Battle Rages in Bayswater Over New Limits on Building

BY DAVID LOMBINO - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 27, 2006

Thanks to Bob Natt, Class of 1965 for this most recent Bayswater article.

Pressed up against the southeastern boundary of New York City, along the marshes of Jamaica Bay near Far Rockaway, the tiny community of Bayswater is feeling the same development pressure that has sent real estate prices skyrocketing and refashioned neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

In the summertime, Bayswater Point State Park, at the tip of the peninsula, is populated by bird watchers and clam diggers. More common sights in the last few years have been the earthmovers and stacks of plywood visible on most streets in this diverse middle-class neighborhood.

The building has prompted a clash between those who say they want government to limit further growth and others who say they fear that such restrictions would prevent them from realizing the full value of their property.

On Wednesday, a large group of mostly elderly Bayswater residents made the trip of more than an hour to a public hearing at the Planning Commission in Lower Manhattan to ask the city to save their peaceful, suburban community from "overdevelopment." They say the neighborhood's unique character is under assault and that increased density is putting pressure on the area's infrastructure, including its roads, schools, parking, and sewer system.

The Planning Commission will vote byApril 5 on a plan to downzone Bayswater, where many homes that are more than a century old are being sold at higher prices. New owners are demolishing the homes, subdividing the lots, and rebuilding shiny, multi-unit developments.

During Mayor Bloomberg's tenure, 45 downzonings, in the form of lower density or contextual rezonings, have been adopted or are now in the public review process. Sixteen of the neighborhoods are in Queens, the borough that includes Bayswater and which experienced the highest percentage increase in property values last year, according to city's Department of Finance.

Advocates say the downzonings are necessary to preserve some of the city's residential neighborhoods, but critics argue the changes reduce the amount of units built and increase housing costs.

The board chairwoman of the Bayswater Civic Association, Enid Glabman, 75, said she is worried the neighborhood's growth will leave her and other longtime residents behind.

"I've been living here for 48 years, and I'm not going to Florida because I love it here," Ms. Glabman said. "It's a little piece of paradise."

Driving around the neighborhood's tree-lined streets in a dark sedan, Ms. Glabman slows to point out each new housing start. She has called the police on builders that she suspects do not have the right permits.

"Is this a monstrosity or is this a monstrosity?" Ms. Glabman asked, pointing to a row of new houses. "If we don't get this zoning passed soon, some big properties will go and we'll be even more dense."

The plan to reconfigure the area's zoning is not universally supported. At last week's hearing, Bayswater property owners Pauline Newman and her grandniece, Natalie Prokop, testified that the new zoning would keep them from realizing the true market value of their property, a sprawling waterfront home on a large lot with breathtaking views of the distant Manhattan skyline.

Ms. Prokop said that a developer rescinded a firm offer for the property when he learned of an impending zoning change. She said that the new restrictions would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ms. Prokop and her family are asking the commission to modify the current application so their property is unaffected.

The house, about 3,000 square feet, has been on the market for over a year and is currently listed at about $1.4 million.

"As applied to our situation, it's unfair. It penalizes us for being longtime property owners. We will not be able to enjoy the financial benefit that our neighbors were able to realize," Ms. Prokop said.

Ms. Glabman and others say that this house, centrally located and on the waterfront, is worth fighting over. They say that preventing further development of that property is exactly the purpose of the proposed restrictions.

A local real estate agent and longtime resident of the area, Mordechai Dornbush, is circulating a petition to protest the downzoning. He views the proposal as an attempt of the longtime residents to prevent newcomers from entering the community.

"There are a lot of the younger families who moved in already, who live in smaller houses, that want bigger homes, and there are people who would like to live here, who are now living in small apartments in Queens and Brooklyn," Mr. Dornbush said.

The proposed rezoning plan was approved by the local Community Board 14 and the president of Queens, Helen Marshall. If the Planning Commission gives it the green light, it will move on to the City Council for final approval.

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