The Second Avenue subway, finally under construction on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is of course a vast underground project...For those of us who remember the charges about how the Vanderbilt Yard site just "sat" undeveloped for years, here's the money quote:
But the project will also include construction above ground — not just station entrances but also a half-dozen boxy buildings on corners along Second Avenue that the transit agency acquired through condemnation. These so-called ancillary buildings, ranging in height from five to eight stories, will house ventilation equipment. They are also intended to disperse smoke and allow for evacuation from subway tunnels in the event of an emergency.
To the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, the proposed buildings, designed by DMJM+Harris and Arup, part of the team that designed the Jet Blue Terminal at Kennedy International Airport, are “handsome in proportion and detail, while simple and straightforward in design.”
But to some real estate specialists, the structures represent a missed opportunity or an unwelcome industrial intrusion into a residential neighborhood, or both. Richard Bass, the chief planning and development specialist for Herrick, Feinstein, a law firm based in Midtown Manhattan, said that at three of the sites — on 97th Street, 72nd Street and 69th Street — the M.T.A. could have worked with private developers to incorporate the ancillary buildings into residential towers.
...On each of the corners cited by Mr. Bass, the developers could have sought development rights, known as air rights, from smaller adjacent residential buildings, Mr. Bass said. He said taller apartment buildings would have been more in character with a residential neighborhood and would have helped fill a need for moderately priced housing. In addition, the M.T.A. could have had the developers share in the cost of the subway structures, Mr. Bass said.
But transit-oriented developments can also be used to defray construction costs. Julia Vitullo-Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association, said the M.T.A. typically had not engaged in strategic thinking when it came to its real estate. “The M.T.A. does not think of its real estate as either an investment opportunity or a development opportunity,” she said.