Wednesday, February 27, 2008

City previews the EV/LES rezoning

City Planning has issued its statement of final intent for rezoning the East Village and Lower East Side ("Final Scope of Work").

The good news is: it's not final. They will continue to consider alternatives as they study the area for their final rezoning proposal. So it is possible to influence the final plan, though time is short.

Also good news:
1. the study will cover a quarter mile around the rezoning area, so all of the Bowery to Pell Street and a large part of Chinatown will be studied
2. the rezoning will end most hotel development south of Houston between Essex and Allen
3. EV sidestreets will remain, in effect, unchanged
4. the end of the Community Facility bonus will protect larger sites like Mary Help of Christians and P.S. 64 from being developed into towering dormitories. Both sites will be limited to eight stories, though Mary's, on the avenue, will be allowed greater bulk
5. underbuilt tenements on 4th-7th Streets between A&B will be protected.

There's bad news too.

Developers will be allowed to build larger buildings on 1st and 2nd Avenues and Avenue A if they develop or recycle affordable housing anywhere in the district or within a half mile of the district.

So the three, four and five story townhouses and tenements from the 1840's through the Civil War which line 1st Avenue and Avenue A, filled with long-term tenants paying truly affordable rents, will be vulnerable to demolition and redevelopment into seven- or eight-story buildings. To get the bonus size, the developer has merely to promise to rent some apartments somewhere at stabilized rates forever.

There appears to be no meaningful oversight for this permanent off-site stabilization, so, in effect, anything goes. And affordable housing bonuses are bought and sold -- according to HPD it's quite a market -- so developers will be getting their height bonus for free and without contributing any affordable housing to our community.

This sad excuse for an affordable housing program is called "Inclusionary Zoning," widely known as "yet another scam."

Since many stabilized rents have already risen to market rate, developers will feel no pain. However, this plan will add to the pressure to evict tenants and warehouse empty apartments. Currently, large buildings can be developed only on multiple lots. This seems to have protected the avenues from development in recent years. Under the rezoning, larger buildings could be built as-of-right on single lots, facilitating the spread of development at every level, even among smaller owners.

The rezoning plan will protect the Lower East Side from Allen to Essex from new hotel development, but it will allow large developments on Houston, Chrystie, Delancey, Pitt (forming a wall surrounding the LES south of Houston) and on Avenue D. This wall of market-rate luxury development will exacerbate the up-scaling of the LES as a nightlife and tourist destination and the decline of its day-time, residential and arts community.

Upzoning D will threaten the projects, bringing up-scale development and gentrification, adding to the pressure to move the projects out of subsidy and into the market.

The rezoning itself does not include the Bowery or Chinatown, so we can expect that hotel developers, prevented by the rezoning from developing in the LES, will turn all their attention to the Bowery and Chinatown.

In addition, City Planning is changing the zoning text so that residential storefronts in all the planned residential zones can be reverted to commercial use, no matter how long they have been out of commercial use. In plain English: more bars encouraged.

For the intrepid, here are the technical details:

The sidestreets of the EV: FAR 4 (about the size of a six story tenement) -- R7A

The large avenues of the EV (2nd,1st,A): IZ bonus to FAR 4.6 (seven stories) -- R8B

The LES south of Houston: FAR 4 (six stories) -- C4-4A&R7A

Houston, Delancey, Chrystie, D and parts of Pitt: IZ bonus to FAR 7.2 (with required setbacks this maxes out at 12 stories) -- C6-2A

City Planning is considering an alternative which would allow IZ up to FAR 8.5 (maxing out at 15 stories). So far this alternative is only being considered for Chrystie Street, but their language is vague and evasively non specific.

The plan downzones 7th - 4th Streets between A&B from FAR 3.44 to 3.

Finally, the city will add R8B zones to those zones in which commercial storefronts are deemed perpetually available for commercial use, no matter how long they have been used as residences.


Anonymous said...

I understand your comments about FAR and building heights, but I thought that the rezoning stipulated wider bases on buildings essentially not allowing pencil buildings.

So if this is true then a developer would have to purchase multiple contiguous properties to build up to new FAR allowances.

Also what are the set backs? For example Pitt St lots are only 100 feet deep, and there is a required 30 ft backyard. So if there is a set back against the front of the lots - how much can be built on? Or is the set back in the back of buildings?

Also are there examples of other rezonings that actually caused developers to buy properties and build out?

Sneaky Pete said...

Where can one view the Final SCope of Work?

Also you mentioned that time is short to comment. How would a concerned citizen comment? Is is best to go to the CB 3 rezoning subcommittee?

kmc said...

Great. Now the LES will look like Midtown. Thank you Mayor Land Grab.

kmc said...

City of NY Rezoning Plan

Anonymous said...

Subsidized rents are the reason we are in this mess. It is not a right to live in Manhattan. With over 60% of the rental units stabilized in some way, God forbid your parents didn't grow up here... You have to live in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

this rezoning depends on how you look at it. Some people like myself have purchased abandoned properties on streets like D, Chrystie or Pitt that were not wanted or in demand.

We have invested our own money with little or no hope of return in an effort to make the neighborhood alittle bit better.

This rezoning may allow some owners to make back that money and invest in the neighborhood in a bigger and better way.

Not all development is bad, not all owners are selfish pigs

robCUNY said...

In answer to the first comment: the proposed zoning requires a street wall to 60' with setbacks above. It is a contextual zoning, so it provides an envelope within which all the bulk (FAR) must fit. Specifically, on the sidestreets of the EV, for example, the 4 FAR would have to fit within 80' in height and 70' in depth and whatever the width of the lot -- one standard lot would be 25' wide.

For Pitt Street, the same 60' street wall would be required, with setbacks above to 120', if the IZ bonus is taken. I haven't worked out the arithmetic for the setbacks, but I imagine that multiple setbacks would be required to attain full bulk.

It's the current zoning that requires multiple lots for greater bulk, not the proposed rezoning.

In some areas of the EV, the rezoning is a wash for developers. You are losing your community facility bonus which was limited by the sliver law: the bonus allowed you 6.5 FAR, but on a single lot, you can't build taller than the street is wide. That's one reason why development on single EV lots doesn't go higher than 70 or 80'. There's also a requirement for narrower footprint under the current zoning, which also limits height.

So under current zoning, it's not easy to build really high, and we don't see really high towers in the EV.

We see them in the LES commercial zone and on 3rd Ave and 4th Ave which are all C6-1 zones. So if you bought a property on Orchard, you could, like Misrahi, build a huge out-of-context hotel, make millions, and transform the neighborhood beyond recognition, while not offering any housing or alleviating the housing shortage.

But if you bought on Pitt, you've bought in a residential zone like the EV, and the new zoning allows you a little more bulk, but a little less than you would have gotten if you took the community facility bonus, despite the sliver law.

robCUNY said...

The Final Scope Document is on the DCP site as kmc mentions, but it's kind of hard to find there because they haven't comprehensively updated all the relevant pages of the site. If you go here:

then scroll down to Public Scoping Meeting on the proposed East Village / Lower East Side Rezoning (almost the bottom of the page) you should find it there, all 7.3mb's of it. It starts with a good summary, but the alternatives -- which are very important, since they may be part of the final plan -- can be found on document pages 43ff.

robCUNY said...

There are a couple of places to go to comment. The CB is one, but remember that in many ways this is the CB zoning Task Force's plan. Authors rarely enjoy criticism and rarer still believe it.

The plan will also go to the Borough President for review.

But one way to deal with commentary is through community organizing. E-mail me at
for community organizing contacts.

robCUNY said...

Regarding other rezonings: Williamsburg's recent rezoning is an example of an upzoning which attracted developers to buy and build out. Inland there, developers didn't bother to take the IZ affordable housing bonus because DCP already gave them an upzoning and the city gives them a 421-a tax break without requiring affordable housing.

When the EV/LES was removed from that 421-a exclusionary zone -- forcing developers to include affordable housing in order to get the 421-a tax break -- we figured that developers would take the IZ bonus and give us "affordable" housing.

But now it seems the city is reneging on the 421-a change. The 421-a tax break was designed to promote development in the 1970's when the city needed to encourage development. Developers no longer need incentive to develop, so the tax break is just a give-away.

However, since a developer can get the IZ bonus just by renovating existing affordable housing, the developers will be able to build out to the max without creating any new affordable housing.

Reminds me of the legendary days of Boss Tweed. Small home owners pay taxes; not developers. The city needs housing. Developers build huge luxury units, many of which are warehoused. The whole city is rife with scam.

It's surely not stabilization that is responsible for any mess. Without stabilization, all rents rise. That's what happened in Boston. Here, there's a seemingly bottomless market for luxury housing. The mess is a market mess -- the demand is high and the money is flowing. A recession here will just shift the market to foreign money.

People want to live in NY and will pay just about anything for it. It's that market that will sweep the city clean of all its character and community and, at least from my personal perspective, its particular and rare beauty, its ethnic and class diversity, it's diversity of interests and life choices. Those choices were once a rich field, but it's so expensive here now, that the paths have all narrowed. That's one reason I advertised Marlis Momber's exhibit. It recalls the time when Loisaida was rich in difference; when it was difference itself.

It comes down to taste; I have no taste for living in a city of all wealth or in a gated community. Maybe I'm in a minority on this. Still, I'm willing to fight for community, diversity and urban character.

Anonymous said...

Any good development needs a downtown area to walk to. This is something that we do not have at preseent. All this residential community that we are trying to protect has to go to 14th street to shop or 34th street. We need to develop our own walkable downtown district. We should designate an area where we encourage retail and office space to flourish.

Anonymous said...

We have a valuable resource, the subway system in our neighborhood. This resource lends itself to density otherise we waste it. The subway system needs new riders for its long term health otherwise it will be a large burden on the taxpayer. This leaves less money for the truly needy.

robCUNY said...

Thoughtful comments. Our neighborhood used to have a good deal of great shopping and plenty of available storefronts, but the proliferation of nightlife has edged out the residentially-oriented daytime commercial life. That's why one of LESRRD's first projects was sponsoring a town hall on bar proliferation.

Determining our vision of ideal space by our transportation system seems to me to put the cart before the horse. More thought should be given to what kind of density, otherwise you will see the loss of viable, vibrant neighborhoods to upscale development with no neighborhood character. Which would we rather have, Chinatown and the historic LES or more midtown anonymity?

Remember that absent any planning or regulation, what we will get is whatever brings the fastest buck to the developer, and that's not going to be consistent with any notion of good urban planning. Look at the glass building on Astor Place. It takes good advantage of the subway (not that anyone living there would be caught dead in a subway car) but it has zero street life. It's just a glass street wall with a Chase in it. It couldn't be much worse. A friend from City Lore quipped, "it served the community better when it was a parking lot because then at least you could walk through it."

Let's not forget that the LES, despite its difficulties, was not so long ago a lively hub of a downtown non-establishment arts scene. Big Onion Tours offers one tour of the upper east side and one tour of the upper west side, but nearly a dozen themed tours of areas of the LES -- Jewish LES, Irish LES, labor LES, Italian LES, Chinese LES, immigrant LES. This is the historic heart of what makes NYC NYC. We are the city of immigrants and immigrant cultures. And those cultures have not been backward -- certainly in the 19th century slum culture, closely connected to the homelands, was far in advance of American parochialism.

New Yorkers don't seem to relate the city to its history. Out-of-towners who take my tours of the East Village often remark on the paucity of historical plaques in NYC. I explain that NY is alive to NYers who prefer to live in an unmediated present, not in a museum of the past. That's part of our NYC culture that makes NYC attractive. It's part of our draw. But that indifference to the past also opens the door to the ravaging of communities by indiscriminate development. The dollar has always ruled in NY more than most places in this country.

Anonymous said...

why should development of a neighborhood be stunted because you or a few people liked it better the old way?

Why should a cities development be changed because a few people want to keep it the way THEY like?

Why should a few renters who have not invested their savings be able to change or decrease the potential value of another resident's property who did invest their life savings in the neighborhood?

I miss the old LES like anyone else but I think that it is foolish to want to keep things the way you like. If that is what you desire why did you leave high school?

robCUNY said...

…because not all change is for the better. Your argument was no doubt brought to bear by the tavern owner who used as a billboard for his inn the piece of wood on which was painted Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome (since rescued and now hanging in the Vatican). After all, why waste a good piece of wood just because it has some precious old painting on one side?

I’m not sure from your comment whether you refer to real estate speculators or small landlords who have spent their entire lives here and now want to sell at the best possible price. The former are not investing in our community – they are speculating on the real estate in which the community lives. And they are speculating that that community will be replaced with a wealthier one. Since the speculators have not invested in this community but only in its real estate, and are in fact speculating against our community, I have no compunction hoping they will go find someplace else to build where they won’t be destroying community and history.

You say “Why should a cities [sic] development be changed because a few people want to keep it the way THEY like?”

Well, why should a city’s communities be ruined because a very, very few speculators, who don’t even live in those communities, want to make a bundle off of us they way THEY like?

Think about it. Why is Greenwich Village preserved as a Historic District? Why Brooklyn Heights? Why not the LES? Because the LES doesn't have the protection of wealth and influence, even though it has a more significant history.

Has anyone suggested that the preservation of the Heights stunted the city's growth? New Yorkers are proud of the Heights and of Greenwich Village *because* they have been preserved.

I am not asking for an end to development. I am calling for a responsible plan -- not for an end to change, but for a plan that will ensure that the change will be an improvement and not sheer, ravenous market chaos.

It seems to me that the small landlords who invested their lives in this community have recently had their almost miraculous pay-off. Real estate values are up ten or twenty times what they were twenty years ago as are rents here. Twenty years ago, buildings were abandoned left and right, remember? They could be bought for a song. The city gave LES buildings away to homesteaders.

No landlords here imagined in their wildest dreams that this place would become so valuable. Landlords are not hurting in the LES. Their investment has soared beyond every expectation and hope. If they want to cash in even more on change, let them, but not at the expense of the people who live here and the communities that have made this neighborhood great.

I am not opposed to all development. This blog is an arm of LES Residents for Responsible Development. If you have read Jane Jacobs you’ll have one idea of the difference between responsible development and irresponsible give-aways to wild speculative markets.

In no other city would the historic center be put up for sale as in NYC. European cities and most American cities respect their past. Why don’t we?

In answer to your final question: I left high school to get a Ph.D., not to ruin historic, ethnic and arts communities for my personal profit.