the planning game
With the New York City mayor’s race not even past the Democratic primary, it’s a bit early to be handicapping the city’s next chief city planner, but where’s the fun in being coy?
Crain’s has taken a look at who might fill the post, which it calls “perhaps more important than any deputy mayor position at City Hall,” arriving at a short list that includes names ranging from Vishaan Chakrabarti, a consummate real estate industry insider and former director of the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning, to the more community-minded Anna Levin, a member of the City Planning Commission and the chair of Manhattan Community Board 4′s Land Use Commission during most of the 2000s.
When Douglas Durst began deciding, yet again, what to do with the almost block-long property he owns at 57th Street and the Hudson River, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden urged the developer to think big. A high-tech data center, a school and a hotel had all fallen through, so Mr. Durst had fallen back on that most reliable form of New York City development: housing.
Ms. Burden wanted something iconic, especially for a project on such a prominent street at such a prominent location right on the waterfront. With Hudson River Park right there, it ought to be iconic. Mr. Durst delivered something BIG indeed, hiring the Danish wunderkinds at Bjarke Ingles Group to design his project.
Yesterday, Ms. Burden got to put her official stamp on the project, when she and the rest of the City Planning Commission approved Durst/Fetner’s BIG pyramid.
In the Rezone
It was a busy day at the City Planning Commission Wednesday. Not only did the commissioners debate the upzoning of the Chelsea Market, which they unanimously approved, but they also approved the downzoning of two historic neighborhoods, West Harlem and Bed-Stuy. The contextual rezonings seek to limit development on side streets, which tend to be chock-full of 100-year-old brownstones, while directing new development—with affordable housing!—to the broad avenues running through the neighborhoods.
Much of the debate around the expansion of the Chelsea Market has centered around not the former Nasbisco factory turned popular shopping center (and subsequent tourist attraction), but the old railroad trestle next to it.
Part of the justification for expanding the market by 25 percent was that, in addition to providing construction jobs and new office space for the city’s booming tech sector, the developer of the project, Jamestown Properties, would pay about $19 million to the High Line, to help fund ongoing maintenance. But there was also great community outcry over the fact that much of the new addition would be built on the 10th Avenue side of Chelsea Market, directly overhanging the High Line.
Earlier today, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved the project’s expansion, and addressed a few of these concerns.
Best Laid Plans
Easy does it. That is the message from Councilman Dan Garodnick, echoing concerns of two Midtown community boards, that the Bloomberg administration is moving too fast in its plans to rezone Midtown East to allow for taller skyscrapers.
The Councilman, who represents the eastern flank of Manhattan, applauded the plan in a letter [PDF] to Planning Commish Amanda Burden last week shared with The Observer, but he worries to plan is so complex, it needs more time to be considered. The Department of City Planning argues there is enough time to get the job done before the Bloomberg administration is out in a year and a half.
It has long been a cliche that New York City apartments were no bigger than shoeboxes, even as sprawling units and reconstituted townhouses quietly replace them in this booming, bourgeoisie town. Still, every so often a YouTube video goes viral showing someone making due in 150 square feet or less. As the city continues to grapple with a shortage of apartments, the Bloomberg administration has embraced the less-is-more approach. They’re trading Gracie Mansion for Malibu Stacy’s Dream House.
The mayor wants to adAPT the city’s housing stock to the 21st Century, as a new pilot program announced today is known, by allowing developers to create smaller apartments than regulations currently allow.
For much of New York’s history, landlords and developers were building small, often substandard apartments to serve the city’s soaring population—a fact anyone who has ever lived in a Lower East Side tenement can attest to. Zoning and building regulations rose up to combat these unfit dwellings, but now there is a demand for more apartments than the city, either through publicly financed housing projects or privately built developments, can afford to build.
The new adAPT program takes a plot of land in Kips Bay and a few zoning modifications to try and solve these problems.
Best Laid Plans
It was but one line in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address in January, but it could prove to be one of the biggest of his dozen years in office.
“In the area around Grand Central, we’ll work with the City Council on a package of regulatory changes and incentives that will attract new investment, new companies and new jobs,” the mayor said from the stage inside Morris High School in the Bronx.
Hizzoner spent more time talking about Cornell’s Roosevelt Island tech campus, keeping the Hunt’s Point Produce Market from moving across the Hudson to Jersey and efforts to further expand the blue-collar workforce on the waterfront. Even the redevelopment of nearby East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue got equal billing with these vague pronouncements about “the area around Grand Central.”
Despite the scant mention, it turns out that for an administration that has never shied away from big plans, this may be one of the biggest projects yet.
Best Laid Plans
One of the more onerous aspect’s of developing in New York City is the public review process, known as ULURP, a seven-month gauntlet of meetings and votes and editorializing about one’s baby. But just as troublesome can be the act of getting to ULURP, a pre-certification process at the Department of City Planning that can take months, and sometimes even years, as city officials and planners get a project into the shape they want it and running environmental and economic analysis on the project.
The city just popped an aspirin on this development headache, or rather an Aleve, for a new program known as BluePRint, the Business Process Reform. It is meant to streamline the pre-certification process, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel announced at an ABNY breakfast this morning.
Best Laid Plans
Much as we want to be, The Observer is no real fan of the transformation of the Fourth Avenue from grotty auto shops to shoddy “luxury” apartment buildings. As usual, The Journal‘s Robbie Whelan delivers another brilliant diagnosis for the city’s architectural woes, and this time he focuses in on “Brooklyn’s Burden.”
It Takes a Village
Happy hour had just ended at the Stonewall Inn on Monday night (2-for-1 well, beer and wine). Rob (dirty martini) and Steve (Budweiser) were sitting at a table discussing the merits of Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
“Brady is better in the pocket, he’s better by the numbers, but Eli just always pulls it out for you,” Scott said. “No pun intended,” he quickly added.
“I think Brady’s better. He’s just past his prime,” allowed Rob.
So they were in agreement, a rarity, they said.
Among the things they disagreed on—Thai food (Rob prefers pad thai, Scott pad see ew), books (Rob thrillers, Scott histories)—was a recent proposal for an AIDS memorial on a triangle of land across from the shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital.