In May 2004 the Juniper Park Civic Association launched the Overdevelopment Task Force. It is now November, six months later, and we are well on our way to a successful conclusion in this phase of the downzoning journey. Armed with their catalogs of the housing stock in Middle Village, the volunteers canvassed the streets of Middle Village south of Juniper Valley Road, noting the various housing. All completed surveys have been given to the Department of City Planning and the government wheels are turning to move the project to its goal, the downzoning of those streets.

To recap, this area was targeted by the Task Force because of its splattered R-5 zoning designation. R5 districts allow a variety of housing types as do R3-2 and R4 districts but with a higher density. For instance, a 12 story building would be permitted. The maximum FAR (floor area ratio) of 1.25 (the attic allowance does not apply) typically produces three-story rowhouses and small apartment buildings. R5 districts provide a transition between lower and higher density neighborhoods and are widely mapped in all boroughs except Manhattan.

The maximum roof height is 40 feet. Front yards must be exactly 10 feet deep or a minimum of 18 feet in order to ensure that cars parked in front yard driveways do not protrude onto sidewalks. Height and setback requirements may be waived by authorization of the City Planning Commission. One parking space is required for each dwelling unit in single-, two- and three-family houses; in multiple dwellings, parking spaces are required for 85 percent of the apartments. R5 is the lowest density district in which a parking space is not required for each dwelling unit.

To give you a Zoning 101 explanation of what we are trying to accomplish, the ultimate goal of the whole Downzoning project in Middle Village would be to have the current R-4 zoning, which still permits some of the larger houses we are seeing built, changed to something similar to R-4B. A brief description of R4 districts reveals the same variety of housing types as R3-2 districts but with a higher density. The 50 percent increase in the FAR (floor area ratio) produces bulkier structures. The maximum FAR is 0.75 with an attic allowance of up to 0.15 FAR. In general, buildings are no taller than three stories. Any part of a building that is higher than 25 feet is usually set back or under a pitched roof. In order to provide sufficient space for on-site parking and prevent cars from protruding onto the street, front yards must be 10 feet exactly or a minimum of 18 feet. Height and setback requirements may be waived by authorization of the City Planning Commission. One parking space is required for each dwelling unit. R4 districts are widely mapped in all boroughs except Manhattan.

If we were to downzone specific streets to R4B, which, to put it in layman’s terms, is a more downsized designation and is intended to preserve and produce rowhouses that are typical of many of the city's residential communities. The R4B district also permits detached and semidetached houses and zero lot line buildings but typical development would be two-story, flat-roofed rowhouses with no front yard parking. Unlike other R4 districts, the maximum building
height is 24 feet. The maximum FAR is 0.9 (the attic allowance does not apply). The minimum depth of the front yard is five feet. If the front yards on adjacent zoning lots are deeper than five feet, the front yard must be at least as deep as one but cannot exceed the depth of the
other adjacent yard. Curb cuts are prohibited on lots less than 40 feet wide. Front yard parking is prohibited. One parking space is required for each dwelling unit. As an example, the streets east of 76 Street near Juniper Boulevard North over to Dry Harbor Road all contain buildings of the same nature and a few years ago this was recognized for its similar one family houses and thereby changed to R-4B. This zoning designation limits any replacement housing to the same similarity of existing homes. You have no doubt read in the newspapers that
many neighborhoods are struggling with just this topic. All the infrastructure of our communities is compromised when a huge house, nicknamed “McMansions,” replaces a one family dwelling and we are faced with hundreds of additional residents. They use our schools and all our city services, straining service delivery well beyond its capabilities. Certainly the word is out that downzoning is the name of the game which is why you are seeing the builders racing to get in under the wire. Relatively low interest rates are still the fuel behind the race.

Zoning is, what I would describe as intangible, very complicated, with caveats all over the place and it is a struggle to just understand the basics. We have been guided in this quest using the expertise of the talented people in our City Planning Department. I asked Jed Weiss of City Planning recently to give us a recap on the progress of the project to date and this is what he told me:

“We are very pleased with the progress of the Middle Village Zoning Study. On behalf of City Planning Director Amanda Burden, I thank the dedicated Juniper Park Civic members for their extensive and accurate neighborhood survey. We look forward to presenting a preliminary proposal to the JPCA by the end of the year. With the community's support and guidance, the Middle Village Zoning Study could enter the public review period in February, 2005 and would then be referred to Community Board 5.”

There you have it, direct from our City Planning Department. Middle Village is right on target to have our R5 streets downzoned.

We are fortunate to have the Juniper Park Civic Association and President Bob Holden as our organized spokesperson for the 1600 member families in Middle Village. Many of the surrounding neighborhoods do not have this and so they are struggling just to get a “voice” in the downzoning arena. They pull on us for expertise and we try to help. We have to recognize all the volunteers who tirelessly walked the streets in the heat of the summer, noting the different types of housing built over the years. Without their help this huge endeavor would never have seen the light of day.
Not all the volunteers stayed on board but I have to tell you that we had enough motivated people to fill the gap left by those who didn’t have the right stuff to complete their jobs. I could name some standout volunteers but that is a slippery slope to get on and I wouldn’t want to risk omitting anyone. We thank them all for their effort. In the end you will have succeeded in preserving our neighborhood for yourself and your kids many of whom have already resettled in the community.

It has to be stated, however, there is still a huge job ahead of us. Zoning is dealt with layer by layer, so, stay
on board.