This summer, City Planning is in the midst of a zoning change that will reduce the parking requirements for new buildings in Downtown Brooklyn. The text amendment is part of the city’s larger reevaluation of the Zoning Resolution’s parking requirements, as I’ve discussed previously (DCP released a study last year examining Manhattan’s parking situation, but hasn’t yet introduced any text amendment for that area). To recap the requirements – with the exception of Manhattan below 110th Street, all new buildings in NYC must provide some amount of on-site parking spaces. This requirement can be as high as one space for 100% of all new residential units in lower density areas, and can be onerous for affordable housing and small buildings – or anywhere there isn’t a market for on-site parking spaces. The zoning provides few exceptions to the parking requirements – the requirements for affordable housing are less than those for market rate residential buildings, and developments that are small enough can waive their requirement, but in most other cases, the only way that the parking requirement can be reduced is through a variance.
Downtown Brooklyn’s text amendment, which reduces residential requirements from 40 to 20 percent, is currently winding its way through the public review process. The reduction has been welcomed by many in the development community – the area continues to see a number of high-density residential development projects, and since it has some of the best transit access in the country, there simply isn’t a market for the required number of on-site parking spaces. (more…)
Earlier this year, the Department of City Planning unveiled the launch of their new Business Process Reform (i.e. BluePRint). Over the past 18 months, the Department worked with dozens of practitioners and stakeholders in the public review process to improve the way the private sector does business with City Planning. (Full Disclosure: several authors of this blog contributed to the effort.)
With the goal of improving the land use and environmental application review processes, the Department has standardized applications and the drawings, maps, attachments, and all other documentation associated with these applications. This is a huge step forward and will remove the second-guessing and seemingly endless revisions previously necessary to bring an application to the point of certification. Additionally, BluePRint aims to streamline the actual review of these documents to create a predictable and efficient pre-certification process. Again, bringing clarity to a previously unpredictable process will go a long way to improving the development process in New York City.
For a complete description of BluePRint, please see the Department’s explanation here.
In concept and in execution, we are optimistic about the all-around benefits anticipated from BluePRint. We believe in the Department’s sincerity at fixing what has been a long-standing problem. If the reforms are implemented and carried out as planned, all stakeholders – both in the public and private sector – will be better off.
That said, it appears that BluePRint has two major holes. (more…)
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. (more…)
As a pedestrian, we want to see a lively street-scape at eye-level; we want buildings to have a “street life”, not a blank face. A recent goal of new zoning for commercial strips is to mandate retail use and “building transparency” at the ground floor — see new zoning requirements for Park Slope. (This follows long-standing rules prohibiting “pedestrian-unfriendly” uses – such as banks – along 5th Avenue in Midtown and Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side.)
Is it “proper” to use zoning on certain streets to achieve a design goal of avoiding a blank wall of dentist’s offices – or worse, interior parking – when such uses are otherwise allowed? Is this an aesthetic issue – avoiding a solid wall along the street (where a building essentially “turns its back” to the pedestrian)? Or, is it a question of enlivening the street with retail activity? (more…)
It is appropriate that in this, the 51st year of our Zoning Resolution – and the 200th anniversary of the war of 1812 and our national anthem – that we point out that the American Flag – indeed any flag is a sign, under the City’s Zoning Resolution. (more…)
On September 17, a leaderless (or, alternatively, leader-full) group of people began a demonstration aimed at highlighting the vast income inequality that exists in this country today. Named ‘Occupy Wall Street’, they gathered to express their outrage at the collusion between the country’s largest financial institutions and the government – a relationship which led to the 2008 financial collapse and one that has greatly increased the already vast wealth gap.
Among the many early decisions made by this group that allowed the movement to be so successful (catchy name, lack of hierarchy, open decision making process, etc.), one additional decision stands out as particularly wise – the location of the demonstration. (more…)
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: (more…)
Sometimes, we get lost in the details and forget to step back and ask the basic questions. In the speed of the everyday, we end up focusing on nuances, instead of looking at the big picture – the proverbial forest for the trees. When dealing with New York City zoning, this can often be the case. In this case, the “basic question” that needs to be asked here is – ‘What is the Point?’. Why do we have zoning? What is its goal? (more…)
There’s been quite a bit of talk in New York recently about Wal-Mart – the big box retailer is resurrecting its bid to open its first New York City store. Wal-Mart’s earlier attempts to open a Brooklyn or Queens location failed when the store came up against the city’s strong unions – who oppose Wal-Mart’s non-union approach – and a general concern about the effects of the retailer on wages and small businesses. This time around, the City Council’s Committees on Community Development, Small Business and Economic Development plan to hold a joint oversight hearing on Wal-Mart (scheduled for this Wednesday), and Christine Quinn, the Council’s Speaker, has been quoted as saying, “Wal-Mart is something I am not supportive of.” But can the City Council, unions, or small businesses actually block the store from opening anywhere within the five boroughs?
Unlike some other cities in the US, NYC doesn’t have regulations that prohibit chains. So why hasn’t Wal-Mart just opened here already, like Home Depot, Costco, Target and several other large chain retailers have before it? Although these other stores have also faced barriers to entry, particular attention is paid to Wal-Mart, as they seem to rally opposition like no other store. What’s the source of the legal barriers and the regulatory constraints – and can Wal-Mart be stopped? The answers to these questions, like so many others, lie partially within the Zoning Resolution. (more…)
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? (more…)