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Midtown Rezoning Bites the Dust
Courtesy DCP

With the support of incoming mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council has squashed the Bloomberg administration’s plan to allow for the development of taller buildings in East Midtown. The decision marks the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s 12-year term, leaving behind a legacy that will likely be remembered for reshaping the cityscape with large-scale development.

“We are obviously disappointed in this decision. This plan would have created tens of thousands of good paying jobs for New Yorkers in every borough and resulted in tens of millions of dollars in private sector funding for public infrastructure,” said Steven Spinola, president of The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).


Courtesy DCP

The proposal, ambitious in both scope and scale, pushed for the rezoning of the 73-block swathe around Grand Central Terminal with the intention of spurring the construction of new office towers that would ultimately replace the existing outdated building stock. This move, Bloomberg argued, would be critical in sustaining and growing the area into a robust business hub and attracting the right corporate tenants to keep this slice of midtown competitive with other global cities. City Council, however, said that the plan didn’t garner enough votes, and would ultimately be shot down by members, prompting Bloomberg to withdraw the application for the proposal.

“We should rezone East Midtown, but only when we can do so properly. After extensive negotiations, we have been unable to reach agreement on a number of issues in the proposed plan,” said speaker Christine Quinn and council member Dan Garodnick in a joint statement.

The duo pinpointed the Council’s specific issues with the plan, including the process, price, and timing of the air rights, the funding required for infrastructure improvements, and the feasibility of the public realm improvements suggested.

In a statement, Bloomberg said that a financing agreement had been reached to allocate $100 million in funding to transit and public realm improvements, but it was contingent upon the development piece of the plan moving forward.

“We are withdrawing the application for the rezoning of East Midtown. This will unfortunately cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed subway and street improvements and $1 billion in additional tax revenue—as well as tens of thousands of new jobs that would have been created,” said Bloomberg in a statement.

Throughout the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, critics and community members expressed concern that larger development would bring more people to midtown, putting a strain on the area’s infrastructure.

The plan will likely be revisited. Mayor-elect de Blasio has spoken in favor of City Council’s decision, but said that he plans to eventually pursue the rezoning of midtown. “I applaud the City Council for pressing the pause button in order to ensure these concerns are adequately addressed,” he said in a statement. “We must continue this process in earnest upon taking office, and I commit to presenting a revised rezoning plan for the area by the end of 2014.”

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New York Post on Politically-Charged Public Space and Priestly Palaces
We don't normally look to the New York Post for stories on architecture and planning. But while getting our shoes shined for tonights black tie Heritage Ball we had a chance to read the paper's Late City Final. There in the middle of stories on JonBenet Ramsey, a lawyer "ripping a Jet Slugger," and Lady Gaga's thigh tattoo was a smattering of the latest in design spectacle. Next to a story on Mitt Romney's new 5,900 square foot "secret hideout" in Holiday, Utah (which will apparently feature a bookcase that swivels open and leads into hidden room), there is a long story on Midtown Manhattan street plazas that both Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota are apparently thinking of "yanking…out," according to the paper. But halfway through the article, the Post claims that, though they "make a mess" for drivers, the plazas seem safe with de Blasio. His spokesman claimed that if he is elected mayor they "will remain a part of his approach." Then on page 20 next to a story on "equestrian killing was revenge" is a photo of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and his stone and half-timbered home which the Post calls a "$43 million residence." Though the Bishop—known as the "Bishop of Bling"—claims the expense is due to the additional costs associated with "historical protection," he has been removed from his position and called back to Rome to explain himself. Reports indicate that the bathtub inside the complex carried a price tag of $20,000, which brings new meaning to the idiom, "cleanliness is next to godliness." What would we do without the Post?
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New Website Tracks NYCHA's Backlog of Repairs
NYCHA Watchlist. Public advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is bringing some transparency to New York City Public Housing Authority's shockingly long backlog of repairs with a new website called the NYCHA watch list. Tenants can now keep tabs on the number of outstanding repair requests in their building and see how long these requests have been sitting on the back burner. The website also catalogs the "most neglected housing developments" according to number of repairs with Grant on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan topping the list.
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Five NYC Mayoral Candidates Camp Out in Public Housing for One Night
NYCHA Housing (Courtesy of eastcolfax/Flickr) Mayor candidates experienced first hand just what it is like to live in New York City public housing this Saturday. DNA Info reported that Reverend Al Sharpton, affiliated with the National Action Network, organized a sleepover for five of the contenders: Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner. The mayoral hopefuls camped out overnight in sleeping bags in the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem. New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been plagued by budget cuts and a 4000,000 back log of repairs, only exacerbated by the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: eastcolfax/Flickr)
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Christine Quinn Kicks Off NYC Mayoral Campaign: Could Mean More Affordable Housing
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn officially announced her run for mayor last week.  Quinn started her career as an affordable housing advocate with the Housing Justice Campaign for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, and is positioning herself as the pro-middle class candidate. In a recent speech, she told an audience that New York City needs to become “a place that’s a beacon for the middle class.” After the Bloomberg era of rapid development, Quinn could usher in a new phase that makes affordable housing a top priority. While a few candidates have to yet to declare their candidacy, the race could likely include previous City Comptroller William Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and current City Comptroller John Liu.

Willets Point Letter August 12

August 12, 2008

Commissioner Amanda M. Burden
NYC Department of City Planning
22 Reade Street
New York, New York 10007-1216

Dear Commissioner Burden:

We write to share with you our absolute opposition to the current Willets Point Development Plan.

The project that comes before the Department of City Planning on August 13th is far from the best our city can offer for a long-term plan that will affect hundreds of thousands of residents for decades to come.  Unfortunately, this is a product of a flawed process that has continuously ignored the requests of the community in pursuit of a top-down planning process that sets a dangerous precedent for large-scale development projects citywide. 

Since the first community meetings of the Flushing redevelopment process, when community residents expressed a desire to include the Iron Triangle in any long-term development plans, the details of this plan have been determined not by residents, but by the Economic Development Corporation. 

This state of affairs is not for a lack of community feedback.  On the contrary, the community has been outspoken in its attempts to work with the EDC to resolve what it considers to be gaping holes in the plan. First and foremost, despite a two year, two-tiered RFP process to determine a developer, the community has yet to be informed of who will be responsible for the project’s implementation.  Additionally, the community has unified around an agenda calling for a plan that takes eminent domain off the table in all acquisition negotiations, a guarantee that fifty percent of new housing created will be affordable, a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan for current small business owners and employees and a community benefits agreements that includes a congestion mitigation plan.

Despite these community outcrys for a proactive, rather than reactionary, role in the planning process, the EDC has refused to provide details in regards to community concerns. This lack of communication has resulted in deep opposition within the community.  Residents, community leaders, affordable housing advocates, and current business owners and employees have unified around their similar demand for quite simply – more information.  

This trajectory is documented in the plan’s first step in the ULURP process.  The vote in the representative community board (CB 7) was held after five hours of intense debate and passed by a slim margin – but only after Deputy Mayor Lieber wrote that he would address the Board’s concerns, which mirror those mentioned above.  However, to date these assurances have yet to turn into answers.  Rather, the ULURP calendar goes forward and the community’s requests continue to fall on deaf ears. 

As members of the City Council, we are deeply disappointed that the process thus far has, in effect, negated previous efforts to create a standard for community engagement in city development projects. Simply put, we will not allow the Willets Point model to become a precedent for future development projects in the city.

We recognize that the Administration has made a significant improvement to this project by committing that any new jobs created at the site will be quality jobs.  However, as of today there are no commitments that either existing workers or residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are slated to receive any priority or set-asides for the permanent jobs created as a result of redevelopment.

Before this project proceeds to a doomed fate in the City Council, we strongly urge the Administration to come to the table and work with us to address and resolve the issues of the Willet Point community.  We strongly believe that inclusive planning procedures and economic development can be mutually beneficial to the city as a whole and the surrounding communities, rather than exclusive.  We look forward to working with you to make this ideal a reality.



Hiram Monserrate                              Tony Avella               
Council Member District 21                Council Member District 19
Thomas White                                    James Sanders, Jr
Council Member District 28                Council Member District 31
Maria del Carmen Arroyo                   Annabel Palma
Council Member District 17                Council Member District 18

Letitia James                                      Sara M. Gonzalez
Council Member District 35                Council Member District 38
Darlene Mealy                                    Mathieu Eugene
Council Member District 41                Council Member District 40
Vincent J. Gentile                               Diana Reyna
Council Member District 43                Council Member District 34               

Albert Vann                                         Charles Barron
Council Member District 36                Council Member District 42
James Gennaro                                 David Weprin
Council Member District 24                Council Member District    

Rosie Mendez                                    Miguel Martinez
Council Member District 2                  Council Member District 10
Gale Brewer                                       Eric N. Gioia
Council Member District 6                  Council Member District 26
Robert Jackson                                 Melissa Mark-Viverito
Council Member District 7                 Council Member District 8   

Joseph Addabbo                               Bill deBlasio
Council Member District 32               Council Member District 39
Larry Seabrook                                 Erik Martin-Dilan
Council Member District 12               Council Member District 37
Kendall Stewart                                 Helen Foster
Council Member District 45              Council Member District 16
Inez Dickens                                     David Yassky
Council Member District 9                Council Member District  33   

Leroy G. Comrie
Council Member District 27