Corona downzone could temper development

By Adam Pincus | January 02, 2009 04:24PM

Developers in Queens say a proposed downzoning of 34 blocks on the major thoroughfares Northern and Astoria boulevards in the Corona neighborhood will force them to cut back on the size of their projects if they cannot begin construction before the proposal would take effect.

The proposed zoning would cut the maximum density of mixed-use Development On The Street from an unlimited height to 70 feet, and from a 4.8 floor area ratio, or FAR, to a 3 FAR. The reduction would cut a building’s height by the equivalent of two stories, real estate professionals said.

The zoning change is part of a larger 111-block proposal called North Corona 2, from the Department of City Planning that would mostly downzone the neighborhood, while leaving some areas unchanged.

The downzoning is an anomaly for the construction-friendly Bloomberg administration, which has generally increased building density on major arteries using affordable housing bonuses in areas such as the East Village in Manhattan and Woodside and Maspeth in Queens.

Developer Sam Liebowitz, president of College Point-based Dragon & Tiger Development, owns two, two-story buildings at 104-02 and 104-04 Northern Boulevard that he plans to demolish and rebuild as one seven-story, multi-use building. He said he was surprised the city would promote the proposal while construction was already weakened by a tight credit market.

He has plans, but not yet permits or financing, for the building with the first story of retail, the second for medical use and above that five floors of residential, with an overall FAR of 4.8, he said.

“It makes absolutely no sense to downzone Northern Boulevard. It will affect my project and make it much less profitable,” he said. “If I don’t get the foundation in before the zoning change, that could kill it. I am in a race to get financing.”

Department of City Planning spokeswoman Jennifer Torres, said the agency was trying to promote development that stays within the context of existing buildings.

“Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the Bloomberg administration builds consensus on the appropriate zoning and develops fine-grained proposals on careful analysis of each unique neighborhood, tailoring zoning block-by-block,” she said in an e-mail.

In order for a development such as Liebowitz’s to be grandfathered under the existing zoning, the building’s foundations must be laid before the rezoning plan is approved.

The stretch of Northern Boulevard was upzoned in 2003, from an R5 zoning that allowed buildings to have a maximum height of 40 feet.

Edwin Westley, a member of the land use review committee of Community Board 3, which approved the proposal as part of the city’s land use process, said residents at a six-story housing development called Dorie Miller at the eastern end of Northern Boulevard at 114th Street were upset with planned development of two large hotels nearby, leading to calls for a downzoning.

A public hearing with the Department of City Planning on a resolution to approve the rezoning is expected on January 21. Once approved, the proposal goes to the City Council, which has 50 days to vote on it.

Swain Weiner, director of sales for Corona for Massey Knakal Realty Services, said the downzoning of Northern Boulevard would stop development just as it was taking off.

“In my mind this will inhibit what is going on on Northern Boulevard. It is cutting it short just when it started to grow,” he said.

North Corona 2 proposed rezoning