Zoning on front burner

Zoning loopholes that continue to haunt east Bronx communities years after downzoning may now finally be getting attention.

But it may take until a new administration moves into City Hall.

Issues such as building right up to a property line against a house in mid-density residential zones (R-4 to R-7), as well as the need for more stringent on- and off-street parking requirements for new construction persist even after a major downzoning of 600 blocks in Pelham Bay, Country Club, Throggs Neck, Morris Park, and much of the east Bronx seven to nine years ago.

Locals see those issues as a threat to the long-term viability of their communities, with a push on for further zoning changes.

For example, “zero-lot-line” building. There was major uproar and media field day after a developer built a 14-unit apartment building one foot away from Patty Justiniano’s house on Bruckner Blvd., effectively walling in 10 windows on one side of her home.

Since Justiniano’s house at 3525 Bruckner Blvd. is in an R-7 zone, where “zero-lot-line” building is allowed, walling in her home was legal, if not sightly.

Now Justiniano is joining with the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association, which pushed for the original downzoning for more zoning fixes.

The group is holding a zoning town-hall meeting Thursday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 14, 3041 Bruckner Blvd.

“The goal is to make people aware of what they can do about the zoning in their area, learn how to put in a zoning challenge, encouraging them to learn how their house is zoned and that people can build right up to the property line under ‘zero-lot-line’,” said Justiniano.

She said both she and the association want to make people aware that in R-4 through R-7 zones, putting a building up right on the property line – even if it’s against another house – is allowed. Had she had not reached out to Councilman Jimmy Vacca and Senator Jeff Klein’s offices, said Justiniano, the building next door to her would have been much larger, with no parking spaces instead of the seven now in the works.

It goes to show that community people can make a difference in this process, she said.

Among the other possible zoning changes the WLCA has in mind are creating incentives to build one- and two-family homes, and more stringent parking requirements for new construction both on the property and on the street.

Another goal, said Justiniano, is to make sure developers don’t get away with skirting the local zoning regs.

One case in point occurred two years ago when a developer of five homes on Teddy Place, a new street off Rawlins Avenue in Country Club, had to tear down two almost completed homes because they did not comply with stringent zoning.

Stricter laws and better enforcement, such as regulations against illegally converted apartments, is paramount, said WLCA board member Mary Jane Musano, who called illegally converted apartments a major problem in the area.

“We are hoping we can get a consensus between City Planning, the Department of Buildings, and our elected officials that this is the time to take action,” said Musano. She added: “We are hoping to scream loud enough for them to hear us.”

But residents should not expect much action from the City Planning Commission, at least not until a new mayor is sworn in next January, said Councilman Jimmy Vacca.

Vacca wrote to the City Planning Commission about eliminating the rules that allow lot-line to lot-line building, but it does not appear CPC chairperson Amanda Burden or the rest of the commission, the majority of whom are appointed by the mayor, are willing to revisit the issue, he said.

The CPC has 13 members, seven of whom are appointed by the mayor, five by the city’s borough presidents, and one by the public advocate.

“I do think that in six months or seven months we are going to have a new mayor, and I would hope that new mayor’s administration would be more receptive,” said Vacca. “It is going to be at the top of my priority list.”

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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