Zoning meant to protect New York City residents is being repealed in order to make room for the Mayor’s affordable housing plan.
The Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, in a contracting deal with upstate development company Trinity Associates is taking advantage of new leverage to change established zones. Together they planned to start building a 67-unit apartment complex called the Saint Albans Cycle of Life Project on Farmers Blvd between 118th and 119th Avenues, a residential area with one and two-family homes—a project that has since been stalled following a lawsuit and community objection.
Michael Pope, a lifetime resident of St. Albans who filed the lawsuit opposing the project, says the community fought long and hard for R3A zone protection which limits projects of this size. He blames Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for affordable housing for the building’s approval.
“Affordable housing is needed. There’s no question about it and I think the mayor is right on that, but the mayor’s approach is his way or the highway, ramming it down our throats, not listening to what the community has to say,” Pope says.
Karen Plummer, President of the St. Albans Civic Improvement Association who filed the lawsuit along with Pope says the project is too large for the area. “This is a lot where two single-family houses stood. Now they want to put 200 people on here and we just think that that’s too many people for the area.”
Residents are concerned about what affect the five-story building will have on the historic character of the neighborhood.
“If we are willing to compromise our cherished and hard fought R3A zoning, the developer and the city ought to be able to compromise on the size and scope of this project so everybody can live with it,” Pope says.
New York City’s zoning resolution was first established in 1916 to protect the integrity of each neighborhood. All land within the City’s jurisdiction has a zoning designation—residence, commercial, or manufacturing—to establish relevant parameters for building and land use.
In order to obtain a variance in which zoning regulations are waved, a developer or landlord has to get approval from the Boards of Standards and Appeals. In applying for a variance, property owners typically claim that full compliance with zoning regulations is not possible in order to gain a reasonable economic return on their property.
Pope says the community board’s process to approve the variance was a sham with only the developer, the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans and the Queens Community Board 12 leaders involved.
“It was held like a secret meeting where no one in the community knew about it,” he says. “The community only found out about it when it had reached the level of the borough president’s office, when the St. Albans Civic Association showed up to represent the community and express adamant and vehement ejections to this process.”
Pope and Plummer also allege in their lawsuit that Trinity Associates and the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans submitted false documents in order to receive the variance. “We have gone to court with this under an article 78 petition and we are going to continue to proceed,” Pope says.
St. Albans isn’t the only neighborhood where residents are fighting to keep their zone protections. The mayor has received pushback in virtually every borough where developers have proposed plans to build large-scale affordable housing units.
For the growing New York City population, which reached 8.5 million this year, high-rises have become the key to mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. Under his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy developers are encouraged to build higher in exchange for the inclusion of affordable housing units.
For now it appears as though neighborhood concerns have so far stalled construction of the Saint Albans Cycle of Life project. Construction on the building was originally anticipated to be finished by December of this year and have 100 percent occupancy by March 2017, according to Trinity Associates, but the still barren site is nowhere near complete. The developer declined to comment.
“We want to work together to make affordable housing available to whomever and whenever, but it has to be done in partnership with the community,” Pope says. “Unfortunately we have an inept administration that is desperate to get affordable housing any way that it can.”