Part III: Residents & Community Leaders Say No To Mayor Adam’s “City of Yes” One & Two-Family Homes Will Be Endangered Opposition Extending Far Beyond Central Queens

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by Michael Perlman |

Local residents among New Yorkers are increasingly in opposition of the controversial City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal, conceived by Mayor Eric Adams and the City Planning Commission. Part 1 of this column series featured perspectives of community leaders from the Forest Hills Community & Civic Association, Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, and the Forest Hills Van-Court Association. That was followed by part 2, which reflected the positions of residents, including those who testified in front of Community Board 6 at a Land Use and Housing hearing on June 4. The next hearing was held in front of the full board on June 18 at Queens Borough Hall, where CB 6 echoed the voice of the people by voting “No.”

“This is a positive and direct reflection of the will of the community, and we are heartened. The community now knows it pays to show up and persevere. This is an important takeaway in what will be a long battle,” said President Claudia Valentino of the Forest Hills Community & Civic Association. Afterall, residents’ widespread sentiment was that in a democracy, majority rules.

The couple thousand-page proposal could significantly alter the residential and commercial environments of citywide neighborhoods by amending and stripping numerous zoning regulations, and therefore nullify the distinctive and contextual characteristics that residents, Community Boards, elected officials, shop owners, and urban planners have advocated for throughout several decades. This could pose disastrous consequences for owners of one and two-family homes and small businesses.

After all community boards vote, borough presidents will weigh in, and the mayor, Department of City Planning, and City Council, and hearing dates will be announced. “If the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity were to pass when it ultimately reaches the City Council sometime later this year, our neighborhood and property rights would vanish in an instant, even as a lack of affordability and homelessness would long persist,” explained Valentino.

CB 6’s “No” vote featured “conditions” from the Land Use Committee, which were forwarded to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. Valentino said, “The ‘No’ vote could be viewed as canceling the vote to a degree. As far as we are concerned, there is nothing worth modifying, and the plan must be ditched. No is what we said, and NO is what we mean.”  

Valentino discussed the opposing paths of two councilmembers in CB 6. “Robert Holden carries a deep understanding of the issues tied to homes and small businesses, as his record as a longtime, highly respected civic leader and City Councilman has shown. His vote, on the Council, will be a decisive ‘no,’ as he repeatedly stated.”

She continued, “Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, however, has yet to bring any evidence to the table that she either hears or understands the community’s needs. She must now stop attempting to thread countless political needles in order to gauge which is the winning side for her, and come into line with the wishes of homeowners and small business people alike. It is time. Her Council vote, when the time comes, must also be ‘no.’”

Backtracking, on May 6, Valentino coordinated the Emergency Town Hall Meeting at Our Lady of Mercy Parish Hall in Forest Hills, which featured an informative session attended by over 200 residents. An overview of the City of Yes was presented by Valentino and urban planner Paul Graziano. Additionally, nearly 600 residents signed a letter of opposition to Councilmember Lynn Schulman. Furthermore, Valentino attended zoom meetings with Queenswide residents and attended a May 31 rally in City Hall Park with over 200 passionate civic leaders, largely from Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens.

Valentino visualizes a newly drafted housing plan based on efficiency and good sense, which abandons the divisive rhetoric that accompanies City of Yes from day one. She explained, “One- and two-family homeowners, and their zoning, are not the cause of homelessness or lack of affordable housing. The blame belongs with the same people who refuse to develop what in effect should be a ‘Marshall Plan’ to attack these problems. It would be one that does not gentrify our small shopping streets, does not imperil our fragile infrastructure, or ask one and two-family homeowners to utterly rip up their neighborhoods.”

Historic Colonial homes of Forest Hills

The City of Yes proposal also motivated President Jim Trent of the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance and his colleagues to engage in a widespread initiative to defeat it. He attends Queens Civic Congress meetings and a meeting at M.S. 172 in Floral Park, attended by 230 residents. He also could not miss Creedmoor Civic Association and Northeast Queens Republican Club meetings that spotlighted the would-be dire consequences of the City of Yes.

The City of Yes would be grounds for irreversible damage upon distinctive historic neighborhoods, including landmarked ones, and that of communities at large. Abolishing single-family zoning has residents up in arms the most. Trent explained, “New York City, among major American cities, has very little land devoted to single-family and two-family homes, which is zoning in R1, R2, and R3 categories and their subcategories. Perhaps 15 percent of the city’s land mass, as compared to other cities that typically have more like 70 percent of their territory developed to very low-density housing. Therefore, abolishing single-family zoning will not yield very much additional housing, but destroy the beauty and tranquility of our city’s most beautiful neighborhoods.” Additionally, permitting basement, attic, and rear yard units will reduce greenery and create intense parking problems, since low density neighborhoods are mostly beyond the reach of subways, and residents need to own cars.

There is something to be said about a city that would dismiss the decades-long advocacy by numerous community groups in the name of zoning, and Trent has a message for Mayor Adams and relevant city agencies. “New York used to brag that it was the first city in the nation to adopt zoning, but in recent years, with the pliable Board of Standards and Appeals, spot zoning, and the purchasing of air rights, the sanctity of zoning has been weakened and made a mockery of. Any drive around the city where new buildings are constructed, they are totally out of context to surrounding developments, and shows we need to tighten zoning and not weaken it,” he said.

For a city that claims to be sensitive to environmental needs and the subject of climate change, residents are questioning why the City of Yes would reduce land area devoted to grass and trees. Trent explained, “Constructing cottages in backyards, and reducing the ratio of building footprint to lot size, will urbanize suburban neighborhoods to everyone’s detriment. It will reduce the habitat for wildlife such as birds, squirrels, raccoons, and opossum that heavily reside in the city’s outlying areas.” The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission only regulates what can be viewed from the street. “You are not protected if your neighborhood is in an historic district. Cottages built in rear yards can potentially reduce tree cover and exacerbate parking problems, but not be prohibited by the LPC if the new construction can’t be seen from the street,” he continued.   

The City is attempting to establish a case where single-family zoning is a segregationists’ ploy. “Obviously, the City Planning Commission and City of Yes advocates know nothing about our neighborhoods. The single-family home ownership is a life’s dream for people of all ethnic backgrounds, and most of these homes are occupied by non-white people, except for Staten Island. The argument that single-family zoning is racist is bogus and insulting,” said Trent.

From Forest Hills to Bayside Hills, residents are uniting in solidarity, and their voice must not fall upon deaf ears. “Zoning is not a one-size-fits-all program,” said Joe Lubomski, who serves as Zoning Chair of the Bayside Hills Civic Association. In the early 2000s, Bayside Hills and similar neighborhoods citywide victoriously lobbied representatives to amend zoning regulations, to limit the size of homes that can be erected on a property, and to zone areas for single family homes, R2A zoning. “It is a disgrace that these laws will be virtually worthless if City of Yes proposals are enacted. My message to the City Council and the mayor is that the residents of these neighborhoods have pride in their communities, and are living there because of what they are. They changed over the years based on their own needs. However, wholesale change on the whim of a bureaucratic planning commissioner sitting in a Manhattan office, having no idea what these neighborhoods are about, is not going to work. There are solid reasons why these particular zoning regulations were adopted. Destroying great neighborhoods is not an option, as there will be consequences in the election booth.”

This northeast Queens community offers approximately 1,200 one-family homes and a few 2 family homes; the latter which received zoning exemptions in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a development mostly of Colonial and Tudor homes, developed by the Gross-Morton Company between 1936 and 1940. Bungalows and Cape Cods can also be found. Most homes are on 40 x 100 lots, and they feature driveways, garages, and front and rear garden. “Open spaces and suburban characteristics of Bayside Hills and similar neighborhoods is why people made sacrifices to purchase homes in these NYC neighborhood gems,” said Lubomski.

Distinctive Tudor homes 

Grassroots is of the utmost importance. Lubomski coordinated such civic association meetings, attended Queen Civic Congress meetings, met with Councilwoman Lee, prepared petitions from association members to elected officials, and prepared articles for the association newsletter. He also spoke at Community Board 11 meetings. “I will continue to support the defeat of this proposal,” he said.   

Lubomski feels that community boards and civic associations are a road to a successful government, as long as citizenry remains in touch. “Their advice should be sought, respected, and heeded,” he said. 

Lubomski kept a close eye on City Planning Commission presentations on the City of Yes, and he feels that there is no listening to reason by it. Part of him feels that the city will proceed to approve their plan despite public outcry. He explained, “It is not a democracy by dictating what our quality of life is to be. In one segment, I saw a proposal that if you had an apartment, rooms could be rented by putting locks on bedroom doors and having a shared kitchen and bath. Sharing an apartment or having a roommate is one thing, but this is taking it a step too far.” He then asked, “Are we that far from the next step of the Stalin Communist Era, where families were dictated to share their apartments with another family?”  

The Queens Civic Congress launched a petition and comment drive to Mayor Adams, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, and City Council, which is ongoing:  

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