A Bank on Every Corner?

Strolling along Fifth or Madison or Park – or just about any key Avenue in Midtown – it is apparent that every financial institution in the world seeks to locate on as many strategic and visible corners as possible (from Habib American Bank to Wells Fargo; from HSBC – which is the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation – to Citibank).  From financial behemoths to minor players in the money markets, these banks want you to see them and use their ATMs.  They occupy major intersections and large areas on the ground floors of important buildings.  They want your money and they want to be seen.

Is this is a good thing?   Should the proliferation of banking operations be halted?  Are these retail uses – like stores and restaurants?  Do they serve the public – and are they key uses which should be encouraged?  Or, are they unappealing dead spaces which disrupt vital commercial corridors which should instead be predominately characterized by pedestrian-oriented, visually appealing uses?  Is Madison Avenue harmed because the Bank of China and the Bank of America are competing for your business?  Or, are ATMs and bank services vital to New Yorkers and tourists alike? Continue reading

Zoning for Your Health

Every NYC health club or any business or establishment offering physical exercise, massage or use of steam/saunas (the Zoning Resolution calls them Physical Culture Establishments – or PCEs) is required to obtain a Special Permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals – before opening.  Even when they fall within a commercial zoning district. An onerous rule, perhaps, but at least it seems relatively simple. Continue reading

The Alleys of New York

Freeman Alley on the Lower East Side

Lower Manhattan has several small – and sometimes forgotten – narrow alley-ways.  Often rubble-strewn, dormant and seemingly neglected, these urban paths appear to be worthless byways of a time long ago.  They also have names that hearken back to a bygone era:  Stable Court; Great Jones Alley; Franklin Place.

Who plows these “streets?”  Who owns them?  Can they be gated and made exclusive?  What lies beneath them?  Why were they created?  And, how are they taxed?

These are not mundane questions. Alas, they are not easily answered either. Continue reading

The Mosque, Zoning, & Community Facilities

The Mosque (which, of course, isn’t at Ground Zero) is as-of-right – since it is a community facility use and a “Use Group Three” house of worship.

Interestingly, the champions of religious freedom and ardent defenders of the right to build houses of worship without interference by local authorities have recently been associated with conservative organizations.  Indeed, Federal Defense of Religious Freedoms Act – was drafted and tirelessly promoted by the Administration of George W. Bush and many right-of-center groups.  The Act, while not binding on local zoning boards or planning authorities, forbids municipal constraints on the development of houses of worship.  In New York City, our “community facility rules” clearly favor houses of worship – as well as other uses (like medical facilities, schools, and colleges) that are recognized as essential public functions.  Indeed, in many low- and medium-density zoning districts, these rules permit such uses to be 50% and 100% larger than residential uses (that is to say, homes) in the same area!  For example, in R6 districts (which are mapped throughout the outer Boroughs), the FAR for community facility uses is 4.8, while the residential FAR is 2.4.  Regarding the construction of new houses of worship, zoning policy in New York is quite hospitable – indeed, some might say overly permissive. Continue reading

The Design Commission – Another Obscure, But Vital Agency?

The NYC Design Commission (formerly the Art Commission) is an 11-member, un-paid, Mayor-appointed group that must approve all structures placed “on or above” city property.

This relatively-obscure body (that is to say nearly completely unknown) can veto the design of everything from bus shelters to public art placed along the Park Avenue median.  The Commission was established – ready for this – in 1898, long before zoning and any other significant controls on the design and massing of buildings in the City. Continue reading

On the Waterfront…

The Sunday Times “Metropolitan” section asked readers to send in photos of the City’s waterfront – and in today’s edition there are a series of interesting pics (does anyone say “snap shots” anymore?).  People at the shore’s edge (or in – or about to be in – the water) appear in nearly all of the shots.  This contrasts mightily with last week’s Times piece on the polluted Newtown Creek – and it raises (of course) interesting zoning and land use issues: Continue reading

New York Is Twice the Size of LA…and Growing!


photo courtesy of streetsblog.org

Of course, we all know that the Big Apple is bigger than LA.  We are presently at just about 8.4 million, the highest population ever seen in the City’s history!  We also all know that we are more diverse and more dense than any other place in the nation.  The City’s Planning Department (a.k.a. New York’s Smartest) has a great wealth of population statistics http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/census/popdiv.shtml on the 5 boroughs.

We at ZONE are fascinated by several key facts: Continue reading