Skip to main content

DOB Commissioner hints at sea change (including FCR's plans?): "you have to figure out how to build bigger, and better, and modular"

Given the city's housing squeeze and numerous illegal units (such as apartments in single-family houses), policy analysts and even city officials are now grappling with the idea of supplying new forms of housing, such as small but updated single room occupancy (SRO) units and multiple units attached to a house.

That was the subject of an intriguing conference yesterday titled "Making Room," sponsored by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and The Architectural League of New York. (Here's coverage in WNYC, City Limits, and Urban Omnibus.)

I'll have some more coverage in another post but first would like to focus on the comments of Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Robert LiMandri, who seemed skeptical toward the new ideas--which would generally add density without changing the overall scale of neighborhoods--and supportive of an alternative: building towers via lower-cost modular construction.

It sounded very much like the DOB has been having serious conversations with developers--say, Forest City Ratner--that want to do exactly that.

LiMandri: solutions too small
LiMandri first expressed skepticism about the model of a newfangled SRO with shared space like kitchens. Like some others at the conference, he wondered who would be responsible for maintaining and policing such space.

He also questioned the emphasis, as several presenters suggested, on living smaller, using multi-function furniture (a bed folds up, a table becomes a desk). "Living smaller is not necessarily the way I want to live all all the time," LiMandri said.

While he praised the ingenuity behind such things as movable walls, he observed, "You go talk to anyone else in the U.S., and they go, Ohmigod, you should see what they live in in New York. So, if we want to make this city a place to come and live, we need to offer flexible solutions, but I’m of the opinion that they don't always have to be smaller."

LiMandri: building bigger

“It’s about affordability, which drives to the question of how do you pay for it, and how do you finance it, and, who's in charge of building it," LiMandri continued. "So my sense is you have to work on the financial equation piece, and you also have to figure out how to build bigger, and better, and modular."

"Those are the kinds of things that are going to transform our marketplace so that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the old way we built buildings. You build buildings all the time... If you sit in the same matrix, there's only so much margin you can cut until you have to make the mold. My sense is we’re at that time where it’s not just about building smaller.”

LiMandri: where to build

The final piece, he suggested, is "unlocking the big value in the property," either by increasing the coverage of the lot--which would eliminate backyards and, he suggested, not be acceptable to many, or building taller.

"I actually live in [suburban-ish, upper-middle-class, Hollis Hills] Queens," he said. "And the whole reason we moved there is so that the lot coverage isn't 90%... So there is this push and pull with what people here think the people there want, and unlocking the value. If you unlock the zoning value, you will get development. And you will make it more affordable, and you don't necessarily have to be smaller."

That implies either that such Queens residents would accept taller buildings with less lot coverage or, more likely, that the city would steer development to areas that can better accommodate towers.

There are, of course, a lot of working class Queens neighborhoods where houses already contain illegal apartments, and a way to upgrade them and make them legal might be a solution.

But prefab construction apparently is seen as a solution, though it's not clear whether city officials are embracing the notion of 35-story towers of record-breaking height, as Forest City Ratner has suggested,  or still substantial buildings of more modest ambition.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.