Skip to main content

Downzonings, density, and context

There's a lot to mine from the inaugural issue (Spring 2007) of City Limits Investigates (CLI), the quarterly offshoot of City Limits, which concerns the challenges of building affordable housing in a time of steadily rising construction costs.

One issue is the city's capacity for density, and the attendant context.

Even as the city has began upzonings, increasing opportunities for density in former manufacturing zones and near transit hubs (and, in the case of Atlantic Yards, letting the state override zoning without a similar public process), other neighborhoods have pressed for downzonings, ensuring against out-of-scale development.

For example, in his 2005 State of the Borough address, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz stated, "But smart development is not destroying the lovely character of Brooklyn’s most suburban neighborhoods. Southern Brooklyn has many neighborhoods that are primarily residential and dominated by single family detached homes. I am committed to the down-zoning of these neighborhoods, because we must preserve the community pride that makes Brooklyn great."

Going too far

There's certainly a logic to that, but it can also go too far. As CLI explains, some 40 percent of Staten Island has been downzoned, including some segments near the Staten Island Railway:
Developers who built the cheap, unattractive housing that fueled neighborhoods' demands for the new zoning restrictions have to take some of the blame. But there's little doubt that the city's tighter rules are suppressing not just ugly, out-of-scale buildings but also quality housing development that could be affordable. "They've driven the cost of land through the roof because of downzoning," says Randy Lee, a developer on Staten Island. "The problem you have is in a lot of new zones, they wanted to eliminate two-family houses, so you eliminated the rentals and those rentals represented an affordable housing stock. Almost all zoning that allowed townhouses was eliminated. There is no zoning left for garden apartments, condo housing, senior aparments... And the upzonings don't make up for it, he says. "You can't punch the pillow down in Staten Island and people to pop up on the Upper West Side or Williamsubrg. They pop up in Rockland County or New Jersey."


That also increases the pressure to build as big as possible elsewhere in the city, including projects like Atlantic Yards. Similarly, as I've noted, not-so-dense developments near transit, such as the Atlantic Commons in Fort Greene and the Nehemiah Houses in East New York, in hindsight appear unwise. But they were the only developments the market would support at the time.

Density and balance

CLI cites the city's new push for density:
In his April speech unveiling PlaNYC, however, Mayor Bloomberg announced a push for new zoning rules to increase housing in areas near mass transit lines. Even harsh critics of the Bloomberg administration acknowledge that zoning requires a very delicate balance. "You've got to be careful with density," notes one former political opponent of the mayor's. "How dense a city do you really want to live in?"... And zoning for more density can strain public services and alter the character of beloved neighborhoods.

That's one of the questions presented by Atlantic Yards. Urban planner and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Board Member Ron Shiffman has repeatedly argued that the project would strain the local infrastructure.

In a more optimistic take, Atlantic Yards landscape architect Laurie Olin told the New York Observer in February that the challenges culd be overcome: "It’s the future: how to live wisely and well in close quarters with good spaces and environmental conditions and with the highest qualities. What a project!"

Regional challenge

Markowitz and some other Atlantic Yards supporters have backed the project, at the size proposed, because "we need" the affordable housing. While the city suffers a huge deficit of affordable housing, and Atlantic Yards might make a small but not insignificant dent in that (but also might lead to the demise of affordable housing nearby), there is an argument for a larger context.

As noted, at some point, density strains livability. And the context is not only within the city, it's regional. As CLI points out:
"Some of this should be a regional issue," Bill Carbine, HPD's Assistant commisisoner for Neighborhood Preservation, said at a recent conference. "If there's affordable housing in Jersey City or in Yonkers, that helps all of us with this problem."

Meanwhile, the combination of the housing crunch and low incomes means there's a lot of de facto affordable housing in New York, where several families cram into apartments and houses, living in substandard conditions, sometimes violating the zoning code,

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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…