Proposed Housing Density Concerns Zoning Board Member Lang, Jr.

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Proposed Housing Density Concerns Zoning Board Member Lang, Jr.

March 16, 2014 - 01:28

In the March 13. 2014 issue of the Westchester Guardian

It was no surprise to hear Thomas Lang Jr. a member of the New Rochelle Board of Appeals on Zoning, who lives south of Main Street in New Rochelle, cast the only negative vote on the zoning changes for Union Baptist Church's proposal to build senior housing on Main Street. Density, Lang said, is the issue. Residents had been heartened to learn this church which had burned to the grounds is getting ready to rebuild. But squeezing a 30 dwelling senior citizen building which includes commercial office space on the first floor on their property in an area that is already congested and overpopulated is just another indication to south end residents about the unfair treatment they receive from many of the city's boards and committees.

Union Baptist had orignally requested variances for a 30 unit affordable housing building, which would have required one parking space per apartment. The change to senior housing required only half a parking space per apartment. The board of appeals on zoning granted variances for rear yard edge of the building to the property line. In the plan instead of the 20 foot minimum needed in the rear yard to the edge of the property, they approved 1 foot 2 inches. The rear buffer from the building to the property line in the parking lot area is less than the l0 feet required to the property line, instead 1 foot 2 inches was approved. The 3 foot 2 inches side yard buffer was less than the 5 feet required to the property line in downtown business zoning areas and was also permitted.

While zoning board members' questions appeared to focus on how this senior and commercial building will generate real estate taxes for the city, they completely ignored the inevitable neighborhood downgrading resulting from squeezing this building into an already densely populated area. While there are only 19 parking spaces for both the 30 senior citizen apartments, zoning board members did not address the adequacy of this limited number of spaces. When the zoning board was confronted by a resident about the lack of adequate parking in the neighborhood, the reply by Richard Sosis, Chairman of the Board of Appeals on Zoning, was "parking was not" an issue.

There is undoubtedly a great deal of sympathy for the congregation of Union Baptist which saw its beautiful, historic church burn to the ground several years ago. The tragedy of this fire jolted the community, especially when it was learned that when the fire department began to put out the fire, the pressure of using United Water's pipes caused a water main break on Webster Avenue near the Hutchinson River Parkway. Joyce Furfero, in an extended letter to the zoning board of appeals on problems with this proposed housing said she had consulted with the fire department and was told that a fire hose would have to be dragged 50 feet to reach the apartment. Senior citizens, she continued, are less likely to be agile and would take a long time to evacuate the building. It is also predicted that the area, because of projected overdevelopment, will become severely overcrowded and downgraded.

While the amount of tax revenue to be generated has not been finalized, the amount of real estate taxes paid will have minimal impact on local tax revenue, while the services required will have a heavy impact on the city's taxes, as has been evident from other high rise dwellings constructed in downtown in recent years. The zoning board of appeals members appeared to concentrate on the amount of taxes this building would potentially produce and this, of course, is if the applicant does not request Industrial Development Agency (IDA) or Local Development Corporation (LDC) tax abatements. The minimum age for senior residents will be 55 for this building and could conceivably include parents or guardians of school age children. This possibility of school aged children was not addressed.

But the blatant indifference of this zoning board to the neighborhood, and the downtown area of New Rochelle by this board was evident. The city of New Rochelle had received a grant to complete the Comprehensive Plan for downtown and there was no mention of the input of many residents. For example, Locust Avenue where the entrance to this housing will be, is one of the few streets in the city which constantly has double parked cars. One of the city's favorite solutions for traffic problems is ticketing. Should the city start ticketing these cars, it would intensify south end residents' feelings that the sound end of the city is expendable.

Contrast this to the reaction to the Public Safety Solutions, Inc. study which recommended that the New Rochelle City Council should relocate the "north end" ambulance to the downtown area. This suggestion met immediate opposition by Councilwoman Shari Rackman (District 6 in the North end.) who felt the response time from downtown to the "north end" was unacceptable. However, the study by Public Safety Solutions, Inc, found that most of the 4,241 calls in 2012 for emergency medical service were from the center of the city and relocating the north end ambulance to a more central location would be beneficial to reduce response time to that area.

Senior citizens, many of whom live in senior citizen buildings which are all south of Eastchester Road, are more likely than other people to need an ambulance. The City of New Rochelle has to start playing fair with its residents' health and safety. Shoehorning a senior building into downtown must be evaluated in that context. Until all neighborhoods are treated equally and with respect there will always be a north-south divide in the City of New Rochelle.