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Kris
January 28th, 2005, 09:16 PM
January 30, 2005

In Queens, The Houses Are Growing And Growing

By DENNIS HEVESI

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2005/01/30/realestate/30cov583.jpg
In Bayside, people are significantly enlarging houses, or tearing down and rebuilding. These are on 221st Street.

ON a long slope lined by ranch-style homes in Bayside, Queens, three houses in a row have at least doubled in height over the last eight months. One now has a cathedral ceiling with a Romanesque-arched window below its gabled third-floor roof. Another, also expanded to three stories, has terraces evocative of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. And the third, though still in the wood-framing stage, is rising with the sharply angled roof lines of an Alpine lodge.

These houses on East Hampton Boulevard - in a neighborhood bordered by the forests of the 623-acre Alley Pond Park - are not quite McMansions, but more, perhaps, like double cheeseburgers, with orders for three more across the street soon to come.

On block after block of northeast Queens, houses are growing in size, as they are in other sections of the city with a suburban feel, altering the landscape, increasing property values, recasting mortgage choices, calling into question old zoning codes and raising the ire of many neighbors.

"There are three on 221st Street that tower over everything around them," said Brixton Doyle, a leader of community opposition to the resized homes and, particularly, to the zoning rules that allow them. "It's the S.U.V.-ing of America."

A new zoning proposal for Bayside that would limit the size and height of houses is expected to be approved by the City Council in March. Although it would apply only to that neighborhood, it could become a template for those who believe that zoning restrictions are needed in other city neighborhoods with one-family houses. Other areas that are having their visual character changed include parts of Riverdale in the Bronx, Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, and the north shore of Staten Island.

Houses in the city are being remodeled, or torn down and rebuilt, for a number of reasons: the desire for bigger homes, the arduousness of commuting from greater distances and the lack of buildable property remaining in the suburbs.

"What's taking place in Queens is a direct result of the fact that we are in a post-sprawl era," said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. "In Nassau and Suffolk Counties, there has been a slowing of relentless suburbanization."

There are fewer places to build in the suburbs, Dr. Hughes said, in part because of what he called "the new psychology of 'no growth.' "

"Many people in Suffolk don't want new development," he said, "and instead prefer publicly owned open space and preserved farmlands."

That has ratcheted up home prices in the far suburbs "and channeled both housing demand and value back into inlying areas like Queens," Dr. Hughes said. "This is the new housing frontier."

Sometimes, people just want houses that are bigger, or different, and so they remodel. In other cases, they are increasing the size of their houses because they have large families. At the eastern end of the Rockaways, and in some enclaves in Brooklyn, the desire of many Orthodox Jews to have many children has inspired the construction of some very large homes.

But certainly, dollars-and-cents considerations are in play in many cases. As Robert Campbell, a professor of real estate finance at Hofstra University, said, "When house prices increase faster than the costs of construction, it becomes more advantageous to improve the house that you have than to buy a new one." The value of the improvements, he said, "has increased faster than the cost of making them."

Even if a homeowner takes out a home equity loan to pay for improvements, the total monthly cost of that and the existing mortgage may be lower than the cost of a new, larger mortgage for a new house.

And, notwithstanding the vociferous objections of neighbors, community activists and politicians, the muscled-up houses can be profitable. Patricia Martin, an associate broker at Station Realty of Douglaston, said a colonial on a 37-by-100-foot lot built in 1910 might have sold for $350,000, as is. But after it was enlarged, it sold for $660,000. "It was a much smaller house, and they blew it up and out - that's the expression people use on the street," she said.

People who bought houses before the recent run-up can make a profit if they renovate. For example, Ms. Martin said, on 221st Street, a one-story ranch on a 40-by-135-foot lot sold for about $450,000 four years ago. The architect who bought it added two floors, at a cost of about $350,000, she said. "The top floor looks like a loft with two terraces," Ms. Martin said. "In June, it went on the market and sold for $1.19 million."

New houses can command even more: On a 40-by-100-foot lot on 208th Street, Ms. Martin said, a house was torn down and replaced with a four-bedroom, two-story side-hall colonial that is on the market for $1.45 million.

The cost of additional square footage can vary, but to give an idea of what is being spent, Shawn Lee, president of the Shi-Ah World Corporation, the contractor for those three-in-a-row remodeling jobs on East Hampton Boulevard, said two of the houses expanded to 3,500 square feet of floor space from 2,600 square feet, with construction costing $210,000, or about $233 a square foot, and the third increased to 4,000 square feet from 2,600, at a cost of $235,000, or about $168 a square foot.

Dr. Jeena Ali, an internist, and her husband, Sayed, a nephrologist, are remodeling one of those three homes on East Hampton Boulevard. "We have two kids and one on the way," she said. "We were looking for a bigger house, but we wanted to stay in this area."Asked about neighbors' complaints, Dr. Ali said, "I would think they should be happy because it will bring up the property value of all the houses."

Half a mile away, on 210th Street, Paul DiBenedetto said he does not like the new, big house next to his two-story Dutch colonial. "They put a 27-by-60 house on a 40-by-100 property," Mr. DiBenedetto said. "It extends much farther to the street than any old house on the block. Most houses are 20 feet from the property line; this one is 8 feet from the property line."

"I walk out my front door and see a brick wall to the right," he continued, "and if I go out into my backyard I see this big wall, because the house extends into the backyard. It's like a big Monopoly hotel, a big rectangle." Mr. DiBenedetto hopes to have good relations with his new neighbors, who have not yet moved in. "You want to be as O.K. as possible with neighbors. But it takes up air and sunlight. We were used to having a nice breeze."

The proliferation of enlarged homes is particularly attributable, some civic leaders and politicians say, to a clause in what is called the R2 category of the city's 1961 Zoning Resolution.

The R2 category applies to detached single-family homes with a minimum lot width of 40 feet. Twenty-five percent of the city's single-family detached homes are in R2 zones, with 83 percent of those in Queens. The controversial clause, called the lowest-floor exemption, allows a builder to discount the bottom floor from a home's total allowable square footage if that floor has a garage or utility or recreation space.

"So, if on a 40-by-100 lot you're only allowed to build 2,000 square feet," said Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11 in Bayside, "by using this loophole you can build up to 3,000 square feet and only 2,000 will be counted."

"It's like a five-pound baloney in a three-pound bag," Mr. Iannece said.

State Senator Frank Padavan, a Republican who represents Bayside, considers the lowest-floor exemption "an abuse, which enabled certain less-than-appropriate developers to build oversized houses that adversely affect the character of the neighborhood."

Remodelings help the city's finances, said Dr. Hughes of Rutgers, by increasing valuations and thus tax revenues - but they hurt by pushing up prices and making it harder for first-time buyers to enter the market.

Struggling to balance the pressures, City Councilman Tony Avella, a Democrat from Bayside who is chairman of the Council's zoning committee, recently sponsored a complex alternative to the R2 zoning category, dubbed R2a. It ran into strident community opposition. Senator Padavan said it would make the problem worse, and Mr. Iannece, the community board chairman, said it complicated things.

Councilman Avella then conferred with Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant and the zoning chairman of the Queens Civic Congress, which represents about 100 homeowner and civic groups in the borough. They rewrote R2a.

The new R2a proposal, Councilman Avella said, sets a height restriction of 35 feet and limits the footprint of a one-family house to 30 percent of its lot. "Believe it or not, there was never a height restriction or fixed lot coverage for R2 anywhere in the city," he said. "It also eliminates all the exemptions, except for 300 square feet for a garage."

There is significant support for the proposal. "It discourages developers from tearing down something that's underbuilt and building something three times the size," Mr. Graziano said. "But it still allows homeowners to expand their house generously, as they might have to in the future."

Several single-family-home neighborhoods in the city - including Whitestone and College Point in Queens and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn - are currently under consideration for rezoning, according to Amanda M. Burden, the city's planning commissioner. The push comes from civic groups, local politicians and the Bloomberg administration.

"Whether R2a fits all those, I'm not sure," Commissioner Burden said, "but it is another tool to prevent existing housing from being demolished and replaced by strikingly large structures that really can destroy the character of a low-density community."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

billyblancoNYC
January 29th, 2005, 02:13 AM
I hate this. I'm sorry, but if you're bitter that someone is doing well and building a big house on your block, tough. This will drive people to the suburbs when they are in a position to invest in their homes, build families, bring more tax revenues to the city, etc.

These NIMBYs want nothing to change, ever. Face it, Queens is not all plumbers and teachers anymore. There's wealth in Queens and people want nice homes now. I don't think it should be shut down by this proposal.

It's a bad move for the city.

pianoman11686
January 29th, 2005, 11:07 AM
I agree. Some parts of Queens, especially northeast Queens where Bayside is, are developing wealthy enclaves. I used to live in Bayside, and I remember a few areas where five, even ten years ago, venerable mansions where being built, especially as you got close to the Cross Island Parkway.

NewYorkYankee
January 29th, 2005, 12:51 PM
Are these "Suburban" areas of QNS pedestrian friendly? Can one walk to the supermarket or out to dinner?

Kolbster
January 29th, 2005, 01:16 PM
Yup, maybe a little further than other neighboroods, but definately in walking distance

alex ballard
January 30th, 2005, 10:07 AM
I agree. Some parts of Queens, especially northeast Queens where Bayside is, are developing wealthy enclaves. I used to live in Bayside, and I remember a few areas where five, even ten years ago, venerable mansions where being built, especially as you got close to the Cross Island Parkway.

Are we talking exoburbia wealthy? Can you see Queens and Suburban Brooklny becoming the new suburbs?

Joey Baggadonutz
May 13th, 2005, 01:48 PM
I hate this. I'm sorry, but if you're bitter that someone is doing well and building a big house on your block, tough. This will drive people to the suburbs when they are in a position to invest in their homes, build families, bring more tax revenues to the city, etc.

These NIMBYs want nothing to change, ever. Face it, Queens is not all plumbers and teachers anymore. There's wealth in Queens and people want nice homes now. I don't think it should be shut down by this proposal.

It's a bad move for the city.

No one's bitter blanco. Simply put, the law has changed, the Bayside area is rezoned and your's is next. Plan to see Whitezone rezoned by October and watch the overdevelopment drop off significantly.

If someone was building a big home on a block in Queens that was of a legal size, then folks would've had to accept it. Problem was, the homes were larger than the law allowed and the DOB was doing nothing to contain it. Now that the law has been streamlined, the development is already slowing dramatically, DOB has slapped stop-work orders on a lot of Bayside new constr./alt's. ... the area will settle down quickly. Folks have plenty of room left in the new zoning to develop and modestly enlarge their existing homes while keeping the beauty and grace of the older homes intact.

I can see you're no history buff!

billyblancoNYC
May 14th, 2005, 12:21 AM
First of all, it wasn't illegal. Second of all, you think these little shit Cape Cods and ranchs are historic? Give me a break. This is pure jealousy and NIMBY bullshit. Oh my, look how nice that house is. Screw them, let's bitch about it. And, of course, the politicians cave to the squeakiest wheels.

I agree with lowering densities, but not sizes. Stupid move by short-sighted morons.