Search results for "affordable housing"

Placeholder Alt Text

No Building Left Behind
Michael Maltzan Architecture's Inner-City Arts.
Iwan Baan

Inner-City Arts
Los Angeles, California
Michael Maltzan Architecture

Inner-City Arts was founded in 1994 to supplement arts and cultural education for downtown Los Angeles students at schools where such programming had been cut. The final phase of its new campus opened on October 2 with a parade of pinwheel-waving kids led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Located on a one-acre site in the heart of Skid Row, one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, Inner-City Arts represents a 15-year collaboration between Michael Maltzan Architecture, landscape designers at Nancy Goslee Power and Associates, and environmental designers at Ph.D, who each donated their time over 15 years to the continuously-evolving project.


Iwan Baan
 
 

The first phase, completed in conjunction with Marmol Radziner + Associates in 1994, included an adaptive reuse of a 10,000-square-foot abandoned auto body shop. The most recent additions—which include the Rosenthal Theater, a state-of-the-art black-box performance space, a ceramics studio, and a DreamWorks-sponsored animation studio—are raw spaces that employ inexpensive materials like stucco, wood, and concrete, and are painted defiantly and completely white with abstract orange lettering by Ph.D. The angular, low-lying buildings are arranged into a unique indoor-outdoor layout that “cracks open,” according to Michael Maltzan, along the perimeter. Students catch glimpses into the outlying neighborhood, and locals can see in, said Maltzan, so “it doesn’t feel like an isolated incident in the middle of Skid Row.”

The indigenous gardens within the courtyard include elements like a tiled fountain, a dry creek bed planted like a local arroyo, a teaching garden, and a labyrinth, all inspired by drawings the students made when asked to sketch their visions of the new school. The completed design of Inner-City Arts creates a place for serious art making, said Maltzan, but is also an example of how an optimistic environment can impact a depressed area. “We’ve tried to make an entire campus which can be seen as a microcosm for a transformative experience,” he said.

Alissa Walker


 

 
AF Payne Photographic 

Bioscience School
Phoenix, Arizona
Orcutt/Winslow Partnership 

Under the design leadership of local firm Orcutt/Winslow Partnership, with input from science specialists and the local community, the Phoenix Union High School District recently opened their new comprehensive Bioscience High School in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Orcutt/Winslow’s design is strategically located within the Biomedical Research Campus, including the Translational Genomic Institute, where students participate in internships. The school’s pedagogical and physical organization models itself after these research laboratories, encouraging collaboration, team teaching, independent learning, and a “rigorous and relevant” science and math focused curriculum. It also integrates a historic one-room school house that now serves as the school’s administration center.


AF Payne Photographic
 
 

Seven laboratories (six indoors and one on the roof deck) are the focal point of the campus, and around these are clustered the student “studios” (not unlike architecture studios), teacher work areas, and, at the extremities on two levels, naturally illuminated, flexible-dimension classrooms. A multi-level space called Town Hall is the heart of the school—serving as the locus for presentations, the cafeteria, and a link to the desert courtyard.

In support of scientific understanding, the open-web structure and mechanical systems are laid bare to the eye. Desert-specific environmental strategies include solar heated water, east and west facing tilt-up concrete “fossil” walls, and provisions for a photovoltaic array.

Beth Weinstein


 
 

Gary Wilson Photo/Graphic 

Rosa Parks Elementary School
Portland, Oregon
Dull Olson Weekes Architects 

Since it opened in 2006, Rosa Parks Elementary in Portland has been a community magnet. Part of the broader New Columbia neighborhood, a large and formerly run-down affordable housing enclave that has become the largest redevelopment project in Oregon history, the 66,863-square-foot, LEED Gold–rated K–6 school is also host to a Boys & Girls Club that opens when classes end and is available to other organizations in the evenings.

The school, designed by Portland’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects (DOWA), is oriented around a series of existing legacy trees. As a result, said DOWA’s lead designer Karina Ruiz, “It doesn’t take the shape of a traditional double loaded corridor building.”

The classroom wing is divided into what are called “neighborhoods,” two per floor, with five classrooms, a resource room, and a shared common area. The glass-enclosed west side of the building also opens out onto the trees with a small park-like green space and a bioswale. The configuration allows classrooms to receive natural light on both sides.

The school’s sustainable features include a stormwater management system that keeps all water on site, an array of photovoltaic solar panels, displacement ventilation, and extensive daylighting. Designed to be 25 percent more energy efficient than code and in actuality performing 30 to 35 percent better, Rosa Parks is the most efficient building in the Portland Public Schools system. “It’s not just to save energy, but to connect students to their world,” Ruiz said.

Brian Libby
 





Tim Griffith

Trinity School
Menlo Park, California
Mark Cavagnero Associates 

Mark Cavagnero Associates designed a 1,200-square-foot expansion for one of the K–5 school’s existing 1960s Bay style buildings, as well as a new 4,800-square-foot Enrichment Center containing classrooms for music, science, and the arts.

The project, pointed out Cavagnero, creates a much-needed connection between the school and its lush new yard and play areas, which are separated by a steep slope. A dramatic, canopied stair between the existing and new buildings has become the center of campus life. Large landings on either side of the stair as well as weaving terraces serve as perfect places to rest or eat lunch, and also function as places to sit for assemblies.


Tim Griffith
 
 

The glazed, rectilinear addition to the existing building—which provides a much-needed extra classroom—edges into the hill and abuts the left side of the stair. Meanwhile the new building, clad in stained cedar with copious glazing, welcomes plenty of light and cross breezes thanks to its narrow floorplate and its orientation perpendicular to prevailing ocean breezes. Building this structure against the hill, said Cavagnero, was meant to make it feel as if it were “floating out from the hill and reaching out to trees.” None of the new construction uses air conditioning, and heating is by means of an underfloor system.

Sam Lubell





David Wakely 

The Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex
Hillsborough, California
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

With this 27,000-square-foot addition to an independent pre-K–8 school, Leddy Maytum Stacy has created a multifaceted environment that encourages learning and curiosity. Guided by the school’s mission to instill “a passion for lifelong learning” and a commitment to the environment, the design takes every opportunity to engage students with the world around them.

“Our goal was to create a great educational environment,” said William Leddy, design principal. “Sustainability was a crucial element, but to succeed, we needed a more layered design response that considered the role that day-to-day experience plays in education.”


David Wakely
 
 

The new complex expresses a strong connection to the 33-acre campus landscape and community. The three program elements—classrooms, library, and student center—occupy separate buildings, arranged around a plaza to form a hub of student life that stitches the 40-year-old campus together. The open, single-loaded buildings benefit from natural light, and living roofs totaling 10,000 square feet provide new habitats for native species, including an endangered butterfly. “X-ray” windows expose the building systems within, and a man-made “arroyo” activates the plaza during rainstorms. Finally, the LEED Gold complex teaches by example, using 65 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than a typical new school in the U.S., and generating 21 percent of its electricity needs through a 30kw photovoltaic array. Resource-efficient materials, 36 percent sourced locally, include non-native cypress trees removed from the site and milled for the building’s benches, screens, and decks.

Yosh Asato

Game Changer

At the end of September Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced an ambitious $5 billion plan to provide 20,000 affordable homes in the city over the next five years, despite the national credit squeeze and the collapse of the local housing market.

Dubbed “Housing That Works,” the mayor’s multi-income, mixed-use plan seeks to create or preserve homes for low and moderate-income families (that is, making less than $90,000 per year) to be located near Metro Rail stations and bus routes in an effort to address the city’s housing crisis.

"This is the least affordable big city in America," Villaraigosa said, acknowledging the widening gap between the number of units available for high-income families and the dwindling options for those at the low end of the spectrum. The plan falls under the direction of the mayor’s office and according to Jonathan Powell, a representative from Villaraigosa’s office, is “already going into effect.”

Funded by a mixture of public sources—including the LA Housing Department, the LA Housing Authority, the LA Community Redevelopment Authority, Affordable Housing Trust Funds, and county, state, and federal funds—as well as private sector loans, the plan consists of broadly drawn proposals for an array of issues, from streamlining the city’s entitlement and permitting processes, to providing housing for larger numbers of LA’s homeless.

The plan includes a “Sustainable Communities Initiative,” which will create 20 environmentally friendly neighborhoods near transit nodes. These mixed-use, multi-income developments are intended to link affordable housing for low- and middle-class workers with easier access to centers of employment.

Stuart Magruder, an architect and founder of the LA-based Studio Nova A, points out that the plan, reminiscent of the European model that locates people closer to where they work, shop, and go to school, is reliant on more effective transit systems than currently exists in Los Angeles. “We’ve got to decide to go forward on all cylinders on both issues—developing denser communities and building more transit,” he said.

Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association, likewise supports building around transit corridors, but her enthusiasm is tempered by the plan’s mixed-income component, which she says does not provide developers with necessary incentives to defray the cost of subsidizing the low-income units. “The first version of the plan was not workable,” she said. Among the incentives she suggests are a reduction in the number of required parking spaces per development. Schatz is also skeptical about the availability of funding in the face of the current financial crisis. “There is no housing market to speak of. It’s really ugly out there,” she said.

Administratively, the mayor’s plan includes a mixed-income housing ordinance, requiring developments over a certain size to contain an as-yet undetermined percentage of affordably priced units. The ordinance requires passage by the city council and final approval by the mayor. According to Powell, the council intends to pass the ordinance by the end of 2008.

The mayor’s plan also seeks to streamline the city’s convoluted entitlement and permitting process, which can involve 12 different departments, with the so-called “12-to-2 Development Reform Plan.” Under “12-2,” the planning department will become the single point of contact for the entitlement phase of new projects, while the building and safety departments will handle the construction phase.

Los Angeles has the nation’s largest homeless population, numbering over 44,000. The mayor's plan increases rent subsidies, in the form of Section 8 vouchers, for the chronically homeless and creates 2,200 “permanently supportive housing” units that will move homeless people from revolving-door shelters into permanent housing.

Additionally, the plan seeks to redevelop blighted housing projects, beginning with the gang-infested Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, hoping to replicate the successful resurrection of the Pico Aliso complex in East Los Angeles.  

The obvious question is how the weighty financial framework of such a large proposal will be lifted into place given the turbulent economic climate. Mayor Villaraigosa has already secured one nonprofit investor: Enterprise Community Partners has pledged $700 million to the plan.

Still hopeful that the recent congressional bailout package will ease constricted credit markets and allow “Housing That Works” to move forward, Powell pointed out, “It’s the financing that’s slowing down. The demand for housing, office, and retail space in Los Angeles is not slowing down at all.”

With no timeframe as to when results would begin to materialize, Powell noted that the mayor’s office was moving quickly to implement the various steps of the plan. “There’s really no better time than right now, in the middle of a crisis, for us to show some leadership,” he said.

Raft of Legislation

Despite almost all the talk at City Hall yesterday being dedicated to the electoral aspirations of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council still managed to pass an important piece of legislation that bolsters waterfront planning efforts, along with two other new laws that create a mixed-use development in Harlem and protect a small slice of affordable housing in Chelsea.

From a planning standpoint, the first piece of legislation is the most impressive. It calls for the creation of a comprehensive waterfront plan, prepared by the Department of City Planning each decade, beginning in 2010. Back when New York’s waterfront was largely dedicated to commercial uses, it, along with the entire harbor, was overseen by the New York-New Jersey Port and Harbor Commission. Now, with the city finally returning to the waterfront with parks, projects, and follies, some two dozen agencies have taken a stake.

The key is making sure the various uses and interests on the waterfront work in concert, not opposition. “With the introduction of this legislation today, we will ensure that New York City never turns its back on the waterfront,” Christine Quinn, the council speaker, said at a press conference. “A comprehensive plan provided to the city every ten years will allow us to best assess the different ways our waterfronts can be used for leisure, employment, and industry.”

Under the legislation [text], which passed unanimously 51-0, the city’s planners must consult with affected local, state, and federal agencies, as well as the public, about their waterfront needs and how resources should be allocated to address them. For groups like the Waterfront Alliance (formerly the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance), it is an important opportunity to finally weigh in on issues that might otherwise be ignored. “One thing near and dear to our heart is a working waterfront,” Roland Lewis, the group’s president, said.

While waterfront access, parks, and development are important, Lewis said, the waterfront’s historic use cannot be ignored. As the economy struggles, the better-paying work traditionally offered near, on, and in the water must be preserved, and with a comprehensive plan in place, it will be easier for such jobs to thrive without impinging on their neighbors. And vice versa. “Nothing against IKEA,” Lewis said, “but you can put an IKEA almost anywhere. You can only do dock work on the docks.” Lewis also hopes it will spread across the river to New Jersey and up the Hudson to “sister cities,” creating “a truly comprehensive plan.”

The council also endorsed a rezoning plan for yet another piece of 125th Street in East Harlem that will create a 1.7 million-square-foot, mixed-use project on three vacant city-owned parcels. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the local representative, said it was a landmark project not only in its scope, but also because the community rejected a developer three years ago, leading the city to take the incredibly rare step of rescinding its development contract. “Since then, we have worked hard with the community to come up with a satisfactory plan, something we have now achieved,” she said.

Covering an area between 125th and 127th streets, from 2nd to 3rd avenues, the rezoning calls for a 30,000-square-foot cultural space, 850 apartment units (600 of which are affordable), a 98,000-square-foot hotel, and 250,000 square feet of office space. Also included are 500,000 square feet of retail space with an emphasis on local businesses, and a mid-block public plaza at the center of the complex.

The council also passed a bill [text] modifying the J-51 tax benefit to include Penn South, a Chelsea co-op that was at risk of losing the benefit due to rising assessment values amid skyrocketing prices in the neighborhood. “By including Penn South in the J-51 program, we are taking the important step of preserving a community that is and will remain a source of affordable housing for thousands of residents,” Quinn said.

Placeholder Alt Text

The $6,000 House
A completed 10X10 house (right), with another under construction.
Courtesy UK College of Design

The Pritzker Prize has often been called, or at least explained as, the Nobel Prize of Architecture. If that is the case, then the Curry Stone Design Prize could be considered architecture’s Peace Prize. Established this year by the University of Kentucky College of Design through a generous gift from architect Clifford Curry and his wife H. Delight Stone, the prize honors innovative achievements in humanitarian architecture and design.

MMA Architects of South Africa took the top prize of $100,000, which was announced today by the school. The firm, based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Berlin, won for their 10X10 house, an extremely affordable structure built using sandbags and timber. It requires no tools or advanced construction knowledge and can be built for slightly more than $6,000, while still presenting a striking, modern design.

“We feel it’s important to give back to the community we come from,” Luyanda Mpahlwa said in a telephone interview. “Most black people in South Africa come from the projects, and the shantytowns are actually growing. No one should be living in shantytowns. So anything we can do to help that, we will.”

Mpahlwa, who shares the firm with Mphethi Morojele, said that a key component of the house was to provide not only shelter but also social justice and pride. The house was originally designed for an affordable housing competition last year that required architects to devise a house for 50,000 rand ($6,200), which required some very unusual thinking. “My view is that there is no way you can use conventional materials and methods if you want to resolve the housing crisis that plagues the world,” Mpahlwa said.

In addition to utilizing inexpensive and locally accessible building materials, which required not even a single electrical outlet to put together, the designers turned to the community to build the houses, the first of which was recently completed, with nine more planned for a community in Cape Town. Mpahlwa said that this approach not only saves on labor costs but gives an added sense of ownership to the occupants and work for those in a community that is riven with unemployment.

Other finalists included Shawn Frayne, who designed the world’s first non-turbine wind-powered generator; Wes Janz, an architect and professor at Ball State University who builds “leftover places” with scavenged material; Marjetica Potrc, an artist who has designed a number of clever devices for impoverished communities, including a “dry toilet” in Caracas and rainwater harvesting system in New Orleans; and Antonio Scarponi, a Venetian architect who constructed a “Dreaming Wall” in Milan that allowed people to text social messages onto it. Each runner-up receives a $10,000 prize.

“From the jury’s point of view, it was both a conventional and unconventional firm doing conventional and unconventional work,” David Mohney, secretary for the prize, said. “They saw it as an inspiration to other conventional firms that they could start doing unconventional work themselves, that they can bring a high level of design and comfort to a project that doesn’t usually have access to it.”

To call MMA unconventional could be considered an understatement. As one of only a handful of black firms in the country, they have long struggled to get work. “Old prejudices die hard,” Mphahlwa said. “Some people take one look at me and do not believe I can build them a house.” The firm took a number of government commissions out of a sense of civic pride and duty but also because they had little choice. Thanks to the success of those projects, including embassies in Berlin and Adis Ababa, they have been able to afford more humanitarian work.

As a testament to MMA’s commitment to that work, when asked what he would do with his share of the money, Mpahlwa said he would probably buy a few more 10X10 houses and send some underprivileged kids to architecture school. On top of the two he has already sent.

Matt Chaban


sandbags HELP FORM THE STRUCTURAL CORE OF THE HOUSE.
 
 

MMA has plans for ten houses in a housing project in cape town, arranged somewhat like in this model, where some houses have been combined into double-wide units.
 
 

Mphahlwa admires his work...
 
 

As do a group of local boys.

A RIFT in Santa Monica

To understand the severity of Santa Monica’s traffic problems, visualize this: Of the beachside city’s 85,000 citizens, only about 10,000 people both live and work there, which means that 60,000 people arrive daily from other parts of Los Angeles to fill its 70,000 jobs. That’s about 150,000 people coming and going every weekday, all of whom seem to be lined up along Cloverfield Boulevard at 5:30 in the afternoon.

It was this mounting frustration that earlier this year led a group of citizens organized by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) to propose the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), a 15-year measure which would cap commercial development at 75,000 square feet annually in an effort to curb traffic. In August, RIFT received more than twice the 5,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot. In November citizens will be voting on the referendum, now known as Proposition T. An opposing group, Save Our City, which includes citizens, politicians, and about 60 local architects, supports an existing document—the city general plan’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE)— which calls for smart growth over limited growth and more nuanced solutions for combatting the crippling traffic.

“Rift” could also describe the breach between Santa Monica’s residents and politicians, who are deeply divided over various solutions to traffic and development. After decades of enthusiastic growth, Santa Monica is a victim of its own success. High-rise luxury hotels and high-end retail line the once-decrepit coastline. And Santa Monica’s uniquely dense, walkable community has made it one of the most desirable places in the Los Angeles area for companies to locate, luring headquarters for mega-companies like Sony, Yahoo!, and MTV. But want to leave in time for dinner in Silver Lake? Forget it.

If implemented, Proposition T would amend LUCE in hopes to stop some of those drivers from having a reason to come into the city. The 75,000-square-foot cap would last until 2023 and would not include uses like residential, parking, schools, or hospitals. Proposition T also makes allowances for ground floor “neighborhood-serving goods, services, or retail uses” in mixed-use developments where 100 percent of the housing is affordable. According to supporter, rent control board member and planning commissioner Jay P. Johnson, RIFT pre-empts what will be almost certain future battles over city development policies, which he called “undefined” when it comes to height and density. “My experience tells me that as key crossroads of decision making are passed, the collective ability to ‘go back’ or reverse course is highly unlikely, since many big money stakeholders exert their influence, privately and publicly, to maintain the direction,” he said.

“To say we can stop traffic and do it by stopping development sounds fantastic, but the devil is in the details,” said Gwynne Pugh, principal of Santa Monica firm Pugh + Scarpa and one of the key organizers of Save Our City. In his role as chair of the city’s planning commission, Pugh points to LUCE (a document he helped research and draft), which he said would address many of these same traffic issues but in a more comprehensive way. LUCE’s plan calls for mixed-used projects and dense transit centers in hopes of creating more “complete” neighborhoods that will discourage residents from using their cars. It also includes a focus on affordable and workforce residential development (for young professionals making around $70,000 a year) to house more Santa Monica residents closer to jobs and services. In addition, the plan will explore many more options for employers like flex hours, biking incentives, and shared parking.

LUCE has already been approved by the city council and planning commission, and is now in the environmental impact report stage. It could be implemented within the next six months, but if the November initiative is approved, Pugh said, “it would be obliterated by RIFT.” In June, Pugh + Scarpa held a fundraiser for Save Our City that was also an educational event for architects. Of prime concern to the group were transit-oriented projects anticipated at places like Bergamot Station, for the expansion of the Expo Line. With the 75,000-square-foot cap, Pugh said the developments won’t be able to achieve the proper mix of high-density residential and commercial floor space, potentially jeopardizing the future of a sorely-needed public transit line, as well as the eventual “Subway to the Sea.”

Making special allotments for public transit projects like the Expo Line activity centers raises questions about how exactly Proposition T will be enforced. It has not yet been decided whether the 75,000 square feet per year would all be alloted at once, and which projects would get precedence, although the measure allows for “borrowing” square footage from future years if necessary. Johnson says the cap simply ensures that projects are carefully thought out and overdevelopment won’t happen. “My choice was too little or too much,” he said. “I chose too little since it can be corrected by increasing the amount in the future. If we go with too much, and are wrong, we cannot correct the error by tearing down buildings.” 

A RIFT In Santa Monica

To understand the severity of Santa Monica’s traffic problems, visualize this: Of the beachside city’s 85,000 citizens, only about 10,000 people both live and work there, which means that 60,000 people arrive daily from other parts of Los Angeles to fill its 70,000 jobs. That’s about 150,000 people coming and going every weekday, all of whom seem to be lined up along Cloverfield Boulevard at 5:30 in the afternoon.

It was this mounting frustration that earlier this year led a group of citizens organized by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) to propose the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), a 15-year measure which would cap commercial development at 75,000 square feet annually in an effort to curb traffic. In August, RIFT received more than twice the 5,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot. In November citizens will be voting on the referendum, now known as Proposition T. An opposing group, Save Our City, which includes citizens, politicians, and about 60 local architects, supports an existing document—the city general plan’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE)— which calls for smart growth over limited growth and more nuanced solutions for combatting the crippling traffic.

“Rift” could also describe the breach between Santa Monica’s residents and politicians, who are deeply divided over various solutions to traffic and development. After decades of enthusiastic growth, Santa Monica is a victim of its own success. High-rise luxury hotels and high-end retail line the once-decrepit coastline. And Santa Monica’s uniquely dense, walkable community has made it one of the most desirable places in the Los Angeles area for companies to locate, luring headquarters for mega-companies like Sony, Yahoo!, and MTV. But if you want to leave in time for dinner in Silver Lake, forget it.

If implemented, Proposition T would amend LUCE in hopes to stop some of those drivers from having a reason to come into the city. The 75,000-square-foot cap would last until 2023 and would not include uses like residential, parking, schools, or hospitals. Proposition T also makes allowances for ground floor “neighborhood-serving goods, services, or retail uses” in mixed-use developments where 100 percent of the housing is affordable. According to supporter, rent control board member and planning commissioner Jay P. Johnson, RIFT pre-empts what will be almost certain future battles over city development policies, which he called “undefined” when it comes to height and density. “My experience tells me that as key crossroads of decision making are passed, the collective ability to ‘go back’ or reverse course is highly unlikely, since many big money stakeholders exert their influence, privately and publicly, to maintain the direction,” he said.

“To say we can stop traffic and do it by stopping development sounds fantastic, but the devil is in the details,” said Gwynne Pugh, principal of Santa Monica firm Pugh + Scarpa and one of the key organizers of Save Our City. In his role as chair of the city’s planning commission, Pugh points to LUCE (a document he helped research and draft), which he said would address many of these same traffic issues but in a more comprehensive way. LUCE’s plan calls for mixed-used projects and dense transit centers in hopes of creating more “complete” neighborhoods that will discourage residents from using their cars. It also includes a focus on affordable and workforce residential development (for young professionals making around $70,000 a year) to house more Santa Monica residents closer to jobs and services. In addition, the plan will explore many more options for employers like flex hours, biking incentives, and shared parking.

LUCE has already been approved by the city council and planning commission, and is now in the environmental impact report stage. It could be implemented within the next six months, but if the November initiative is approved, Pugh said, “it would be obliterated by RIFT.” In June, Pugh + Scarpa held a fundraiser for Save Our City that was also an educational event for architects. Of prime concern to the group were transit-oriented projects anticipated at places like Bergamot Station, for the expansion of the Expo Line. With the 75,000-square-foot cap, Pugh said the developments won’t be able to achieve the proper mix of high-density residential and commercial floor space, potentially jeopardizing the future of a sorely-needed public transit line, as well as the eventual “Subway to the Sea.”

Making special allotments for public transit projects like the Expo Line activity centers raises questions about how exactly Proposition T will be enforced. It has not yet been decided whether the 75,000 square feet per year would all be alloted at once, and which projects would get precedence, although the measure allows for “borrowing” square footage from future years if necessary. Johnson says the cap simply ensures that projects are carefully thought out and overdevelopment won’t happen. “My choice was too little or too much,” he said. “I chose too little since it can be corrected by increasing the amount in the future. If we go with too much, and are wrong, we cannot correct the error by tearing down buildings.”

Graying Gotham

Much has been made of New York’s impending population boom, expected to hit 9 million by 2030. Planners have outdone themselves to accommodate all those new New Yorkers—that’s the idea behind Mayor Bloomberg’s sustainability program, PlaNYC—yet the biggest challenge may not be new immigrants, but the New Yorkers who have been here the longest. While the total population of the city will grow 10 percent by 2030, the number of New Yorkers 60 and older will jump 25 percent, to 1.8 million. At one-fifth of the city’s population, there will be more seniors in the five boroughs than school children.

Yesterday, the New York Academy of Medicine, in partnership with the Bloomberg administration and the City Council, released a report [PDF] detailing the challenges this demographic groundswell poses, as well as possible solutions to issues ranging from safety and transportation to healthcare access and emotional wellbeing. “Most planning for older adults focuses on age-specific health and social services,” Jo Ivey Boufford, president of the academy, said in a release. “These are absolutely critical, but they alone do not insure older New Yorkers can remain healthy and active as they age.”

Instead of simply relying on so-called experts, the academy held numerous town hall meetings, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews to hear directly from older New Yorkers what challenges confront them on a daily basis and how they would like to see them addressed. The report highlights eight major areas of concern: respect and social inclusion, information and communication, civic participation and employment, social participation, housing, transportation, public spaces, and health and human services.

Though the report touches upon issues in civic sectors, there is much designers and planners can do to accommodate older residents. More affordable housing, particularly for seniors, is a major concern, as is the accessibility of such housing. “We heard several stories of elders feeling trapped in inappropriate or uncomfortable housing,” the authors wrote. And this concern extends to other buildings throughout the city, the message being ADA-compliance is not enough. Thoughtful, respectful design must be embraced. 

The city’s mass-transportation was applauded, but it could be more accessible—especially the subway—as well as more reliable, and staff could be more patient, courteous, and helpful. As for public space, benches are popular and in demand and pedestrian safety must be increased.

The report concludes that while the city has “many age-friendly characteristics,” it also has “a number of features that create significant hindrances for older adults, especially those who are poor, linguistically isolated, or in declining health.” To address these issues, the report calls for a broad-based approach that extends beyond government—which has embraced a number of programs, such as the mayor’s All Ages Project—into communities that will work to foster a friendly and comfortable environment for its older members.

Placeholder Alt Text

Saarinen Spared in NJ
Ezra Stoller/ESTO

In 2006, the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Telephone Laboratories was in imminent danger of demolition by would-be developer, Preferred Real Estate Investments of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, who planned to replace it with smaller office buildings and housing units on the site’s pastoral 472 acres. Now, two years later, Somerset Development, a Lakewood, New Jersey, firm, has signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent, the property owner. If redevelopment proceeds as planned, the 1.9-million-square-foot, six-story building, named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Sites” list in 2007, and recently declared eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, will be spared the wrecking ball.

In a statement made via email, Somerset president Ralph Zucker wrote that the firm does “not plan on demolishing any of the existing structures,” and is “approaching this with a preservationist attitude.” Somerset is still in the early planning stages, but feels the building lends itself to a mix of uses. Zucker, a proponent of New Urbanism, wrote that his vision is “a downtown-style, mixed-use environment created at [the] building.”

A three-day charrette, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects’ New Jersey chapter, Preservation NJ, the Docomomo-NY Tristate chapter, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, held in April, addressed problems surrounding the sustainable reuse and retention of the building, which was completed in 1962 and expanded in1985. Participants found the “building to be quite flexible,” said Michael Calafati, chair of the AIA-NJ chapter and a lead organizer of the event.

When asked about Somerset’s proposed redevelopment plan, Calafati cautioned that the devil is in the details. He questions whether Somerset’s plans to add buildings to the site will “maintain the monumentality of the Saarinen building,” an element charrette participants identified as central to the character of the building, along with its fully mirrored facade, its atria and corridors, and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, designed by Hideo Sasaki.


Preservationists and Saarinen enthusiasts hope Bell Labs’ mirrored facade will be maintained. 
EZRA STOLLER/ESTO

In its final report to the Holmdel Township Committee submitted on July 24, the Citizens Advisory Committee, a non-partisan group charged by the township to evaluate and make recommendations about the redevelopment of the property, cited several factors that could impact Somerset’s plans, the most important of which is the New Jersey Council of Affordable Housing’s (COAH) affordable housing requirement. “The COAH situation is very complex,” said Ralph Blumenthal, co-chair of the advisory committee. The third round COAH regulations were recently revised and are currently being challenged.

According to Blumenthal, before the rules were changed, if developers reused an existing building, the township bore no new obligation for additional affordable housing. If this changes, the “township’s affordable housing obligation due to the redevelopment” could increase “by hundreds of units,” which would change the finances of the Bell Labs project, and in all likelihood, influence its final form.

Placeholder Alt Text

Getting Dense

In last year’s developers issue, we focused on California’s highrises: the most obvious indication that the state is finally embracing infill density over sprawl. Yet in fact, most of California’s density is forming at a much lower altitude, in mixed-use projects within commercial corridors.

Mixed-use projects may not be universally embraced (fears of congestion and disruption of the local character are common), but their diversity and size often significantly bolster neighborhood vibrancy and efficiency while keeping development from spreading further away. Scales and solutions vary widely, of course, but you’ll notice in our roundup of projects across the state that many involve top-tier architecture firms and sensitive urban solutions like public plazas, street-level retail, sustainable design, live/work units, underground parking, and terraced and divided massing—an indicator that development doesn’t have to mean destruction of a neighborhood. Many people point out that locating new buildings on commercial boulevards rather than in the midst of residential areas is the best way to absorb the state’s staggering growth without intensely affecting people’s living environments. Locating them near mass transit is another tool, although that option is still slow to come in many parts of California.

And of all the mixed-use projects we’ve seen, many of the best come from the same place: West Hollywood. Thanks to a design-savvy and discerning planning commission and planning department, recent infrastructure improvements, a clear master plan, a population knowledgeable about aesthetics, and a proactive urban designer, John Chase, the area has attracted top design talent and is home to an enviable roster of mixed-use projects. Most are going up in its commercial districts along Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards. This is not to say that things have been easy: Just uttering the word “development” in many WEHO circles invites violent protest, and last summer, the city passed interim ordinances limiting the scale of development until further analysis is completed. But this just makes the scope of work here all the more impressive. Let’s face it, growth is inevitable, so we might as well grow the right way.

Produced by Sam Lubell with contributions from Danielle Rago and Helen Te.

ALL IMAGES COURTESY RESPECTIVE DEVELOPERS

 

West Hollywood


SMB28
Location: 8120 Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects
Developer: Pacific Development Partners, LLC/Walgreen Co. Joint Venture
Size: 120,000 sq. ft.
Completion Date: Spring 2009

Not your usual Walgreens, this project includes ground-level retail and 28 units with private gardens above. The project will be covered with a skin composed of stabilized aluminum foam.  


SUNSET/DOHENY HOTEL
Location: 9040 Sunset Blvd.
Architect: Eric Owen Moss Architects
Developer: Weintraub Financial Services
Size: 187,710 sq. ft.
Completion: 2011

Featuring Moss’ off-kilter floorplates and hard-edged forms, this retail, hotel, and residential project is built around an 11-story hotel with a glazed curtain wall. The smaller residential block will enclose small public and private courtyards. 


SUNSET TIME
Location: 8430 Sunset Blvd.
Architect: Kanner Architects
Developer: Combined Properties
Size: 225,000 sq. ft.
Completion: In design

The project includes a hotel, condominiums, a cafe, retail spaces, and an entertainment venue. The five-, six-, and seven-story hotel features maze-like, projecting floorplates. The residential portions of the project are much lower-scale and inconspicuous, terracing downhill from the site.


MELROSE TRIANGLE
Location: 9040-9098 Santa Monica Blvd., 603-633 Almont Dr., and 9001-9021 Melrose Ave.
Architect: Studio One Eleven and Perkowitz+Ruth Architects
Developer: The Charles Company
Size: 250,000 sq. ft.
Completion: In design

This mini-city is marked by large roof overhangs, inset windows, and large bays. The project includes several floors of shopping—much of it outdoors—a parking garage, and apartments.


GROVEWOOD GARDEN LOFTS
Location: 1342 Hayworth Ave.
Architect: Pugh + Scarpa
Developer: Grovewood Properties
Size: 28,000 sq. ft.
Completion: Spring 2009

With 16 units of luxury condominiums over a 36-car garage, these stacked townhouses are oriented to create two landscaped courtyards: One faces the street, while the other creates a communal front entry space for residents. A perforated copper skin wraps the facades.


8801 SUNSET BLVD
Location: 8801 Sunset Blvd.
Architect: Gensler
Developer: Centrum Sunset
Size: 53,000 sq. ft.
Completion: 2011/2012

Built on the site of the legendary Tower Records building, this development includes office and retail space, as well as a David Barton spa and gym. The project wraps around the corner of Sunset Boulevard with a repetitive pattern of large concrete facade columns, due to be lined with large billboards.


LA PEER HOTEL & PRIVATE RESIDENCES
Location: 627 North La Peer
Architect: Moule & Polyzoides Architects
Developer: A.J. Khair
Size: 63,000 sq. ft., 8 condominium units, 69 hotel rooms
Completion: 2010

The project shows how traditional design can be done in a stylish way, with both Spanish and Art Deco motifs and a variety of scales and massing, all aligned with the street grid in a very urban manner. 


SIERRA BONITA
Location: 7350 Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Tighe Architecture
Developer: West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation
Size: 5 floors, 42 units
Completion: 2008

The project includes 42 affordable, one-bedroom units and retail on the ground floor. An outdoor courtyard provides a garden for residents, and each apartment will have its own private outdoor space.


KING’S ROAD
Location: 8350-8364 Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Koning Eizenberg Architecture
Developer: Combined Properties
Size: 20 units with commercial space at grade
Completion: Entitlements completed spring 2008

The project reflects adjacent residential zoning by stepping down and breaking up the rear facade with private courtyards. The ground level combines retail and on-grade parking. 


HANCOCK LOFTS
Location: 901 Hancock Ave./8759 Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Koning Eizenberg Architecture
Developer: CIM Group
Size: 133,476 sq. ft.
Completion: Late 2008

The 77,500 sq. ft. project features 11,000 sq. ft. of ground floor commercial retail and restaurant, with 40 housing units (33 condos and 7 affordable). Live-work housing units are proposed at ground level.


WEST KNOLL LOFTS
Location: Santa Monica Blvd. and West Knoll Drive
Architect: Aleks Istanbullu Architects
Developer: Seven Sandmore
Size: 8,700 sq. ft. of ground floor retail, 52,000 sq. ft. of residential space
Completion: 2010

This four-story building contains residential blocks sitting above a continous story of sidewalk retail. Nineteen condominiums are located above, separated by 15-foot-wide courtyards.


MOVIETOWN
Location: 7302 Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Van Tilburg, Banvard + Soderbergh
Developer: Casden Movietown
Size: 526,800 sq. ft.
Completion: 2012

This sustainable project contains 20,000 sq. ft. of retail (including a new Trader Joe’s), 304 condominiums, and 76 senior rental units. A public plaza and streetside retail are planned to create a walking-friendly environment.

 

 

 

Best of the Rest


CENTRAL PLACE PHASE II
Location: San Jose
Architect: Brand + Allen Architects
Developer: Wilson Meany Sullivan
Size: 561,472 sq. ft.
Completion: 2013

Part of the master plan to revitalize downtown San Jose, the project, which includes residential and retail elements, encloses and activates a public plaza fronted by the San Jose Repertory Theater.


1 KEARNY
Location: 1 Kearny, San Francisco
Architect: Charles F. Bloszies
Developer/Owner: 1 Kearny
Size: 10-floor addition to 12-floor building, 120,000 sq. ft.
Completion: 2009

Including office and ground floor retail, this renovation of a 1902 building uses the surrounding structures as seismic “bookends” for the original building. The new addition is clad in a glass-and-aluminum curtain wall.


55 LAGUNA
Location: 55 Laguna St., San Francisco
Architect: Van Meter Williams Pollack
Developer: AF Evans Development
Size: 450 residential units, 10,000 sq. ft. of community facility space, 5,000 sq. ft. retail
Completion: 2012

This redevelopment of the former UC Berkeley Extension Campus will include new construction and the preservation of historically significant buildings.


JACK LONDON SQUARE RENOVATION
Location: 55 Harrison St., Oakland
Architect: RMW in Association with Steve Worthington
Developer: Ellis Partners
Size: 1 million sq. ft.
Completion Phase I: 2009

The square is undergoing a $300 million redevelopment that includes restaurants, entertainment, new parking facilities, and Class A office space.


MANCHESTER PACIFIC GATEWAY
Location: Broadway and North Harbor Dr., San Diego
Architect: Tucker Sadler
Developer: Manchester Financial
Size: 3.95 million sq. ft.
Completion: Proposed

Located on the North Embarcadero of the San Diego Bay, the project—if approved—will include almost 4 million sq. ft. of hospitality, office, and retail space.


PANORAMA PLACE
Location: Roscoe Blvd. and Tobias Ave., Panorama City
Architects: Nadel Architects
Developer: Maefield
Size: 1 million sq. ft.
Completion: Fall 2009

This development will feature a three-level vertical lifestyle center with over 415,000 sq. ft. of retail and five levels of parking. It will also include big-box retail and smaller street-front shops.


ANAHEIM CENTER STREET PROMENADE
Location: Anaheim
Architect: RTKL, Kanner Architects, 30th St. Architects, RTK, and MBH
Developer: CIM Group
Size: 129 condominium units, 276 apartment units, 56,803 sq. ft. of street-level retail, and 32,056 sq. ft. of office space
Completion: In design

This project includes 500 housing units, plus retail and restaurant space surrounding downtown Anaheim’s main street.


9900 WILSHIRE
Location: 9900 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Architect: Richard Meier & Partners Architects
Developer: Project Lotus
Size: 203 units, 895,000 sq. ft. (residential), 16,000 sq. ft. (retail)
Completion: 2011

Designed to be sensitive to the neighboring hotel and golf course, the project is located on an 8-acre site between Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, and constitutes the western entrance to Beverly Hills.


WYVERNWOOD APARTMENTS
Location: 2901 E. Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights, Los Angeles
Architect: Torti Gallas
Developer: Fifteen Group
Size: 6.1 million sq. ft.
Completion: 2020

The $2 billion plan calls for redeveloping the 1930s apartment complex to include 4,400 residential units, 300,000 sq. ft. of retail and commercial space, as well as 9 acres of publicly accessible open space.


COLUMBIA SQUARE
Location: 6121 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Architect: Johnson Fain
Developer: Apollo Real Estate Advisors
Size: 380,000 sq. ft. of offices, 20,000 sq. ft. of retail, 330 units, 125-room hotel
Completion: In design

Located at the historic CBS/Columbia Square Studio site, a 35-story residential tower and 16-story office tower rise from a ground floor mix of hotel, retail, and open space.


BLVD6200
Location: 6200 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Architect: VTBS
Developer: Clarett Group
Size: 1.12 million sq. ft.
Completion: 2011

Spanning both sides of Hollywood Boulevard on a 7-acre parcel are nine buildings of rental housing, with affordable units, public open space, live/work lofts, and retail. The project, which is seeking LEED certification, is next to the legendary Art Deco Pantages Theater.


PASEO PLAZA
Location: 5661 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
Architect: Gruen Associates
Developer: Continental Development
Size: 375 units, 377,000 sq. ft. (retail), 1680 parking spaces
Completion: 2010

Located on a 5.5-acre city block, this project incorporates a historic department store. Much of the retail is street-facing, and the buildings include high-rise, stoop housing, and town houses to create an urban ambience.


NOHO ART WAVE
Location: Chandler Blvd. and Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
Architect: AC Martin
Developer: Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group
Size: 1.75 million sq. ft.
Completion: Proposed

Planned around a multi-modal transit station, the proposal includes a central plaza and an arcade linking the proposed grid of the project blocks, which respond in scale and configuration to the existing urban fabric.


6230 YUCCA
Location: Hollywood
Architect: Ehrlich Architects
Developer: Second Street Ventures
Size: 115,000 sq. ft.
Completion: 2010/2011

One block from the historic Hollywood and Vine intersection, this 16-story tower won entitlement after a battle with nearby Capitol Records. It includes eight live-work townhomes, 85 residential units in the tower, and 13,500 sq. ft. of creative commercial space.


W HOLLYWOOD HOTEL & RESIDENCES
Location: 6250 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Architect: HKS Hill Glazier Studio
Developer: Gatehouse Capital Corp. and Legacy Partners
Size: 330,000 sq. ft. condo, 300,000 sq. ft. hotel, 50,000 sq. ft. retail
Completion: 2009

This project includes a 305-room W hotel, 143 luxury W for sale residences, 375 luxury apartments, and street-level retail.

 

LES Not More

At 8:30, a half hour before today’s City Planning Commission hearing on the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning was to officially begin, an unexpected fight that would come to dominate it was already underway. More than a hundred Lower East Side and Chinatown residents, many of them Chinese and Latino, had gathered in front of the Tisch Auditorium at NYU Law School to decry what they saw as their disenfranchisement from the rezoning plan.

“We’ve got to stop this racist plan,” one woman yelled into a megaphone that echoed across Washington Square Park. “We’ve got to stop Bloomberg. We’ve got to stop the developers. We’ve got to stop this racist plan.” The crowd roared with approval.

It was a new twist in a five-year planning process that took many locals by surprise.

Beginning with a group of East Village residents who grew concerned about creeping gentrification over a decade ago, what became the East Village Coalition developed a plan that was eventually taken up by Community Board 3. From there, it spread to much of the East Village and the Lower East Side north of Delancey Street, at which point the Department of City Planning began to work on the plan with the community.

The thrust of the plan is to cap building heights where few exist while pushing development to the avenues and protecting the historic tenement scale on the side streets. To encourage affordable housing, development on the avenues and other mapped “wide streets,” such as Chrystie Street, will become part of the city’s inclusionary housing program, which requires 20 percent of units to be affordable to achieve full buildable density. New contextual zoning will require that buildings be built to the lot line, preventing taller, set-back buildings.

The fear of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, which held the rally and fielded numerous speakers during the hearing, is that such a rezoning will create undue pressure on the neighborhoods surrounding the rezoning area. Members speaking for the group said it wants the department to delay passage of the rezoning until Chinatown and the section of the Lower East Side south of Delancey Street can be studied and incorporated, something the group hopes could be accomplished in the next few months but would likely take many years.

“This is just another example of how DCP is pushing out low-income and minority communities in favor of rich developers,” Malcolm Lim said. The 35-year-old said he grew up in Chinatown, as did his parents and grandparents. “We demand a plan that does not discriminate against the non-white residents of Community Board 3,” he added.

The basis for the claims of racism is that, as Lim pointed out, the board’s population is roughly one-third each white, Latino, and Chinese, though 73 percent of residents within the rezoning area are white. “I don’t know you,” Jeff Mansfield, a pastor at Judson Memorial Church and coalition member, told the commission. “I don’t know if you’re racist, but intentional or unintentional, this plan is racist. It hurts the people in Chinatown and on the Bowery and in NYCHA housing. Intentional or not, it hurts the community.”

But Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, said the coalition was merely playing the race card to achieve its own ends. “It’s a flawed argument,” he said. “By that logic, you would have to stop every rezoning in the city because it puts pressure on everything else.”

From a planning standpoint, the city and Village community insist the two neighborhoods are too different to be considered concurrently. At 111 blocks, the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning is the third largest undertaken by the city. During the early planning stages, the western boundary stretched to 4th Avenue, but the department decided to make 2nd Avenue the border because it felt the Bowery and 3rd and 4th avenues had more of a commercial feel than the residential neighborhoods to the east.

Though no coalition representatives would admit to it, theirs could simply be a political maneuver to gain leverage when a Chinatown rezoning becomes a reality, as the department has indicated it might, especially in light of the overwhelming support for such a move today. Indeed, those looking to protect the Bowery took up similar rhetoric.

Despite the complaints of those who have ostensibly been excluded, the rezoning was generally commended by those who testified, though even those who supported the project asked for more affordable housing—namely 30 percent spread across all streets, not just the avenues—and protections against tenant harassment and illegal demolitions, provisions supported by Borough President Scott Stringer and the two local City Council members. Given that the council is the last stop, and recent concessions made at the council during the rezoning of 125th Street, such concessions stand a good chance of being incorporated.

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.

 

Sincerely,

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
 

Last As Usual

The rallying cry of Willets Point landowners and labors has been “Neglect Not Blight” ever since the Bloomberg administration revealed its latest redevelopment plans for the neighborhood. The city wants to replace the 61-acre neighborhood of auto body shops, scrap yards, and small manufacturers—which the mayor and other officials consider blighted—with residences, retail, and a convention center.

Locals contend that if the neighborhood is blighted at all, it is because the city has allowed it to get that way, a point they hope to make at a public hearing tomorrow before the City Planning Commission. But the project’s critics fear they will have no time to be heard. Along with the Willets Point rezoning plan, the commission is taking up two massive and massively contentious plans: the rezonings of the East Village/Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point, both of which will be heard first.

Dan Feinstein, president of Feinstein Iron Works, said the Bloomberg administration is using the same tactics it has throughout the planning process to marginalize those who work or own land in Willets Point. “They put us third,” he said. “They put us last, as usual. They don’t want to review this, they want to ram it through. This is like Vladimir Putin moving the tanks into position on the Georgian border.”

Tomorrow’s hearing is one of the last stops for the three plans before they go to the City Council for a final vote. Previously, they passed before the local community boards and borough presidents, all of whom have advisory votes—as opposed to the binding vote of the commission—and supported the project.

However, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer gave his support conditionally to the East Village/Lower East Side plan saying that, in addition to more affordable housing and harassment and eviction protections, he wished the commission had separate hearings for each rezoning. “They are on a mission to get things done,” Stringer told Metro. A spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall told AN she had no issue with the arrangement.

Beyond having their grievances heard last, those wishing to speak out on Willets Point face a number of other issues. “Certainly the more hours the hearing goes on, the less alert the panel could be,” said Michael Gerard, counsel for the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, a group representing local businesses and landowners. Gerard also said it can be difficult to organize witnesses, both experts and locals, given the uncertain start time for the hearing. Rachaele Raynoff, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, said the city’s 311 hotline will be set up to provide updates on the proceedings, but Gerard said this was far from an ideal solution.

Another issue is location. Unlike the recent hearings for the Manhattanville and 125th Street rezonings, which were held at City College campus in Harlem, tomorrow’s hearings will be held in Lower Manhattan, at the Tisch Auditorium at NYU Law School. “Washington Square is a long way from Willets Point,” Gerard said.

Eve Baron, director of planning at the Municipal Art Society, said the auditorium was at least a step up from the cramped quarters the commission usually resides in at its headquarters in the civic center. She also applauded the decision to have Mandarin, Cantonese, and Spanish translators on hand for those who needed them to testify. But she said the combined hearings still presented a major issue. “Call it two steps forward, one big step back,” she said.

The city maintains that it had no choice but to schedule the meetings together because of the constraints of the land review process, which carries a timeline for each step of the public review with strict deadlines, and that there has already been much public debate of the issues. “These are enormously important projects for the communities in which they exist,” Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development Robert Lieber, who is overseeing the two Queens projects, said in a statement. “Delaying these important public hearings will do nothing to increase public input, and having them on separate days will only make it more difficult for those who want to speak to more than one of them.”

Still, the commission certified the two Queens plans on April 21, three weeks before the certification of the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning on May 5. Asked why this was not taken into consideration, or why Willets Point, arguably the most contentious of the three plans, was being heard last, Raynoff declined to comment.

Whatever the reason, even those going first can sympathize. “If I was from the other two, I’d be concerned about speaking, too,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager for Manhattan Community Board 3, much of which will be affected by the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning. She also said the city promised her that her constituents would have as much time as they needed to speak. If previous rezonings are any indication, their testimony alone could take most of the day.

Whatever happens tomorrow—and you can expect a full report from AN, barring a midnight or later conclusion, as some already fear—it may not ultimately matter. The plan remains opposed by a majority in the City Council, with local representative Hiram Monserrate leading the fight from the start. Today, 31 members sent a letter [text] to the commission saying they are in “absolute opposition” to the Willets Point rezoning.

A spokesman for Monserrate, Wayne Mahlke, said the decision for a combined hearing is just the city’s attempt to strong arm the public. “The councilman is concerned that putting the three projects together is a way of pushing the project through without getting community input,” Mahlke said. “The city needs to correct the problems of the past and deal with these people who work here rather than pushing them aside once again.”