Friday, February 29, 2008

Serious concerns about the rezoning

Where should a concerned citizen go to comment on the rezoning?

The plan itself is in many ways the creation of Community Board 3's zoning Task Force (197 Task Force). They are proponents of the plan, so, while it would certainly be important to let them know how you feel, if you want to have an effect on the final outcome, it might be more effective to appeal to the more impartial full Community Board and to the Borough President, who also gets to review the proposal. The Community Board will be holding a public hearing on the rezoning as soon as DCP releases the Environmental Impact Statement, expected by or in April.

Concerned citizens are organizing around the rezoning too. E-mail me at
for contacts and updates.

Meanwhile, I would like to draw your attention to three troubling features of DCP's Final Scope of Work:

1. The IZ affordable housing is not required on-site. Since renovation of existing affordable housing qualifies for the IZ bonus, off-site allowance means that, in effect, the R8B alternative for the avenues upzones them from current FAR 3.44 to FAR 4.6 without the promise of adding a single unit of affordable housing to our community.

This feature of DCP's Final Scope of Work is contrary to every principle and goal with which CB3 entered the rezoning project.

1st Avenue, for example, is lined with four and five story buildings dating from the Civil War and earlier. Very few structures there are taller than five stories. Under this alternative, the avenue will be vulnerable to as-of-right additions and redevelopment that will transform it beyond recognition. We will see primary and secondary displacement of both residents and businesses in addition to loss of light, context and history without benefit to the local community.

2. DCP proposes to include R8B zones in the commercial discontinuance exemption clause (article V, 52-61). Under this proposal, all commercial storefronts in R8B will remain available for commercial use regardless how long they fall out of such use. This will allow yet more nightlife establishments in oversaturated areas.

3. The C6-3A alternative (8.5 FAR, with off-site IZ renovations of existing units counting toward the bonus) upzones "the affected area" from current FAR 6 to FAR 8.5, once again without the promise of a single unit of new affordable housing. This again is contrary to the principles enunciated by CB3, dangerous to the Chinatown community and without redeeming value for either Chinatown or the LES.

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.

Friday, February 08, 2008

More luxury development in Chinatown

LESRRD's warnings of luxury development in Chinatown have fallen on deaf ears north of Houston Street where the political influences on Community District 3 reside. Chinatown is seriously underrepresented on the Community Board.

Our warnings and predictions have been overtaken by reality. Besides the luxury hotel going up at Hester & Bowery, there's this on a multiple lot site at Canal & Eldridge in Chinatown around the corner from the Eldridge Street Synagogue (from Curbed):

"1) Chinatown: Regarding the mysterious pillars going up at Canal and Eldridge, a commenter files this detailed report: "It will have a three-story commercial base (one floor of stores and two floors of medical offices), then a setback and a floor that will be occupied by a day care center, then an additional setback and twelve floors of apartments. There will also be a commercial parking garage in the cellar levels. The residential portion will be a tower, with floor plates of only about 2,000 square feet, whereas the ground floor will have a footprint of about 7,500 square feet, and there will be one or two apartments per floor. Architect: Peter Poon. (No, Peter Poon does not just design hotels for Sam Chang.)""

One or two apartments per floor implies luxury. Peter Poon is also responsible for a hotel tower on Canal to the west of Chinatown. I'm told that Canal has seen several new constructions recently. I haven't had a chance to check them all out.

Slouching toward Chinatown

Political will and influence wanted an East Village rezoning to eliminate the community facility bonus. As it turned out, in the three years since the rezoning was proposed no tall towers have been built in the residential East Village -- even huge lots like Mary Help of Christians remain untouched -- and the proposed rezoning actually upzones the sidestreets by 14%.

The Community Board took best advantage of that political will to get something truly and desperately needed from it, a contextual down-zoning of the disappearing LES south of Houston, where out-of-context, out-of-scale hotels rise everywhere, just as they do in the commercially zoned 3rd Avenue / east Bowery.

The CB is currently planning a rezoning of the Bowery. If the Bowery and the LES are both rezoned to limit development, Chinatown will be placed at even greater risk as the last frontier for development and gentrification. Currently Chinatown is a C6-1 zone -- the same zoning as 3rd Avenue, Bowery and Chrystie-to-Essex that are seeing hotels rise daily.

That's the future for Chinatown unless the CB acts now.

It's time to think ahead. Chinatown needs zoning protection. The Bowery and Chinatown need to be rezoned as a single package so that the rezoning of the Bowery does not push development into Chinatown.

My friend and fellow community advocate Anna Sawaryn has an exhibit of her photography at the 4th Street Gallery, 67 East 4th Street.

Her technique is rare: she uses a pinhole box, not a camera. The resulting images are unique, haunting, immediate, timeless. Take a look at her image of St. Brigid's on her website and attached. Reception from 2-6. I'll be there around 4. Hope to see you --

Coney Island Through the Invisible Lens
February 2-15, 2008
The 4th Street Photo Gallery
67 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reception Sunday, February 3, 2-6pm

I am having an exhibit of limited-edition, original, color pinhole photographs. This is photography in it's simplest form, using a wooden box, NOT a camera. The box does not have a lens or automatic shutter. The exposure time ranges from several seconds up to a half hour. This gives the images an 'old world' almost ghostly, sometimes, distorted quality. Pinhole photography best captures the 'essence' of the subject being photographed.

I like to use pinhole photography to document places that are changing and are at risk of vanishing. These are my 'memories' of Coney Island and the East Village.

Anna Sawaryn

Gallery Hours Tuesday-Saturday 2-8 p.m.
Sunday by appointment call 212-673-1021

Documenting Loisaida since 1975

Marlis Momber
Umbrella House
21-23 Avenue C/Loisaida Avenue near Houston
Opening reception Feb 8, 6-10pm
Closing auction party Feb 16, 4-7pm


Saturday, February 9, 6-10pm
Solas Bar
232 E 9th Street (near 3rd Ave)
on the feast of St. Brigid

from the Save St. Brigid's Committee:
>There will be live music and food. We are not asking for any specific amount -- whatever donation anyone wants to give. We will also give out some T shirts. We have plenty left and they do no one any good stored in boxes. There will be no art auction, just music, food and fun. Hope you can make it.<

More NYU expansion

Two concerns about NYU's latest expansion presentation:

1) Their core campus will absorb at most only half of the 6 million square foot planned expansion

2) The 6 million square foot expansion does not include the 3 million additional square feet of currently leased space that could become unplanned expansion when those leases come due.

They will also add commercial uses to their ground floors, which looks like sound urban design but scares me: given NYU student spending habits, the area and environs could become a luxury shopping center to rival Fifth Avenue -- maybe even rival Columbus Avenue.

There was good news too. Their plans to expand within the core campus are encouraging. They seem to have made the tough decision to build in the plaza spaces between their faculty housing. They've decided, in other words, that angry employees are easier to abuse and placate than angry Villagers.

Two concerns remain. Their core campus can absorb only about half of the 6 million expansion. The rest could go anywhere. They recently bought Brooklyn Polytechnic and have a dorm nearby, but it's not clear how the development of that remote NYU location will alleviate their housing needs here.

There's also a hidden concern, not adequately dealt with in their presentations or in any of the responses I've seen. In addition to the 6 million sq.ft. of expansion they are planning, there's an additional 3 million sq. ft. they are currently renting -- a third of their students live in leased dormitories.

Universities don't like relying on so much leased space. Rent is money down the drain; leases are not permanent; the space is not theirs to alter or redevelop. The loss of a lease is what pushed NYU to build on St. Ann's, a decision they might have reconsidered in the light of community protest had they not been under the rental gun. Heavily committed in leased space, the university is vulnerable to pressures to shift out of it into owned space, either newly constructed or newly bought.

The role of leased space has been underplayed in these NYU presentations because it doesn't represent an expansion of their student body. Nevertheless, it could entail an expansion of their construction and purchasing plans.

Think of it: a third of their student body in 3 million sq. ft. is not represented in these plans for the 6 million sq. ft. expansion. That's half again the size of the presented expansion.

The situation may not be dire, or it may. Many of their leases do not come due until 2015 and conceivably all could be renewed. But if luxury rents continue to rise in NYC and money continues to pour in, there'll be even more pressure on owners to opt out of dormitory use and into condo or hotel use. That will leave New York City with possibly another 3 million sq. ft. of NYU new construction or new purchases to absorb.

Something to keep an eye on.

View the presentation here: