Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Landmarks, repairs and the Tenement Museum

There's been a lot of hand-wringing about this Historic District for Orchard and Ludlow, from east Allen to west Essex.

The hand-wringing is not about the project itself, but about its initiator, the Tenement Museum. Several years ago, in an effort to acquire the building next door, the Museum tried to use eminent domain (!!) to evict everyone from it.

That's not easy to forget. People are reluctant to support anything initiated by the Tenement Museum for the sake of that memory and its lesson. But this landmarking project is a good one that benefits residents and the community at large, not just the Museum.

All the opposition I heard to the Historical District project has come from property owners. Well, of course -- their properties lose value if they can't sell them to developers to demolish and build skyscraper hotels. Personally, I don't think the right to make a huge profit by demolishing history and putting tenants at risk deserves protection. If they were good landlords all those years before this real-estate surge, I'm sure they can continue to be good landlords without it now -- especially now, when there are so many new market-rate tenants paying and arm and a leg to live in their buildings. Two arms and two legs if you count their roommates. I can't imagine that any landlords in the LES are hurting.

Residents don't lose anything in this deal. In fact, I think they will come out ahead, not having to deal with landlords and developers trying to squeeze them, but just with landlords. The only repairs that will be more expensive will be external repairs. How often do you complain about the pointing of your exterior brick? I never have. Most of my complaints are about heat, hot water and plumbing. These will not be affected by Historic District status. From the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

"You do not need a permit from the Landmarks Commission to perform ordinary repairs or maintenance chores. For example, you do not need a permit to replace broken window glass, repaint a building exterior to match the existing color, or caulk around windows and doors. If you have any doubt about whether a permit is needed, call the Commission at (212) 669-7817."

Strategic error: last chance for the Bowery

CB3 is planning a new zoning study for the Bowery. Once it is finished, they will draw up a zoning proposal for City Planning. It'll all take about a year and who knows how long before the City responds if ever. To further this plan, they intend now to speak to DCP privately to ascertain what the City will consider for the Bowery.

This strategy, though well-meaning, is both strategically misguided and destined to produce too little too late.

By not publicly questioning the City on the Bowery, and by starting a new plan for the Bowery, the CB is taking on the burden of responsibility for the future of the Bowery and taking it off the City. That's an egregious strategic error. It means the City won't have to answer for anything, even though it's the City alone that has created this problem by leaving the Bowery out of the rezoning.

By the time the CB has a plan to present to the City for the Bowery, the Bowery will already have been developed and the City will blame the CB for it. And the City will be right.

Fortunately, the CB can still act strategically.
LESRRD, the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN) and the Coalition to Save the East Village all asked at City Planning's Scoping Session that the Bowery be included in the rezoning. These public record requests give the CB leverage now. A public letter to the Borough President -- indicating that without a rezoning now, the City is handing over the Bowery to developers -- will place the burden of public responsibility on the City for not including the Bowery in the rezoning plan. The City will be compelled either to take action or to accept responsibility for hotel development.

The reasons CB3 gives not to fight to get the Bowery returned to the zoning area do not hold up under scrutiny. CB3 has said that it's useless to fight to get the Bowery in the rezoning because:
1) the City doesn't want to rezone the Bowery
(if that's the reason then why has CB3 begun to work on a rezoning plan for the Bowery now?);

2) the west side of the Bowery is in a different district and DCP doesn't zone one side of a street
(DCP zones single sides of streets all the time; DCP Deputy Director for Manhattan has plainly told me that one-side-of-the-street- zoning is and was never a problem for them);

3) DCP does whatever it wants
(if that's so, why has the CB been working for a full year on a rezoning of 3rd & 4th Avenues, an area the City has openly refused to rezone?).

CB3 should stop stalling and ask publicly, now: what does the City want for the Bowery?
No rezoning now=huge luxury hotels

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

St. Brigid's a year later

From the Committee to Save St. Brigid's:

--This Friday marks one year since the demolition of St. Brigid's was begun by the archdiocese, one year since the bulldozing of a hole through the East wall and the smashing of the stained glass windows.

There will be a rally at 7:30 AM outside the Church. Politicians and press will be attending. Please turn out to make our ongoing presence and resistance known.--

They've got a website too:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Good things at the Community Board

Two important items coming up at the July 24 Community Board meeting:
1) Historic Landmark District for Allen, Orchard, Ludlow & Essex
2) rewording the liquor license moratorium resolutions

1) The CB will vote to aprove the Lower East Side Preservation Coalition's proposal to create a Historic Landmark District of a substantial portion of the LES from Houston down to Division, Allen east to Essex. The LESPC has done an excellent and comprehensive job putting it together: an important project every resident dedicated to LES preservation can support.

2) Over the last two years I and others have complained to the CB that the State Liquor Authority ignored our liquor license moratoria because the moratoria violate due process . Under the old moratorium resolutions, the CB would deny, without a hearing, any liquor license in a moratorium area: the bar owner would not have to appear before the CB but go straight to the SLA.

Everyone deserves a fair hearing under the law, even a bar, otherwise there can be no rule of law. Without due process, CB3 pro forma denials were considered by the SLA to be improper abuses of authority, abrogations of legal charge and therefore meaningless grandstanding.

In every case in which they threaten to undermine residential, cultural or commercial life, liquor licenses should be denied by the CB -- but after a hearing, not without a hearing. The hearing establishes through due process under the law the specific facts that the SLA must consider. The new moratorium wording will require a due process hearing in which the bar owner will have to show how the liquor license will improve and not harm the neighborhood.

If you can attend the CB full board meeting, please express your support for these two items. You may sign up 6:15-6:30 to speak for two minutes at the public session which precedes the voting session.

CB3 full board meeting
Middle School 131
100 Hester Street
(Eldridge & Forsythe )
July 24, 6:15pm

Thursday, July 19, 2007

It's happening everywhere

Take a look at the NY Press
Neighborhood haunts lose out in the restaurant renovation battle

By Jill Colvin

"From Yorkville on the Upper East Side to Astor Place in the East Village, the bar and restaurant landscape is becoming shinier and more corporate, and, as in the Heights, robbing residents of their cozy long-time local dens."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Report on the Scoping Session

For those who missed the June 25 Scoping Meeting:
A couple of us presented the case for including the Bowery in the City's rezoning plan -- David Mulkins of 5th Street was particularly eloquent -- but most of the testimony in the evening session I attended was devoted to support for the Community Board's 11-point plan, the best features of which are unfortunately beyond the purview of zoning: the tenants' legal fund and the anti-harassment & anti-demolition measures to protect tenants.

Below is a generalized comparison of just the differences between 1) the City's proposal, 2) the CB's 11 points, 3) the LESRRD alternative, and 4) the current zoning. Instead of talking zoning jargon, I'm translating F.A.R. into stories of a typical tenement with a 70'X25' floor-space. The translation is not exact, but it's better than reading jargon:

DCP (the City's plan)
Most streets and avenues: construction no larger than 6 tenement-sized stories (4FAR)* height cap: 75-80'

Houston, Delancey, Chrystie, D: construction no larger than 8 tenement-sized stories (5.4FAR) , but 9 tenement-sized stories (7.2FAR) if 20% affordable housing is included height cap: 120'

The Bowery is left out of the plan

Avenues: construction no larger than 5 tenement-sized stories (3.45 FAR) or 7 tenement-sized stories (4.6FAR) if affordable housing is included
Most side streets: construction no larger than 4 tenement-sized stories (3FAR)

Houston, Delancey: 7 tenement-sized stories or 9 tenement-sized stories with affordable housing
Chrystie: 9 tenement-sized stories or 12 tenement-sized stories with affordable housing

All streets and avenues including the Bowery: construction no larger than 5 tenement-sized stories (3.44FAR), but 6 tenement-sized stories (4FAR) with affordable housing

All streets and avenues: no larger than 5 stories (3.44FAR ) but much, much more is allowed on large, combined lots if a community facility (e.g., dormitory) is included north of Houston or a hotel south of Houston. If you can bring enough lots together, you can build to the sky. Hotel owners are cashing in on the south of Houston zoning as I write. Hotels cannot be built north of Houston, under current zoning, except in the commercial zones on 3rd Avenue and The Bowery. That's why it's so important to try to get the Bowery included in the rezoning. If the rezoning goes through without the Bowery, developers, unable to build any more huge hotels south of Houston, will line the Bowery with them all the way down to Canal, and Chinatown will become the next frontier for the bulldozer Gentrification.

All three rezoning proposals would end the community facility/dormitory and hotel bonuses. The DCP plan would bring upscale development, only 20% of it affordable, to Delancey, Chrystie, Houston and D.

The CB3 plan would bring less development to the avenues, 30% of it affordable, more significant development, 30% affordable, to Houston and Delancey and huge development, 30% affordable, to Chrystie.

The LESRRD alternative would bring, in effect, no development at all of any kind.

The controversy in rezoning in a nutshell: to get 20% affordable housing, the neighborhood must accept the development of 80% market-rate housing. The CB's 30%-70% is better, but still not good from a preservationist point of view.

It's been my position that inviting developers in will irreparably harm the LES/EV. The neighborhood would be transformed into an upscale playground -- more banks, bars and chain stores. No more Loisaida. Lots more pressure to evict low-rent long-time tenants. As the wealthy are drawn to development, the trend will edge towards Chinatown, threatening one of Manhattan's few remaining vital, ethnic communities and New York's first outsider immigrant neighborhood -- it is the site of Five Points.

If, however, the entire neighborhood is capped, including the Bowery, the rich will have to invade someplace else, and that someplace else will become the trendy place to be and the pressure will shift off us. That would help save what's left of Loisaida and the affordable housing that's still here.

* FAR is a measure of volume, so it's not the same as number of stories. With an FAR of 1, you can build a one story building covering the entire lot or a two story building covering half the lot or a three story building covering a third of the lot etc. In New York, buildings generally must leave 30'-deep courtyard space, so an FAR of 3.44 works out to at least 5 stories. If the building is built more shallowly, it could rise higher. All the above plans include height caps as well as FAR caps, but the FAR caps are more important because they limit the actual amount of space the building occupies regardless of its shape.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saving the Bowery

The Community Board zoning task force will meet this Monday, July 16, 6:30, 184 Eldridge Street (between Rivington & Delancey -- University Settlement, Speyer Hall) to discuss rezoning 3rd Avenue as well as the Bowery between 1st and 7th Streets.

I do not know why the rest of the Bowery going south to Canal is not on their agenda: it's much more vulnerable to development than the area north of Houston. There is little left to save on the CB3 side -- the east side -- of the Bowery north of Houston. There are, however, several important men's shelters as well as a couple of remaining historic buildings. But the place is changing so fast that googlemaps' satellite photo may as well be of a different street.

If you go to the meeting: The Bowery is currently zoned commercial, mostly C6-1, just like the area south of Houston where the crazy-huge hotels are being built -- that's why crazy-huge hotels are going up on the Bowery too. And that's why the Bowery needs protection: if the LES south of Houston is rezoned to exclude big hotels, where do you think they're going to be built next? The Bowery.

The Avalon complex that extends from 1st Street to just south of Houston (the Whole Foods building in glass and steel that makes me fear for the future of the world) actually has a special zoning all to itself. It is the face of Inclusionary up-Zoning. This is what happens when government serves the development market first, people second. You get a few units of affordable housing included in the development, but what kind of street-life is a glass wall a block long? And who can afford Whole Foods? What neighborhood is this?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Petition to save the Bowery

The window of opportunity is still open to save the Bowery from overdevelopment: City Planning is accepting submissions for its zoning study until July 5. Now is the time to sign the petition to save the Bowery and distribute it to your contacts.


Please help.

Here is the petition notice from the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors:
>>We are continuing our petition drive to Save The Bowery. The character of the Bowery, including Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side, is being quickly destroyed with all the new development in the area. The history of this area should be preserved.

The new luxury buildings, and hotels will further destroy the quality of life for all of us living in the vicinity. There will be more traffic, more noise, more sidewalk congestion, more air pollution, etc.

Please take a minute to sign our petition, and please forward this to your email lists. We are asking the City of New York to do an Environmental Study to evaluate the how our community will be affected by this development, and then to mitigate the negative impact.

Please click on the link below to sign our petition:



The Bowery, which comes from the Dutch word "bouwerij" for farm, has always been significant in New York City history. Before the Dutch settled here, in the 1600's, this was a Native American trail. By the end of the 18th century the Bowery was lined with fashionable shops and mansions, which later became Restaurant Supply, and Lighting Districts. With its neighboring Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side immigrant communities, this is one of the most culturally and historically diverse regions of the City. The Bowery remains one of the last true north/south running streets in New York City.

This rich history is being systematically eradicated by unprecedented development. The low-rise character of the Bowery is being replaced by high-rise dormitories, boutique hotels and luxury buildings which are out-of-scale with the rest of the residential community, including the historic NOHO District. In addition to preservation issues, this development will have a horrendous effect on the "quality of life" for community residents - more noise, traffic, sidewalk and street congestion, air pollution, bars, clubs, etc. What was a commercial "daytime" shopping strip is quickly turning into a raucous nightlife district.

Most of the development is "as-of-right", meaning that it does not require a special permit or variance. Developers are simply taking advantage of existing zoning bonuses and the transfer of air rights, therefore environmental studies are not required.

We respectfully request that:
- The Department of City Planning include the Bowery in the current 197C Plan being drafted for the Lower East Side. - The Department of City Planning and City Council pass immediate legislation to ensure that this "as of right" development does not continue.
- The Department of City Planning perform an Environmental Impact Study and take measures to mitigate the negative impact of this development on our community.<