Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: City’s new zoning proposals seek to stop front yard paving

The Department of City Planning is issuing new zoning proposals that will maintain the aesthetic look of our residential streets. The proposals use the terms “a meaningful landscaped streetscape.” The title of the proposals is called “Residential Streetscape Preservation.”

What the DCP means is it wants to maintain the green look of the city’s streets and stop the parking of cars in front yards due to the proliferation of curb cuts and to make sure there are lawns, trees, flowers and bushes in the front of houses instead of paved-over front yards.

These proposals are being studied as part of a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure hearing by all 59 city planning boards, which will vote on the proposals within 60 days after the proposals were issued. After the boards vote, the borough presidents can hold public hearings and make a decision. Next the proposals go back to the DCP, which can hold a public hearing and approve, make changes or vote down the proposals. The issues then go to the City Council for a final vote.

In April 2008, the DCP issued new zoning rules that required a minimum of the front yard of a new house to be planted with green vegetation. This was prompted by the building of McMansions and paving over of the whole front yard and often side and rear yards with paving stones. This meant that during a rainstorm water would not be absorbed into the soil but flow into the street, possibly back up sewers and sometimes cause water to flood into houses.

Many civic associations are annoyed smaller McMansions are still being built with paving stones covering yards. Builders still try to get away with big McMansions if they can. The lack of city Department of Buildings inspectors or their inability to solve problems means paving stones seem to cover the yards of new houses. The new DCP proposals to have “meaningful planting” in front yards can easily lead to a situation where a $100 bill slipped to an inspector can make cheap plantings look meaningful.

The DCP proposals are also concerned with curb cuts. It seems that in some zoned areas people have a curb cut for their driveway and another for the paved front yard where they want to park more cars. This proposal wants to close the loopholes that permits many curb cuts, which often means cars cannot park on many stretches of a street due to those curb cuts.

Each zoning area will have different rules that will make the whole proposal sort of complicated. The problem will be that inspectors will have to interpret the zoning regulation for each area. Of course, if there are not enough inspectors, it will be complicated. The fees paid to the DOB for anything someone builds amounts to a lot of money. If the city would use some of this money to pay for better-qualified inspectors, we would have a better quality of life.

Money collected for fines for illegal construction or illegal curb cuts should add up to a lot of money. This problem causes a loss of confidence by the public. Often a stop-work order is issued on something that looks illegal, but then after a few months construction continues. These new Residential Streetscape Preservation proposals look fine, but can and will they be enforced?

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: I know laws are important for a civil society. I also know that sometimes people need a way to have someone help them use the law for some reason. We sometimes need lawyers to help us use the law for one reason or another.

Sadly, we may have too many lawyers and rely on them too often. The Oct. 4 New York Times Magazine had a special on New York “super lawyers,” the top attorneys in the New York metro area. One page had a box that listed recent noteworthy verdicts and settlements and a few other short stories told about cases won by lawyers.

Should our society use lawyers so often? One problem with the proposals to reform health care is that there is no way to protect doctors from devastating lawsuits. Many doctors are giving up their private practices because they cannot afford the cost of malpractice insurance. Some doctors are going to work for health care groups that take care of their insurance for them. Hopefully, there can be a solution that is fair to doctors and injured patients.

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