To the Editor:
On April 12, The Zoning Board of Appeals will review the protest petition signed by over 200 abutters of the three development sites within the City’s waterfront plan. If the ZBA finds in favor of the abutters, it will effectively stop the City’s plan and force them to accept the will of the residents or pursue further legal action and expend additional tax dollars.
One significant position of the City is that the spot up-zoning of these three sites is only a text amendment as opposed to a map change; therefore, the abutter’s petition is irrelevant. However, others believe, and can support it with language in the Zoning Ordinance, that the petition is applicable to a text amendment. We would like to cut through the legalese on this matter. The text changes to the zoning ordinance that are part of the waterfront plan essentially create distinct zones within the existing W1 zone. Density is increased beyond what is allowed in the remainder of the W1 zone and hotel use is now permitted; whereas, hotel use is not currently permitted anywhere in the W1 zone. The City has essentially spot up-zoned these three sites; they have drawn a big fat line around the three sites and have created distinct zoning districts with less onerous requirements. However, they failed to call it a map change in order to give themselves wiggle room to avoid having to honor the abutter’s zoning rights.
Land is a limited commodity, and these three sites have intrinsic development value under the current W1 zone. The north end of the Cummings Turner block is being redeveloped as we speak without the benefit of the contentious up zoning. These valuable waterfront sites in the heart of Old Town will be developed; the existing warehouses will be removed and the sites will be cleaned up. Current zoning, historic and other regulations provide significant protection and any financially viable project will need a Special Use Permit as well as a myriad of other approvals.
We have to ask why the City is up-zoning these three sites and is willing to fight the will of the abutters and the majority of Alexandrian’s and spend valuable resources and tax dollars to do so? One answer may be to speed economic development. Potentially a noble reason, if the land was not already valuable and developable and if the effort did not place a neighborhood at risk. However, there is no justification to do so.
The original intent of zoning regulation was to protect abutting land owners from detrimental land development, and to preserve property value and quality of life. The first zoning ordinance in New York City was created to keep buildings from reaching further skyward and depriving the streets below of light and air. Zoning was created as Health, Safety and Welfare legislation to protect abutters and the general public. Our current City Administration has lost site of this, and is using zoning solely as an economic development tool to the detriment of the health, safety and welfare of all and to the detriment of adjacent property value.
We urge the Zoning Board of Appeal to stop this misuse of zoning regulation, to stop a misguided legalese attempt to up zone three sites by calling it a text change, and to uphold the zoning rights of the abutters.
Deena de Montigny and Joe Demshar