Queens Community Board Chairs Care About Parking More Than Housing

Give it up for Queens community board chairs. Thanks to a vote last night, we now have a crystal clear expression of their priorities. Nothing is more important than parking.

In a city without enough housing to go around, where rising rents are squeezing people in more neighborhoods every year, the community board chairs have taken a bold stand: Parking must come first, before all of this affordable housing nonsense.

City Hall’s big affordable housing plan, which broadly speaking lets developers build more housing while compelling them to set aside some units for people earning below a certain threshold, went up for a vote from the Queens Borough Board on Monday. (The borough board is composed of the chairs of all the borough’s community boards, the borough president, and its council members, though not everyone was present.) The plan went down in a 12-2 vote, which thankfully is only advisory in nature.

One piece of the plan is the reduction of mandatory parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit. This is the provision that the community board chairs could not stomach, reports Politico’s Sally Goldenberg:

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, which includes Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village, said he simply needs a car.

“You can’t get from here to there in Queens with public transportation,” Arcuri said from his seat at a conference table in Borough Hall before casting his no vote. “I can get into Manhattan very quickly. I sure as hell can’t get into South Jamaica or Douglaston.”

Arcuri opened his remarks by calling the proposal, known formally as Zoning for Quality and Affordability, “sort of an insult to Queens.”

For the record, 36 percent of Queens households do get everywhere they need to go without having a personal parking space, because they don’t own cars.

Yesterday’s vote comes as no surprise, since the borough board started complaining about the absence of some parking requirements last month. But let’s take a moment to appreciate what happened.

The community board chairs were asked to weigh in on a city proposal to make a basic human need — shelter — accessible to more New Yorkers. The proposal allows some buildings to be built without parking, which research indicates will yield immense public benefits in the form of more affordable housing and less traffic. But the community board chairs, despite all evidence presented to them, took the proposal as a personal attack on their car ownership, voting against the public interest.

City Hall is under no obligation to alter its housing plan based on this vote, and the real political test will come later, in the City Council, where the votes do set policy.

But a big borough board vote like this is a good opportunity to reflect on how much City Hall should defer to community boards in general. New York will clearly be better off if the de Blasio administration presses ahead without watering down its housing plan to please community board chairs incapable of thinking beyond their own parking spot. And what goes for housing policy should go for street safety and surface transit too.