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

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…