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A community facility such as a church, school, medical building or college dormitory may be built in most zoning designations as of right without community input. The facility built can exceed the zoning regulations.
For example, a building currently under construction in Bayside in an R4 zone should only reach a maximum height of 35 feet. But because this building will have doctor's offices and is considered a community facility, it gets dispensation from those requirements and will reach a height of about 60 feet. The majority of the units in this so-called community facility will be residential. This affects schools, parking, sewers and other infrastructure issues and impacts negatively on the community.
The examples of this type of abuse are numerous. The controversy over the building of the dormitory to house St. John's University students has been in the news of late. This proposed 6-story structure will be built in a residential neighborhood as of right. The university did not have the courtesy of discussing this matter with the community. Such high-handed behavior is unacceptable and this type of building is inappropriate for this area.
Another example: Consider the day-care center planned for corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and 42nd Avenue in Auburndale. It will accommodate a minimum of 175 children ages 2 to 6. Only two parking spaces will be on site. The surrounding community is swamped with parked cars since PS 130 is across the street. This is a heavily trafficked area and the facility will have no drive-in to drop off or pick up children. In addition, the facility will have a rooftop playground and will also have some classrooms in a sub-basement without windows. Is this appropriate or safe for young children? The community has major concerns, but the facility can go up as of right. The city Standards and Appeals Board should be obligated to act on the concerns or needs of the community
A final example is St. Mary's Children Hospital in Bayside. They are planning a major expansion of their facility. Surrounding residents are rightly concerned of how the expansion will affect them. While everyone is aware of the good work that this hospital does, it should still talk to and work with the community. There has been a lot of controversy over this matter and St. Mary's must address all community concerns. They are not obligated to do so, however: They can do mostly as they please as of right.
It is obvious that significant changes must be made to the community facilities that are part of the zoning code. City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) set forth several proposals that should solve the problems. They would reduce the bulk bonus for community facilities and prohibit community facilities from violating height restrictions in zoning codes.
We must work to ensure the stability of our communities and quality of life. Community facilities are necessary, but must not negatively affect their neighbors.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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