City Planning Looks to the Future with East Midtown Zoning Proposal

Last week, at a meeting of Community Board 5, City Planning finally released details of a much anticipated zoning proposal for East Midtown. The proposal, which could be the last major rezoning initiative of the Bloomberg administration, concentrates on the blocks around and north of Grand Central (the boundaries stretch roughly from Fifth Avenue to Second Avenue and from 39th to 57th Streets), which are already home to a number of high density office buildings.

The rezoning looks to incentivize property owners and developers to upgrade the area’s office building stock by permitting new development at a significantly higher density than is currently allowed.  The new regulations may also incorporate a “district improvement fund” type program, similar to what already exists in Hudson Yards.  As part of this program, developers could contribute to a fund, intended to finance the construction of a pedestrian plaza on what is now Vanderbilt Avenue, in exchange for even more floor area.   Under today’s zoning, a limited number of property owners are permitted to purchase excess development rights from Grand Central, and that program might also be expanded under the new proposal. Continue reading

The (Forever?) Iron Triangle

Last week, opponents of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to redevelop Willets Point found themselves cheering a move by the Mayor. The Administration withdrew its legal request to utilize eminent domain in the 12-acre Queens neighborhood.

In 2008, the area – which currently and historically has been used for automotive and industrial uses – was rezoned. Mayor Bloomberg’s vision was a mixed-use neighborhood with retail, residential, hotel and other uses. Adjacent to the new Mets ballpark, close to the subway and several highways, the vision for the neighborhood was quite grand. Continue reading

The Next 50

Next Thursday, the New York City Zoning Resolution turns 50 years old. As zoning nerds the world over take a minute to acknowledge this milestone, we must not forget to turn our attention to the next 50 years and start considering specific actions that will encourage the progress of this great city and preserve its competitive advantage. It is time to think big…literally.

While planning (and zoning, for that matter) doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as we look at the next 50 years, architects of the City’s planning and zoning policies should take three words into consideration – no, not location location location. Urban planning technocrats, elected officials, neighborhood groups, and all other stakeholders should be guided by the following three words: Continue reading

Step Aside Philadelphia, Jersey City: The waterfront is now NYC’s Sixth Borough

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn formally announced the release of the New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, Vision 2020.  The new plan is very ambitious in its scope, envisioning the waterfront as an integral part of the city, or the “Sixth Borough,” as Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden describes it.

As we discussed in October, New York City’s Vision 2020 plan is indeed comprehensive.  The 192-page plan offers a wide range of strategies the City could employ to take better advantage of its waterfront, for both recreational and economic purposes.  It proposes new waterfront open spaces, as well as improvements to the waterways themselves and related infrastructure, such as dredging to accommodate more container ships and upgrades to the city’s sewer system.  In addition, the plan aims to address environmental concerns by making recommendations aimed at protecting wetlands, improving water quality, and addressing sea level rise and other climate change concerns.

Covering the entire report in one post would be ambitious, so ZONE instead plans to do a series of updates on the topic.  In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at several of these issues in depth and exploring their potential effect on local land use and other issues relevant to you, our readers.

Until then, you can read more about the plan, or download a copy of the entire 192 page document, here.

Continue reading

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

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 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan – Coming Soon to a Shoreline Near You

The Department of City Planning is currently in the process of updating the City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which was originally published in 1992.  Local law requires that this update, which City Planning has entitled “Vision 2020,” be completed by the end of the year.  The Waterfront Plan is not to be confused with City Planning’s update to its waterfront zoning, which occurred last year and focused primarily on the design of the open spaces required when a private waterfront property is developed. 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!

crowd

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

City Finally Considering Elimination of Parking Requirements

image via brownstoner.com

image via brownstoner.com

Streetsblog reported last week that the Department of City Planning is re-analyzing its minimum parking requirements in certain neighborhoods with good transit access, such as Downtown Brooklyn, Harlem and western Queens.  Currently, the Zoning Resolution requires that parking be provided for almost all new developments throughout all areas of NYC, with the exception of Manhattan below 110th Street and in a limited area in Queens. Continue reading