Queens BP Melinda Katz Prioritizes Parking Over Affordable Housing

Few things set off alarm bells for car-owning New Yorkers more than the thought of having less parking. So when the Department of City Planning proposed a minor reduction in parking requirements, the community board chairs of Queens got a case of road rage, with Borough President Melinda Katz at the wheel.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Here’s the problem: The city requires parking for most new development — a mandate that jacks up the cost of housing, even if residents don’t own cars. Senior citizens and low-income households, especially near transit, are less likely than other New Yorkers to own cars, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As part of a package of reforms, DCP has proposed removing parking requirements for new senior and affordable housing developments within a half-mile of the subway, and to reduce or simplify them elsewhere.

This is a small step in the right direction, unless you’re a car-owning Queens community board chair. The crowd at Monday’s borough board meeting was apoplectic over the idea of eliminating some government parking mandates, reports the Queens Chronicle:

“Where are they going to go? This is crazy,” Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr. said…

“I can’t think of any development in this borough where parking wasn’t an issue to some degree,” said Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10.

Joseph Hennessy, chairman of CB 6, added that many senior citizens still own cars and don’t get around using public transportation…

Dolores Orr — chairwoman of CB 14, which represents the Rockaways — said the agency was not looking at the “quality of public transportation” in the areas where it seeks to loosen the requirements…

Arcuri added that parking is already hard to find, a point echoed by several other board members.

“I can’t see anywhere in this borough where people would be supportive of downsizing parking requirements,” Braton said, according to the Forum.

They were joined in their opposition by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who heads the borough board and appoints community board members. She issued a statement after the meeting:

Serious concerns were raised by the Queens Borough Board. In a transit desert like the borough of Queens, the reality for many families is having to rely on cars to get to work. For our seniors, we want them to maintain an independent, active quality of living for as long as possible. Our current mass transit system — including subways, buses and Access-A-Ride — is simply insufficient in reliability, frequency and reach to warrant stripping parking requirements. We share the goal of creating more affordable units, however, and we’re glad the city is coming up with outside-the-box ideas to reach this goal. We look forward to continuing discussions with the agency about alternative solutions for fair and smart growth.

First, let’s clear up something: Despite Katz’s claim to the contrary, the entire borough of Queens is not a transit desert. Areas that are transit deserts wouldn’t be affected by DCP’s biggest proposed changes, which focus on developments within a half-mile of the subway. That excludes all of Staten Island and, yes, a majority of neighborhoods in Queens.

Secondly, it’s rich for Katz to talk about the need for “smart growth” while shrugging her shoulders at the status quo of auto dependence and lackluster transit. If Katz truly wants to reduce the incentive to own a car, she shouldn’t support government mandates for parking lot construction.

Katz defends driving as a way for seniors to stay “independent” and “active,” though they are especially vulnerable to traffic violence, including behind the wheel.

While Katz and her community board chairs push for parking lot construction, the people paying the price are seniors and other New Yorkers struggling with the ever-increasing cost of housing.

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