When the new home on one end of the row houses was replaced, it so offended Daniel Powers' mother, who had lived on 56th Road near 146th Street since 1979, that she decided to move to Long Island.
At a press conference last week, Powers said he didn't have a problem with development, but he did have an issue if it destroyed the character of the block.
“I don't have a problem with people building, but I do have a problem with these homes being desecrated,” he said. “My mother would have come today, but it just upsets her too much.”
Don Capalbi, president of the Queensboro Hill Neighborhood Association, agreed.
“We're happy to have growth and a vibrant community, but there has to be limitations,” he said. “We can't have residents in their 80s being cut off from light and air and forced to move.”
Capalbi and Powers were joined by several elected officials to urge the Department of City Planning to stop all development in the neighborhood until it can review the zoning that allows the much-larger home that replaced the former row house.
“These were designed to be one-family homes,” said Councilman Peter Koo. “It's out of context and it's not good for the whole neighborhood.”
According to Koo and Capalbi, Community Board 7 sent a letter to DCP, and the agency agreed to schedule a meeting to discuss the issue with its Queens borough office.
All of Queensboro Hill was rezoned in 2007 to address overdevelopment. However, the block of some 20 row houses on the north side of 56th Road was a bit of an anomaly. According to urban planner Paul Graziano, who worked on the rezoning, local activists urged DCP to create a one-family row house zone for the block, but the department was reluctant.
Instead, the homes remained in an R-4 zone, which not only allows for multi-family homes, but also allows owners to build out to a .9 floor-area ratio (FAR). The row houses sit on unusually large lots – in many cases 20-feet wide and 120-feet deep – giving owners the right to build a new structure approaching 2,200 square feet.
“Those row houses are small to begin with,” said Graziano. “If you replace that with something that has a .9 FAR, of course it's going to look out of context.”
Graziano said the easiest fix is to add an amendment to the 2007 rezoning that would change the block from R-4 to R-3-2, which only allows for an FAR of .6.
Wendy Monterosso recently moved back into her family's home on 56th Road, which her parents bought in 1976. She said her neighbor worked within the existing layout of the home, excavated the basement, and created a second apartment without building out.
“It's possible to have the other apartment without destroying the character of the neighborhood or taxing the infrastructure,” she said.