Search results for "affordable housing"

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Wonder Wheels at Work
Courtesy Coney Island Development Corporation

There may be light at the end of the long dark ride for Coney Island after all. For Joseph Sitt, of developer Thor Equities, it's no tunnel of love, but at least he hasn't been ejected from the Cyclone at top speed.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's announcement of the new Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) rezoning plan on November 8 put to rest local residents' concerns that a high-priced private complex would turn Stillwell Avenue into Vegas East. Dividing a 19-block, 47-acre district into three differently zoned segments, the CIDC aims to foster new residential and retail development in two areas further removed from the current Astroland and other attractions, and, in the Mayor's words, "to preserve the world's most famous urban amusement park in perpetuity" by mapping it as city parkland managed by a single specialist developer. In return, by de-mapping a site officially identified as parkland—but currently used only by Cyclones baseball fans as a parking lot for Keyspan Park—the city would give developers incentives to create a thriving new mixed-use neighborhood with connections to the boardwalk and the beach.

The proposal is essentially a land swap, with the public sector offering the property near the ballpark plus a negotiated subsidy that Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff estimated at probably tens of millions of dollars to obtain the land owned by Thor as part of a projected $1.5 billion investment. Mapping the Coney East amusement area (West Eighth to West 19th streets between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk) as parkland makes it harder for Thor simply to warehouse its holdings, wait for a successor administration that might favor its scheme, and lobby for zoning changes that would allow Sitt's complex to go forward. Should Thor hold onto its parcels (or flip them) instead of taking the city's offer, zoning will remain at its current C7 level, offering little incentive for construction. "The value that he will be offered [in Coney West] will be substantially greater than that," said Doctoroff, asserting that this win-win scenario should obviate eminent-domain proceedings. "One assumes," commented the mayor, "that Mr. Sitt is rational."

Instead of Thor's plan—visionary in its way, but unpopular with local business owners, community groups, and city officials alike—the CIDC plan preserves what planning chair Amanda Burden called the essence of Coney Island: "It has to be open, accessible, and affordable." Under the new plan, Coney would feature year-round, all-weather attractions such as water rides and a modern ice rink; an open-air performance space; a high-speed roller coaster winding through the district (echoing early designs executed for Thor by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn and Thinkwell); and some 4,500 new apartments, 20 percent of them affordable. High-rises will be allowed outside Coney East, with height limits respecting the Parachute Jump. Changing what Bloomberg repeatedly called "outdated zoning" will allow 100,000 square feet of new retail space in Coney North (bounded by West 20th Street and Stillwell, Mermaid, and Surf avenues) and 360,000 square feet in Coney West (south of Surf to the boardwalk, between West 19th and West 24th). Upzoning along Surf will create an additional million square feet of new entertainment-related retail, including hotels and restaurants. Noting that C7 zoning bans sit-down dining in Coney East, Bloomberg commented that after all these years, "Nathan's would like some company." Parking for Keyspan Park will be integrated and a new street network will replace superblocks, enhancing sightlines and beach access. Overall, Bloomberg projects $2.5 billion in private investment in Coney over the next decade, creating 3,000 permanent jobs and 20,000 construction jobs over 30 years.

The mayor's projections for Coney East remained cautiously hypothetical. Along with Doctoroff, Burden, and assorted commentators, he acknowledges the need for substantial work before new features begin to appear. The city needs to consult with the community about details of the RFP; select a master developer with amusement expertise; negotiate terms with Thor and other landowners, possibly integrating some existing attractions into the park; undergo ULURP; obtain state approval to demap Coney West; and explore mass transit options to handle the residential influx. Not surprisingly, Bloomberg stressed the value of his congestion pricing plan as a feasible funding source. DCP's timetable sets an initial public scoping meeting for January 2008 and projects a complete ULURP by summer 2009. Bloomberg expressed a wish to have developers begin work before he leaves office in 2009 and estimated an end date ten years away.

Community Board 13's Chuck Reichenthal says the plan is "pretty damn close to what we initially had worked out with the [2005] Strategic Plan. It's open; it's still a people's playground." Phil DePaolo, however, a community organizer working with the Save Coney Island group, expressed concern over just how affordable the district will remain, both in the amusements and in residential areas. Affordable housing may be little help to many, he says, if it is based on citywide rather than local Area Median Income. The new Coney is likely to spur displacement in as-of-right areas just outside the new zones. "Three blocks over, there are no rules, so that's where [gentrifying developers] are going to go," DePaolo observed. "Once you put density in an area, the city tends to allow the density to expand. The city grants variances like water. These are all the trickle-down mechanisms that people don't look at; they just say, 'Oh, good, no towers on the boardwalk.'"

Meanwhile, Coney Island USA's Dick Zigun, the seersucker-suited "Mayor of Coney Island," is still feeling optimistic these days, calling the plan brave and visionary.

Urban Jungle to Get Denser

On August 7, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed the Downtown Planning Ordinance. Initiated by the Department of City Planning, the measure is part of a concerted effort to update and urbanize planning codes that were appropriate for postwar suburban developments, but woefully out of sync with the current needs of the city and its ever-increasing population.

The ordinance is also expected to create more highrise density downtown as well as more affordable housing by offering a 35 percent floor-area-ratio (FAR) bonus as an incentive for developers to include affordable units.

News of the ordinance’s passing set off a flurry of newspaper opinion pieces and letters from readers, critics, and urban planners, some of whom bemoaned the notion that LA was falling victim to “Manhattanization,” a term used during the 1960s by critics of San Francisco’s highrise developments. Others applauded the city council’s effort to steer LA toward a denser, vertical profile, accusing critics of being “urbanphobes.”

In the LA Downtown News, urban design critic Sam Hall Kaplan wrote, “Interestingly, the paramount concern of our persistent ‘urbanphobes’ is not about making these developments more accessible and pedestrian friendly, nor how to provide more housing choices, nor how to offer more inviting parks and public spaces. Rather, what apparently worries them, and many others in Southern California, is the ogre of traffic.” 

Scott Johnson, principal at Johnson Fain, a downtown-based architecture firm, said that any move toward more density and mixed land use is a good thing. But he considers it only one part of the total equation. “We need to see sustainability, affordable housing, and expanded use of public transportation happening at the same time as density,” he said. “LA is really behind on every one of these fronts.”

Even while LA is expanding its transit system to the further reaches of the metropolitan area, only about 12 percent of new residents in downtown, the public transit hub for greater LA, say they use the train or bus.

What most concerns Beth Steckler, policy director at Livable Places, an affordable housing and environmental advocacy group in downtown LA, is not public transportation or density but the lack of available affordable housing downtown.

“The real purpose of this [Downtown Planning Ordinance] is to streamline market-rate housing in highrises,” she says. Steckler argues that there are too many ways for developers to get around applying FAR bonuses toward affordable units. Livable Places proposed alternatives to the incentives detailed in the ordinance, which among other things would require higher percentages of affordable housing units than currently accepted by the city council.

Clearly, LA has a long way to go before reaching a consensus, and even further to a skyline of Manhattan-like density, if that’s even desirable. But what is apparent is the public’s ongoing interest in the debate, particularly on matters concerning the city’s unrelenting transportation woes. “The public is ready,” says Johnson. “We’re beginning to change.”

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A Spoonful of Sugar
Courtesy Landmarks Preservation Commission

Despite calls from some preservationists to protect more of the sprawling Domino Sugar Refinery adjacent the Williamsburg Bridge, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated only three interconnected buildings at the center of the site at its weekly meeting on September 25. The decision paves the way for the New Domino, a mixed-income development designed by Rafael Viñoly that will occupy much of the refinery’s land.

In an interview, LPC chair Robert Tierney said the commission had to balance preserving North Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront while still serving its current residents. “On the merits, this is clearly the way to go,” he said. “Assuming there are no other constraints—an unlimited budget, no housing, the community didn’t care—then it would be great to save everything, but you have to be realistic.” Part of the reason the community cares so much and wants to only preserve part of the refinery is that nearly a third of the New Domino’s 2,200 units will be affordable for low- and moderate-income families.

Not all of the complex could be saved while making room for such an ambitious project. The commission decided to keep the pan, finishing, and filter houses, which comprise the massive brick structure that is the heart of the complex, both historically and visually— it is the oldest intact portion of the complex as well as the tallest, with a 210-foot smokestack. It should make a nice counterpoint to a the 30- and 40-story towers that will rise beside it. (“How Sweet It Is,” AN 13_08.01.2007).

Some preservationists, however, see this decision as a whitewash job. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, applauded the Domino designation but said he wishes more could have been saved to better convey the history of the refinery. He was also concerned that the newer buildings could overpower the older ones. “Ten years from now, we’ll look at that, and will anyone understand what it was?” he said of the refinery. “We’ll have part of it, but is that enough? Is this really the purpose of preservation?”

Tierney did emphasize that the commission considered all buildings on the site and maintained only those worthy of preservation. This, however, does not include the concrete Bin House that has held aloft the iconic yellow neon Domino Sugar sign since 1960. (The developer has said it intends to keep the sign in some fashion.)

The 19th-century Adant House, which has been repeatedly modified, will not be saved. Neither will the many warehouses that line the site, which no one has campaigned for specifically. “The difficulty is not that we didn’t do enough,” Tierney said. “It’s that we did any preservation at all. It may seem like a given, but it is very possible nothing could have been saved. They’re going to keep the buildings that count.”

But which buildings count is a matter of debate, even for Tierney, given his statements during the September 25 meeting. “If sugar was king in Brooklyn,” he said at the time, “the former Domino complex for decades was its crown.” Does that then mean that only a handful of jewels have been saved?


421-a Deal Struck

For a moment, it seemed like the months of hard work spent transforming the 421-a tax abatement program into an engine for affordable housing would come crashing down. After the program emerged from the State Legislature in late June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt his plan had been so changed that he asked the governor to veto it if no compromise could be reached. And as often happens in Albany, a last-minute deal was struck on August 7, “a positive result for affordable housing in New York City,” said the mayor in a statement.

“I’m happy with the final outcome of the bill,” said Assemblyman Vito Lopez, architect of the bill the mayor opposed. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we’re happy.” Namely, the city’s demands for middle-income housing have returned, whereas Lopez wanted the program to only benefit low-income families.

Some New Yorkers are still missing what they most wanted, though. Under the June bill, Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) Atlantic Yards development received what critics are calling a “carve out” that could have netted the developer $300 million. Even though he is a supporter of the project, the mayor had threatened to revoke city funds, arguing that Ratner’s windfall would be the city’s loss. Instead, he balked and knocked the subsidies down to $200 million with the guarantee that affordable housing would be built during each phase of the project instead of at the end, when critics claim Ratner could renege on promises due to lack of funds.

For Atlantic Yards opponents, the deal still goes too far. “The provision is giving Bruce Ratner a tax break no one else can get,” said Dan Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “It’s just a little bit smaller, but he shouldn’t have it at all. The mayor said that, ACORN said that, everybody said that.” Neill Coleman,spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said the city won appropriate concessions from FCR, and the deal made sense. "This restores its position very close to where it was before the City Council passed its bill” in December," Coleman said of Atlantic Yards. “Back then, it was not in the exclusion zone.”

Central to the debate are the boundaries of the zones that are excluded from eligibility. The 421-a program, created in 1970 to spur residential development in a beleaguered city, was so successful in parts of Manhattan where the market was strong, an exclusion zone was established. To gain tax breaks within those areas, developers had to create affordable housing equivalent to 20 percent of the units in the project.

Mayor Bloomberg decided two years ago to expand these zones to encourage affordable housing, which would now have to be built onsite within an exclusion zone that would encompass most of Manhattan, and the Brooklyn/Queens waterfront. The City Council expanded that zone, as did the legislature. Lopez expanded the zone to all of Manhattan, and every borough has one. Developers outside the exclusion zone still receive the tax abatement as-of-right.

The Bloomberg administration hopes to negotiate the exclusion zone when the legislature reconvenes next year—they think the latest additions will see a lack of necessary development—but the city is happy with its larger victory, the inclusion of middle-income projects like Queens West and Willets Point. Now developers must make a percentage of units affordable to 90 percent of the area mean income, though this is actually an average that extends between 120 percent and 60 percent. “It’s one-for-one,” Lopez said. “For every middle-income unit, there will be a working-class one.” Coleman estimates this will help realize 10,000 units the city had planned but feared lost under the new rules. 

Sunnyside Shines at LPC

After five years of intensive work by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), during which neighbors battled over issues ranging from owner’s rights and affordable housing to architectural details and historical precedent, the LPC voted 10-0 this morning to designate Sunnyside Gardens as a historic district. This makes Sunnyside Gardens the seventh and largest historic district in Queens.

“I feel particularly privileged to present Sunnyside Gardens for landmarks designation,” LPC chairperson Robert Tierney said while introducing the vote at a public meeting. “As we’ve seen, Sunnyside Gardens is one of the most significant planned communities in the city.” He added, “I believe Sunnyside Gardens expresses a special sense of place. When you walk around its streets and gardens, you experience a distinct part of the city.”

Conceptualized as a model of quality affordable housing for working-class families, Sunnyside Gardens was built from 1924 to 1928. Designed by Clarence Stein and Frederick Ackerman with the support of Alexander Bing, a real estate executive in charge of the City Housing Corporation, Sunnyside Gardens was intended as an experiment in architectural, urban, and community planning, one that has been copied nation- and worldwide. Urban critic Lewis Mumford lived there from 1925 to 1936 and often wrote fondly about the neighborhood.

Stein and Ackerman were forced to work within the existing street grid, comprised of long, narrow plots on the south side of the Sunnyside rail yards, but the architects used this to their advantage, pushing their one-, two-, and three-family townhouses to the lot line and sewing the resulting backyards together into community gardens. “The system of shared backyards was a breakthrough, proof that the public and private could coexist to the betterment of both,” LPC commissioner Diana Jackier noted. Two of the nine commissioners at the meeting admitted to having studied Sunnyside Gardens in architecture school, an education that helped strengthen their decisions.

In recent years, fences and additions have sprouted in these backyards next to herb gardens and towering trees that have flourished over the neighborhood’s 80-plus years. Though extant features will be grandfathered, landmarks designation seeks to preserve these gardens as close to their original designs as possible, as well as the Art Deco and colonial revival buildings themselves, which are not protected under the current Special Planned Community Preservation District. This distinction is where the acrimony begins.

“They’re going to tell me what color to paint my door?” Sunnyside Gardens resident Joseph Licalsi asked a reporter after the vote. “They’re going to tell me what windows to install? I bought this house to be a homeowner, not a custodian.” Licalsi said he has owned his house for 20 years but would never have bought it were he faced with the current constraints.

Ira Greenberg, a local attorney working for the Preserve Sunnyside Gardens Coalition, said the LPC is “missing the boat.” “They’re talking about sense of place. There’s no place for that in the law. The yards are protected in the zoning. They’ve been protected since 1974. What they’re doing is trying to protect the details of our houses. The American Institute of Architects guide to New York said the design is unimportant.” The actual passage states, “The architecture is unimportant, but the urban arrangement a source of urbane delight.”

Though the LPC’s 50-seat meeting room in the Municipal Building was filled with angry neighbors waving signs that read, “Don’t Landmark Sunnyside Gardens,” the commission said a majority of the community supported the initiative because it would protect a neighborhood being eroded by curb cuts and fences. “I’m very much in favor,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, which helped spearhead landmarks designation.

For many, the change was necessary. “Right now it’s been very complicated,” Laura Heim, a resident and local architect said of the houses she has worked on in Sunnyside Gardens under the community preservation guidelines. “The new plans will be clearer. It should be easier to work on.” But opponents insist what was once an affordable neighborhood will continue to become inaccessible. “Slate roofs and Hudson brick? Those were used in the past because they were cheap,” Greenburg said. “But it’s certainly not cheap now.” LPC spokesperson Lisi de Bourbon responded, “It’s not a foregone conclusion that anything will be more expensive.”

Tax Breaks?

Williamsburg assemblyman Vito Lopez considers himself a crusader for affordable housing, driven largely by his front row seat to the vagaries of gentrification. To further this mission, Lopez helped pass a new version of the 421-a residential tax abatement program in the Legislature on June 21, where it drew votes from all but two senators.

City officials, however, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine Quinn, are galled by what they see as last-minute changes Lopez wrote into the bill. Both have called on Governor Eliot Spitzer to veto it, though Neill Coleman, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), said the city hopes to negotiate instead. “What we’re looking to do is try and get changes made before it goes to the governor’s desk,” he said.

421-a refers to a section of the real property tax code created in the 1970s to encourage large-scale residential construction in the city by abating taxes for up to 20 years. In 1985, an exclusion zone was created in central Manhattan that required developers to include 20 percent affordable housing to secure tax breaks, resulting in 10,000 affordable units over 20 years.

Last year, the mayor convened a task force to reconsider the plan. As once-downtrodden neighborhoods succumbed to gentrification, developers were able to use 421-a to fund luxury housing, and this has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. A version of the mayor’s plan, which greatly expanded the exclusion zone, passed City Council on December 28 (“City Revises Property Tax Program,” AN 01_01.17.2007).

Coleman said three things are at issue in Lopez’s bill, the most prominent of which is a clause that includes Atlantic Yards in the program. The deal could net Forest City Ratner $300 million, according to HPD numbers. “It’s $300 million they don’t need,” Coleman said.

Expansion of the exclusion zone to cover additional neighborhoods also drew fire from the city. The task force determined that many areas in the city still need to increase the amount of available market-rate housing, otherwise development could be stifled, and that 421-a is a crucial financing tool. Lopez said he canvassed his colleagues, and those interested in joining the exclusion zone were included. “If it means less development, so be it,” Lopez told AN. “In these neighborhoods, we want affordable development.”

Finally, HPD objects to a provision that prevents projects with “significant government assistance” from receiving 421-a benefits, arguing that it could hamper the city’s plans for middle-income projects such as Queens West, from receiving tax abatements. Coleman said it could stall 10,000 units currently underway.

This final dispute underscores Lopez’s position on 421-a. “I’m in support of many, many middle-income areas, but if I had to choose, I’d choose affordable housing,” he said. In short, middle-income housing is not the same as affordable housing. Jonathon Rosen, a spokesman for ACORN, points to many of Lopez’s under-publicized achievements in the bill: the extension of units’ affordability from 20 to 40 years, requiring unionized labor, and lowering the income threshold to benefit the poor. “This is public money,” Rosen said. “It should serve a true public purpose.”

Growing Pains

Columbia University is expected to submit its official rezoning plans for a proposed expansion into Manhattanville to Manhattan Community Board 9 this month, a plan the board and local residents have vocally opposed. There is little support beyond a few student activists, but on April 1, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer lent the opposition some much needed support when he announced rezoning plans of his own intended to protect the interests and assuage the fears of Columbia’s future neighbors without impinging directly on the university’s plans.

Those plans, developed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore Owings & Merrill and released in July 2003, call for as many as 18 glass towers the on 17 acres bounded by 125th St., Broadway, 133rd St., and 12th Avenue, just north of Columbia’s main campus. Stringer’s proposal does not cross into this territory but instead surrounds it on three sides, stretching from the Hudson to Edgecombe Ave. between 125th and 145th streets. “We wanted to think beyond the footprint,” Stringer told AN. “How do you preserve the community so Columbia does not dominate West Harlem but coexists with West Harlem?”

The biggest concern for the borough president’s office is controlling gentrification and maintaining the neighborhood’s distinct character. In a study released as part of the zoning proposal, Stringer’s office found 22 percent of lots within its rezoning area to be residential “soft sites,” which are considered ripe for redevelopment because they are built below their potential floor area ratio (FAR). Furthmore, just over 50 percent could be soft sites if developed as community facilities, which allow developers to increase the FAR in exchange for public amenities. Academic uses fall into this category.

The borough president’s solution is to downzone buildings within the special district to protect their lowrise character, commonly between four and six stories. If developers wish to build above this threshold, they must include concessions for affordable housing or smallscale, locally owned businesses. The hope is these measures will protect local residents and business owners from being displaced. “Part of this is we realize there will be development, which is good for the city,” Stringer said. “But we also have to protect the city for those who have made it what it is.” To that end, the proposal also stipulates harassment and demolition safeguards to prevent unlawful evictions and encourage adaptive reuse.

The biggest concern for residents below 125th Street is that Stringer’s special district does not include them, unlike a non-binding CB9 proposal, which extends to 116th Street. “Our concerns are that the immediate area to the south of the expansion area is not protected,” said Tom DeMott, who lives on Tiemann Place, half a block south of 125th Street. DeMott, who is also a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, said he gave Stringer the benefit of the doubt, but that he and his neighbors are still uneasy.

CB9 chairperson Jordi Reyes-Montblanc remains steadfast in his belief that the community will prevail in its fight against Columbia, with or without Stringer. “If the plan is not reflective in a complete way of the 197-a, the 197-c will not go very far,” he said, using the technical names for CB9 and Stringer’s plans. Like the borough president, Reyes- Montblanc insists locals are not opposed to Columbia, but he sees the university’s unwillingness to abandon eminent domain—Columbia controls two-thirds of the expansion zone while the MTAandVerizonownanother 20 percent—as a means of extortion that will not succeed. “We’ve had proposals for arenas, 75-story hotels, office towers, water-side condos, and all of them have been defeated,” Reyes-Montblanc said. 

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Editorial: Affordable Housing Matters
Courtesy Behnisch Architekten / Transsolar

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Dialogue: Shaun Donovan & Gwendolyn Wright

In March, the Department of Housing Development and Preservation announced that it had reached the one-third mark in its initiative to develop and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing. To mark the occasion, AN asked housing historian and Columbia professor Gwendolyn Wright to sit down with HPD commissioner Shaun Donovan.

Gwendolyn Wright: What surprises you about working in city government?
Shaun Donovan: One of the most pleasant surprises has been that in a city so famous for politics, how un-political this administration has been. I think Rolling Stone did a profile of the mayor that said New Yorkers have an opportunity to see what government can be without politics, and it actually feels that way inside. It’s amazing how much support we have from the mayor and City Hall to stand up and say this is why we do what we’re doing. 

GW: Having lived in New York for the last 25 years, I can tell you it wasn’t always that way. What does that actually mean in terms of the way things work downtown?
SD: It has a broad set of implications, but there’s a piece of it that’s all about leadership. For example, Iris Weinshall [the recently-departed transportation commissioner] called me the other day and said, “You know what, we’re going to give you these seven parking lots.” For her to make that decision is actually a remarkable thing inside government, because what’s the upside for the transportation commissioner? Not a lot. Even though a given lot is only 25 percent full most of the time, she’s going to get yelled at by the local merchants because the people who use it can’t get to their shops as easily. To me, that says there’s a clear message from City Hall that affordable housing is a priority for the mayor.

GW: What is the role of the private market in the New Housing Marketplace initiative?
SD: That has been the single biggest challenge and opportunity here. When I arrived, the mayor had already started to shift the strategies towards recreating a market in places where there wasn’t one, such as the South Bronx and lots of Harlem. He did this through the New Housing Marketplace plan. I think the real shift that I’ve tried to make is to figure out how to harness the market, rather than recreate it. In affordable housing, a $5 million condo can actually be your friend: It can be as simple as building a few market rate units for the cross-subsidy they create for affordable ones. I think it has also meant that we have a broader opportunity to create mixed-income communities across the city than we did before. One of the great failures of housing policy has been to think about low-income housing as something dangerous that has to be separated out. We try to blur the lines as much as possible, and leveraging the market is really important in doing that. 




Donovan (top) and Wright.  
Aaron Seward
 
 

GW: It is interesting that the mayor and your agency speak about a marketplace, which is different from the market. When people invoke the market they tend to mean the upper tier of it, and how to keep those guys happy—and they’re pretty happy right now! But the marketplace is a circumstance where you have the realities of economics: many different prices, many different groups, and many different kinds of markets. You’re allowing New York to function like a city as opposed to a place defined by the market aspirations of a few major developers.

SD: Housing advocates often focus on how much money government is putting into something, but the levers that we hold in government are often much more powerful than the money. Inclusionary zoning is a perfect example of that. We’ve got million-dollar condos going up on the waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but we could never have thrown enough money at those projects to end up with what we’re getting, which is that 20 to 30 percent of these buildings are affordable. This is some of the most prime real estate available. The only reason it will be a truly integrated community is because we used the powers of zoning to say that there is a benefit to the marketplace, and we want the marketplace to flourish there. We’ll allow you to build taller, but if you do, you’ve got to give something back for that density.

GW: You seem quite interested in design innovations of various sorts. What are the possibilities for architects?
SD: At the simplest level, it’s about increasing our engagement in design and opening up the process to architects. I think [commissioner] David Burney has really done that for public work through the Department of Design and Construction, and I hope that we’re following that example. Look at all the entries for the New Housing New York competition we just held. I think it is the best example to date of a process that integrates architecture in a way that was not just about design, but about creating a sustainable community. We’re going to do more design competitions like that, but we can’t do it on every single project. It was an enormous effort and expense, but there are a lot of principles that we can integrate into our smaller projects. 

GW: One of the things that you’re doing, which is unusual and wonderful, is challenging architects to imagine and innovate in new ways.
SD: I think there has been a mutual fear within affordable housing and the architecture community about the failure of design in public housing. I strongly believe that design gets a bad rap for lots of other failures, most of them around the social makeup of a project or its financing, all of which have fed into the disintegration of many public housing communities. There’s disillusionment about the possibilities of architecture. I worry about the retreat into traditionalism and contextualism as a way of repairing that. In this competition, we had a long discussion about whether the city was ready for a tower in the park that wasn’t the traditional model. 

GW: I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of architects have felt that housing in general, beyond very expensive luxury housing, tied their hands; there was a demand that it be traditional because then it would seem familiar and somehow ease over all the social problems. It’s almost modernism in reverse. How do you think we can open up a definition of housing beyond the accretion of units in some kind of block or bar?
SD: I think a lot of that is thinking about urban design as part of the work that we do. If you look at Arverne [Arverne Urban Renewal Area, Far Rockaway, Queens] we’re essentially creating new towns there. Our relationship with City Planning is so much stronger than it once was.  

GW: Let me shift a little and ask you about homeownership. It’s emphasized in a lot of the literature put out by the Bloomberg administration. It’s also becoming more controversial due to the problem of subprime mortgages. Homeownership is not the right thing for everyone. What do you see as the advantage of homeownership?
SD: We just reached a record high of homeownership in New York City: 33.3 percent, though it’s the lowest rate of any metropolitan area in the country. We’ve created close to 20,000 low-income homeowners through the limited-equity properties we created through cooperative programs. These were city-owned buildings that we took in foreclosure, renovated, and sold for $250 a unit to the residents. That’s an incredible amount of equity that’s been created for low-income people, and has built a stable financial existence for them. In that sense, I think it’s an increasingly important tool that works within the marketplace. It will never be our primary strategy, but is an important piece of the overall strategy. 

GW: There are several exhibitions on Robert Moses in the city right now. He’s a controversial example of someone not elected to office who exercised enormous political power over the environment, social services, transportation, and housing. What does he teach political figures today?
SD: This goes back to my earliest experiences in government, when I realized the importance of balancing public consensus with moving ahead consistently. That balance is probably the single most important thing that a public servant can achieve, but it is extremely difficult to do. I think it’s very clear that Moses was too far on one side of the spectrum. There was no respect for the importance of building consensus. On the other hand, I think this administration has tried to move toward big things again. Look at Williamsburg: It’s two miles of waterfront. It’s not about small plans. A lot of it is about setting a framework for growth that has an organic quality. The city is a living organism and we have to think of it in that dynamic way. We can’t freeze New York at any time. We have to be ready for change.

Grimshaw to Green The Bronx

A brownfield in the South Bronx is about to be greened, thanks to a sustainable housing competition conducted by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and AIA New York. An architect-developer team consisting of Grimshaw Architects, Dattner Architects, Phipps Houses, and Jonathan Rose Companies won the competition with a proposal to design 202 units of housing along with commercial and open space on a long, narrow 60,000-acre site. The city is giving the property, a vacant lot and abandoned rail right of way, to the development team for $1 to underwrite the project’s affordability requirement.

Named Via Verde, or the Green Way, the project includes an 18-story tower, midrise units, and townhouses, “threaded like a ribbon through the site,” said Vincent Chang, senior architect at Grimshaw’s New York office. More than half of the housing, which is a mix of rentals and units for sale, will be reserved for low-income residents, with the remaining portion set aside for moderateand middle-income residents.“We were keen to create a sense of continuity across unit types,” he said, though the facades of each building volume will use varied materials in a prefabricated, extra-insulated cladding system.

The buildings are arranged around the perimeter of the site, creating a courtyard in the middle. Green roofs and gardens are designed for each building, and the terraced building heights allow for travel between each building volume. Geothermal groundloops for heating and cooling, photovoltaics, daylighting and cross ventilation, and an on-site farmer’s market will be employed so that the project can achieve LEED Gold certification. While this might seem like using every trick in the green bag, Chang stressed that the approach is “holistic.” Practical steps such as granting residents control over the HVAC systems in their units so they can better monitor their individual energy usage combine innovative sustainable technology with thrift and common sense.

“We thought a lot about the sense of community and vibrancy in an urban environment,” said Chang, “however, in those environments access to nature is often lacking, so that really became the driving force of the design.” The team is working with the landscape architect Lee Weintraub to design a series of passive, productive, and recreational gardens, green roofs, and open spaces that will be open to every unit, which will also provide insulation and reduce storm water run-off.

The Grimshaw/Dattner/Phipps/Rose team prevailed over four other notable teams, including: Rogers Marvel with BRP Development Team and the Bluestone Organization; Magnusson Architecture and Planning and Kiss + Cathcart with the Dermot Company, Nos Quedamos, and Melrose Associates; Behnisch Architekten and studioMDA with seg, Full Spectrum, and Hamlin Ventures; and Cook + Fox with Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation and Durst Sunset. Thirty-two architect-developer teams responded to the request for qualifications, which were reviewed by a jury that included Enrique Norton, principal, TEN Arquitectos; David Burney, Commissioner New York City Department of Design and Construction; Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr.; and Shaun Donovan, commissioner of HPD.

“Any project that adds this many units of affordable housing is going to make its mark,” said Lance Jay Brown, a professor of architecture at CUNY and one of the competition organizers. “But we feel like we raised the bar and have begun to open up the debate as to what people can expect from affordable, sustainable housing.”

“We were so honored to be among the company of the finalists,” said Chang. “We can’t wait to get started.” Construction is expected to begin in mid 2008.
 

Jamaica gets Rezoned


Though much has changed in Jamaica, Queens, since 1961, one thing that has not is the zoning map. For the past five years, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has been hard at work on a new zoning plan to balance economic growth downtown while protecting the surrounding suburban streets from overdevelopment, while also emphasizing mass transit, sustainability, and affordability. The draft plan,which was released on January 29, will be the second largest rezoning in city history, encompassing 368 blocks.

“We call this strategy fine-grained zoning,” DCP commissioner Amanda Burden said in an interview.“We looked at every street and lot and block to find the existing use and look at what is appropriate for the strength of the neighborhood.”

The greatest strength in Jamaica, according to planners, is its transportation assets. The area is served by the F train along Hillside Avenue, and the E, J, and Z trains along Archer Avenue. The Long Island Railroad’s Jamaica Station serves 10 of the 11 LIRR lines and adjoins the new AirTrain Station,which combined serve more than 100,000 riders a day.DCP hopes that by increasing density around these transit hubs, it can encourage development without exacerbating Jamaica’s congestion problem.

Under the new plan, a high-density commercial and mixed-use zone will replace the industrial zone surrounding Jamaica Station. One-story repair shops and warehouses create a barrier between it and downtown Jamaica.Any displaced businesses will relocate to industrial zones in eastern and southern Jamaica,which will increase in density so as not to threaten business investment in the rezoned areas.

City planners also hope Jamaica’s access to John F.Kennedy Airport will attract corporations.“It will facilitate business centers from all over the world,”Burden said. “Travel-related, shipping-related—it can be anything that has to do with global business.” She added that the downtown area has potential for four million square feet of office space along with hotels and apartments.

The suburban streets that are so quintessentially Queens will be down-zoned to protect their character. The current zoning allows multistory apartments,which John Young, director of the DCP Queens office, described as backwards.“It actually encourages tear-down and build-up instead of preservation.”The new zoning will lower the densities to protect the detached and semidetached one- and two-family houses typical in the area.

To offset the loss of housing potential in these down-zoned neighborhoods, and again emphasize mass transit, densities have been increased as high as 12 stories along the major thoroughfares of Jamaica and Hillside avenues and Sutphin and Merrick boulevards. Limits have been placed on the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) along these corridors to encourage affordable housing for those who might be priced out the new development. Developers can only build out to the maximum FAR if they make 20 percent of units affordable or subsidize equivalent housing within a half-mile.

Planners have also tried to address the increased activity generated by new houses and businesses. In addition to the masstransit focus, some streets and sidewalks will be widened, new interchanges will be created, and below-grade parking will be required in the densest areas.

Local politicians familiar with the plan expressed a range of opinions on it. Councilor Leroy Comrie said,“We have to ensure that whatever plan is final protects whatever residential community it abuts.” He also raised concerns about flooding, given a high water table, but expressed general optimism toward the project.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was more skeptical.When asked what concerned her most about the plan, she said three things: “Traffic, traffic, and traffic.Not to mention parking.”

“We’re concerned about the little guy,” she added.“I’m not opposed to it, I’m just worried about overdevelopment. People come to Queens for the serenity and the backyards, for its calm nature.” 

New York's Policies Catch Up to Sustainabilty

New York City may not be the greenest American city, but a new law, a new building code, and new department in the Mayorrs Office aim to change that.

The first large-scale changes began last year when Local Law 86 was passed on October 3, 2005. (See sidebar.) For many city-funded projects, the law, which established green building practices for municipal construction, will take effect on January 1, 2007. Its impact, however, is already apparent, according to John Krieble, the director of Sustainable Design at the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The DDC serves as the managing agency for the construction projects of dozens of city agencies, from the Fire Department to the Department of Transportation, Libraries to Parks and Recreation; of its 400 active projects, which represent $2.4 billion, nearly 30 are expected to receive LEED certification. In the next year alone, the DDC will be kicking off 15 new LEED projectssequivalent to the total number of DDC-managed LEED projects completed in the last eight years.

BKSK Architectss design of the Queens Botanical Garden administration building, a DDC project, is on track to achieve the first LEED Platinum rating in New York state. The drive to go for
the highest LEED rating comes from client support. The reward
is in the bragging rights,, said Krieble. Though the rating does
not offer any monetary award, the public relations opportunities
can be significant..

Local Law 86 was not an easy victory for environmentalists; nor
is it as stringent as it could be. During its formation, for example, it met with resistance from the Carpenterss Union. The bill originally included a requirement for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)) certified wood products, which promote sustainable forestry; the union raised opposition because members felt it would diminish their work, so the stipulation was removed before the bill passed.

Still, the city is making a concerted effort to include environmental concerns in its future development. On September 21, Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability within his Office of Oper-ations. The new office, led by former McKinsey consultant Rohit T. Aggarwala, is charged with helping to develop a plan for the cityys long-term growth with sustainability in mind, and to make New York City a green operation,, according to a press release. Given its incipience, the office has yet to detail specific initiatives and would not comment for this article.

The Mayor has also convened a Sustainability Advisory Board, which met for the first time on September 27. Chaired by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the 17-member board includes architect Robert Fox, partner of Cook + Fox Architects, whose firm designed the Durst Corporation and Bank of Americaas One
Bryant Park, which is the first highrise in New York to seek LEED Platinum certification. The board also includes Ashok Gupta of
the Natural Resources Defense Council and Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association. The Mayorrs Office will also benefit
from a partnership with the Earth Institute of Columbia University, which will provide pro bono academic and scientific expertise.

In order for the city to prioritize its goals, it must first assess its current environmental impacts. With the looming threat of global warming, the city has taken first steps toward developing a greenhouse gas inventory, by measuring the carbon emissions
of all municipal operations, from the electricity consumption of
city buildings to the exhaust of city vehicles. The Mayor also announced an effort to measure the carbon emissions of the
entire city by March 2007.

Krieble would like to see this inventory used to develop baselines for carbon emissions against which reasonable targets for reduction can be established. He suggests helping city agencies
to work toward lowering their emissions by providing incentives
or access to revolving funds to enact necessary changes.

Raising the bar for municipal buildings and operations is
perhaps an obvious first step for any city with sustainability
goals. However, in a city like New York, where development is
dominated by private builders, itts almost more crucial to
establish policies that regulate or encourage green building practices. For the past few years, the Department of Buildings (DOB) has been working to revise the cityys building code, consistent with the efforts of many cities and states to adhere
to the International Code Councills (ICC) construction codes.
The state of New York adopted a version of the ICC codes in
2002; New York City stayed exempt from the process because
of its size and complexity. The current city building code, though often amended, was last overhauled in 1968. The DOB hopes
that the new codeeits first part was signed in December 2005,
and its second part will be submitted for approval in early 20077will reflect the density and high-rise capacity of New York.

As they currently stand, the ICC and NYCCs building codes do
little to promote green building practices. But Deborah Taylor,
AIA, LEED AP, who serves as the DOBBs executive director for special projects and MEA (Materials and Equipment Acceptance Unit), expects that we will see two major changes that will be unique to the New York City code. First, fee rebates may be offered for seven different types of achievement: energy conservation, renewable energy, water conservation, use of brownfield sites, construction and demolition waste-recycling, bicycle facilities, and achievement of LEED. The commissioner
will be able to draft specific standards to initiate the rebates,
which may apply to new construction, renovations, and existing buildings.

Second, the plumbing code could permit a water conservation
plan that, if approved, will make it possible to use graywater systems and waterless urinals, which are not permitted by the current code without special permission from the DOB. Provisions in the code could also establish green roof standards, to ease
their approval process. The new electrical code, passed into
law in 2001 and with an amendment before City Council, makes
it easier to build with photovoltaics by providing parameters that
were missing prior to the electrical codees own overhaul.

While our current code is not particularly green, we look
forward to passage of the proposed code and further greening
in the future,, Taylor acknowledged. New York, like all cities, is constantly looking at other cities for examples of good green practices. For example Houston is already using the ICC code.

Although the city lacks any formal green building incentive programs, New York became the first state to start a tax
incentive program in May 2000 through the New York State
Green Building Tax Credit (NYSGBTC), in collaboration with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Both offer multiple programs to offset energy modeling and other protocols like commissioning and
incorporating green strategies. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which administers the tax credits, began accepting applications for the first period of funds on September 30, 2002, and disbursed $25 million in seven credit component certificates,, which allow recipients to claim credits over five
. In 2005, new legislation was passed to provide another $25
million for tax credits; the DEC has until 2009 to accept
applications for the second period of funds that will be distributed from 2006 through 2014.

Asked if the city should consider mirroring the state policy, architect Chris Garvin, co-chair of the New York AIA Committee
the Environment, stated, Financial incentives are appropriate sometimes, but private industry can make money by saving energy and there is no need for the citizens to subsidize that. [Building green is] a smart way to do business.. However, in
cases where the ownerrs additional expense does not result in savings, incentives could help. For example, owners of buildings that hold water from the cityys overly burdened sewer system
do not typically receive a financial payback. Retaining water
in holding tanks on site burdens owner and helps the city, by reducing combined sewer outflows (CSOs) to our rivers.
Incentive should encourage this type of practice.

Though New York is clearly planning for the future now, in other parts of the country, city initiatives have already had a great
impact on their development. On February 22, 2000, the Seattle City Council approved the Sustainable Building Policy, part of the cityys Environmental Management Program. Under the policy,
new city-funded projects and renovations with over 5,000 square feet of occupied space must achieve a LEED Silver rating. According to the cityys 2005 five-year report, 38 projects were either completed, under construction, or designed to achieve a LEED rating. In the fall of 2001, Seattlees LEED incentive Program began offering $15,000 for LEED-certified buildings and $20,000
for a certification of Silver or above. A year later, the city released strategies for creating more sustainable affordable housing projects in a document entitle seaGreen: Greening Seattlees Affordable Housing. The initiative is part of the cityys Office of Housing and has resulted in the construction of 18 SeaGreen multifamily housing projects as of 2005. Seattle also encourages green roofs via financial incentives. By 2005, the city had
provided over $300,000 for design and consulting fees for LEED projects.

Chicago, too, has enacted several policies to encourage green building strategies. In November 2005, the city announced a new grant program for green roofs. Owners of residential and small commercial buildings may apply for a $5,000 grant to help with
the planning and installation of a green roof. In January 2006,
20 grants were awarded.

While New York is prioritizing green construction, for now, the current trends in green building are driven more by enlightened clients and architects than lawmakers. Though the Mayorrs Office may be feeling the pressure to catch up, the drive to change the building industry continues to come from the private sector.

Sarah Cox is a New Yorkkbased writer who has
worked Previously for Dwell and Architectural Record.

Local Law 86