City Council amendments make mayor's zoning plan better
by Elizabeth Crowley
Mar 30, 2016 | 11709 views | 0 0 comments | 134 134 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s two zoning text amendments, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) seek to address two significant issues confronting the city, namely, the lack of affordable housing and the height, shape, and parking space requirements for buildings containing affordable units.

It is important to understand that this housing and rezoning plan will not affect much of my Queens district, which is comprised mainly of one- to two-family homes. But even still, over the past several months, I have relayed both my own concerns, as well as the concerns raised by my district’s community boards, 2, 5 and 9.

After taking serious time to consider these issues, my Council colleagues and I were able to secure amendments to the original proposals that address the valid concerns that the community boards raised.

It is because of these amendments, which are delineated below, that I decided to vote in favor of these zoning text amendments.

The Council was able to amend ZQA to encourage the development of affordable senior housing and long term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Some details include:

• R3-2: No increase in height is permitted (remains the same);

• R4: The permitted height increase is five feet (from 35 feet to 40 feet), the equivalent of one story; and

• R5: A height increase from 40 feet to 55 feet is permitted only if certain conditions are satisfied. A height increase to 55 feet cannot be on a block that is made up of more than 50 percent of one- and two-family homes and the lot size cannot be smaller than 1.5 acres.

These conditions were put in place to prevent development that would negatively impact the character of a block, such as building a 55-foot building at the end of a block lined with row houses.

For development within the Transit Zone, as designated by the Department of City Planning, parking spaces will no longer be required for new affordable apartments and affordable senior housing.

Incorporating parking spaces into the development plans of a building, especially if the spaces are below ground level, adds substantial costs to a project and does not serve to add to the shortage in affordable housing stock.

I believe that in such areas, where public transportation is available, that the city’s funds are more properly spent subsidizing living space and not parking space.

For areas outside of the Transit Zone, ZQA would reduce the requirement for affordable senior housing to one parking spot for every 10 apartments. ZQA creates special permits that developers could apply for in order to reduce parking requirements for existing and new buildings that have affordable apartments.

The City Council has modified the special permits to either require increased public review or to require that the parking reduction facilitate affordable housing development. I believe that these modifications ensure that a reduction in any parking spaces will lead to the construction of more affordable living units.

The City Council has significantly deepened the affordability provided in MIH by adding a new option that would require an affordable housing set-aside of 20 percent of the building provided for families making an average of 40 percent AMI, and a new set-aside to require 10 percent of the building for families at 40 percent AMI within the original 60 percent AMI option.

The City Council also modified the workforce option by lowering the overall average AMI requirements for affordable units to 115 percent AMI and adding two new set-asides at 90 and 70 percent AMI.

The City Council modified the MIH proposal to dis-incentivize the construction of off-site affordable housing in two respects. First, if a developer chooses to provide off-site affordable housing, then the council’s modification would increase the applicable affordability set-aside so that an additional amount would be required equal to 5 percent of the building.

Second, developments providing off-site affordable housing would be subject to lowered height limits.

Currently, voluntary inclusionary housing requires that affordable units must be distributed throughout 65 percent of the floors of the building. MIH originally proposed to decrease this distribution to 50 percent.

The council modification requires that MIH affordable units must be distributed throughout 65 percent of the floors in a building. This would uphold the current standard and avoid over-concentration of affordable units on a single floor of a building.

The City Council has also modified the proposal to require that payments into the Affordable Housing Fund be reserved for the same community board as the associated development. If the funds are not used within ten years, then they will be reserved for the borough in which they originated.

Future rezonings for which MIH would apply will be subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Through this process, community boards and all interested stakeholders will have an opportunity to address how a rezoning would impact the affected area’s infrastructure, including mass transit, schools, sanitation, parks, and medical facilities.

Elizabeth Crowley represents the 30th District in the City Council.

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