighborhood assets, we must preserve the very qualities that make
these neighborhoods special without stopping housing construction.
We must continue to pursue new housing opportunities in the right locations
and at the right scale. By doing so, we can increase the supply of housing
for everyone and preserve one of the special attributes of New York City,
the diversity of housing and neighborhood choices. Here in New York, we can choose from center-city high
rises; converted warehouses in mixed use areas; the "suburbs" of
garden apartments and one- and two-family homes.
With creative and responsible planning, we can balance neighborhood
preservation and the need to create housing for New Yorkers, and we will.
Richard Barth is executive director of the Department of City Planning.
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