Search results for "NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development"

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House in a Box

New York City issues first call for affordable housing requiring modular construction
New York City’s affordable buildings are now going up in blocks as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0 plan released late last year. The more ambitious sequel to 2014’s original Housing New York, the new plan calls for a shift towards modular construction on affordable housing projects as a time- and cost-saving measure. Now, the first request for proposals (RFP) has been issued for a city-owned modular development. As reported by The Real Deal, NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) first issued the RFP for a modular, 100 percent affordable building in East New York on May 24. The L-shaped plot is owned by the city and covers approximately 49,397 square feet at 581 Grant Street, between Pitkin and Glenmore Avenues along Elder Lane, adjacent to the Grant Avenue A station. For the city’s first mandated modular project, HPD is looking to develop a mixed-use building with 100 percent of the units allocated for affordable housing across all income levels. Ten percent of the units will be set aside for the formerly homeless. Interested parties have until September 10, 2018, to submit their proposals. Modular construction has taken off in a big way as of late and is one of the many tools that the de Blasio administration wants to use to hit 300,000 units of new or preserved units of housing by 2026 (up from 200,000 units in the 2014 plan). Boston is gearing up to open a new modular unit factory, and modular design/build start-up Katerra is continuing its impressive expansion across the West Coast. AN will follow this article up after a team for 581 Grant Street has been selected.
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Sumner Vacation

An exclusive look at Studio Libeskind's first New York City building
Daniel Libeskind has been a New York City resident since his teenage years, but, as has been noted, the acclaimed architect has yet to realize a ground-up project there. That may be about to change, as Studio Libeskind has released renderings of its geometric Sumner Houses Senior Building, set to rise in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The collaboration between Libeskind and the city is part of the broader Housing New York 2.0’s “Seniors First” program, a commitment to build affordable senior housing on land owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The move was first announced in a January press release where NYCHA, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) jointly announced four new partnerships under its 100% Affordable Housing program, its NextGen Neighborhoods program, and its FHA Vacant Homes program. Libeskind has been tapped to design senior housing on the western “site 2” parcel of the Sumner Houses superblock, a NYCHA-owned plot on the northern edge of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The 10-story, 129,928-square-foot apartment building will hold 197 permanently affordable units, along with over 10,000-square feet of ground-level community space for residents along Marcus Garvey Boulevard. “I am extremely grateful and inspired by this opportunity to contribute to the Bed-Stuy community,” said Libeskind in a statement sent to AN. “I believe I can speak for our entire team that our goal is to serve the senior community by creating homes that give a sense of civic pride and create more much needed affordable housing in New York City.” The firm’s design is a definite break from the boxy brick buildings commonly seen in affordable housing throughout the neighborhood. Libeskind has taken a more geometric approach, twisting and cutting away at the typical rectangular form to create an almost crystalline structure. According to Libeskind, the alternating open and solid elements and series of lifts and cuts are meant to create a lively interaction with the street and surrounding area. The building’s mass twists and lifts as it rises, and the double-height, glazed entrance lobby should give expansive views of the surrounding Sumner Houses block. Inside, corridor sightlines have been aligned to look inward on a central public courtyard. Construction on the Sumner Houses Senior Building should be complete in 2020. A comprehensive fact sheet on the building's affordability breakdown can be found here.
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A Hagadol Deal

Senior housing to rise around fire-ravaged Lower East Side synagogue
Developer Gotham Organization and local nonprofit Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) have teamed up to build almost 500 units of new housing across two buildings on the site of a burned-down Lower East Side synagogue. The group presented its plans to Manhattan Community Board 3 this week, eight months after a fire destroyed Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, a landmarked 167-year-old house of worship on Norfolk Street between Grand and Broome streets. In the proposal, the first building, a ten-story structure on the southeast corner of Norfolk Street, would host 88 affordable senior apartments, spread over 73,000 square feet and cantilevered over the synagogue ruins. A second, 30-story building at Suffolk Street, the next block east, will sport 400 apartments, of which one-quarter will be permanently affordable. New York's Dattner Architects is the architect, although the firm has not yet filed its tower plans with the Department of Buildings (DOB). Although Gotham will manage the development via a 99-year lease, the CPC, which serves the Chinese community in New York City, will retain ownership of the parcel behind the ruined shul. As part of the deal, Bowery Boogie reported the nonprofit will own a 40,000-square-foot commercial condo that will serve as its headquarters. Meanwhile, documents submitted to CB3 show Beth Hamedrash Hagadol's congregation will have access to a 5,000-square-foot–plus commercial condo in the 30-story building. Plans also call for almost 22,000 square feet of new retail on Broome Street and in the taller building's basement, while a new outdoor space will be open to senior residents, the congregation, and the CPC. In July of last year, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the partial demolition of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, citing the structure's instability post-fire. Although the owner had originally sought to demolish the structure entirely, two engineering teams declared the south and east facades repairable, and the LPC approved a resolution that requires the owner to salvage significant architectural features where possible. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reached out to CPC and Dattner for more details on the design. Via CPC, a spokesperson for Gotham told AN that the designs at the community board meeting were just ideas, and that the cantilever proposal may change. The design must undergo a lengthy approvals and community engagement process ahead of a groundbreaking that's slated for late 2019.
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Harlem Rezoned

Sweeping East Harlem rezoning greenlights a wave of new development
After rounds of contentious public hearings and protests from those on both sides of the debate, the New York City Council unanimously approved a wide-ranging rezoning for the East Harlem neighborhood on November 30th, as well as the 750,000-square foot, mixed-use Sendero Verde development. The latest rezoning plan covers a 96-block area from East 106th Street to East 138th Street and is meant to address the looming affordable housing crisis facing the neighborhood. Proponents of the move have said that East Harlem, where half of all residents are rent-burdened, or spend more than one-third of their income on rent, will lose 200 to 500 units of affordable housing per year without intervention. Officials from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development have argued that, by allowing higher density development, mandatory inclusionary housing requirements will be triggered and necessitate that 20 to 25 percent of the units in new developments will be affordable. After Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Viverito formed a neighborhood plan in 2015 that laid out what the community wanted out of a potential rezoning, neighborhood groups and Community Board 11 later pushed back after they felt their recommendations had been ignored. A new deal, struck by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio before the final vote, now caps building heights at a maximum of 325 feet along the neighborhood’s transit corridors, to limit density and address pushback from East Harlem residents. Other than the new development limits, city officials included a $222 million investment into improving the lives of current residents, including a $50 million concession for New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) East Harlem buildings and $102 million for a new public park between East 125th Street and East 132nd Street. Still, some residents feel that the new deal doesn’t hew closely enough to the Neighborhood Plan, that the city should have taken rent-stabilized buildings out of the rezoning area, and that the definition of “affordable housing” will need to be more reflective of a neighborhood with a median income of $30,000 a year. Also on the City Council’s docket was the approval of the Handel Architects-designed Sendero Verde project, a 680-unit, fully affordable mixed-use development built to passive house standards. Anticipating that the rezoning would pass, Sendero Verde will occupy an entire block, from East 111th to 112th Street, between Park and Madison avenues. Although the development will replace four existing community gardens, it also includes a DREAM charter school, grocery store, YMCA, restaurant, and Mount Sinai-run health facility. East Harlem is already changing rapidly, with several new projects from well-known studios, such as Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) Gotham East 126th Residential having broken ground in recent months. The full, finalized list of changes made to the East Harlem rezoning plan can be read here.
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By Dattner

Here's the first big affordable housing complex slated for East New York
Today the City Planning Commission (CPC) heard development updates from East New York, the first city neighborhood to be completely rezoned under comprehensive affordable housing rules passed in 2015. To achieve the goals of the rezoning, the East New York Neighborhood Plan was approved in April 2016, and now, a year and a half later, there are 1,000 affordable units in the pipeline, plus an 1,000-seat school, and safety-in-mind streetscape improvements along major thoroughfares like Atlantic Avenue to link new developments together. The rezoned area spans 190 square blocks and is the first to apply Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a suite of rules that require a certain percentage of housing be designated as permanently affordable. In addition to building affordable housing, the East New York plan aims to preserve existing affordable units, while offering legal services to tenants, providing support to homeowners at risk of displacement, and transitioning families in the shelter system into local permanent housing. As far as new construction goes, the city estimates that 6,000 units of affordable housing will be built over the next 15 years. The latest—and largest—of these developments is Chestnut Commons, a 274-unit complex by Dattner Architects on a vacant city-owned site on Atlantic Avenue, near busy Conduit Boulevard. In the affordable housing world, Dattner is best known for Via Verde, an ecological housing complex in the South Bronx it completed with Grimshaw in 2012. Here, the New York City firm is kitting out a 300,000-square-foot complex, called Chestnut Commons, with solar panels, specially-glazed windows, natural lighting, and other design features from the passive house movement that improve building performance by minimizing solar heat gain and thermal bridging. In addition to shared roof terraces for tenants, amenities will include a black box theater operated by a local arts nonprofit, a kitchen incubator for jobs training, and a CUNY Kingsborough satellite campus. The ground floor of the 14-story building will sport retail spaces, and new streetscaping will connect the complex to a cleaned-up Atlantic Avenue corridor (map). The apartments will be geared towards families, though there's no word yet on the units' sizes. At the CPC meeting today, though, a representative from the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) confirmed the development will be 100 percent affordable. Half of the units at Chestnut Commons will be available to households making 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $51,540 for a family of three. After that, 15 percent of the units will be open to families making 30 percent of the AMI, 20 percent of the units will go to households at 40 AMI, and 15 percent will be available to those at 50 AMI. HPD is working with MHANY Management, the Urban Builders Collaborative, and the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) to develop the project. The levels of affordability were a major point of contention when the neighborhood plan was passed last year. According to a 2015 report from Comptroller Scott M. Stringer's office, more than half of the affordable units to be developed under the neighborhood plan are too pricey for current residents. (The mayor's office disputed the findings.) Last year, the city confirmed that any HPD-sponsored project in East New York will be 100 percent affordable to families earning between 30 and 90 percent of the AMI.
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beats haven

Hip-hop museum and affordable housing complex to rise in the South Bronx
Last Friday, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), along with the Departments of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Parks and Recreation (DPR), announced a massive new project in the South Bronx spearheaded by L+M Development Partners. Dubbed Bronx Point, the project is located on city-owned land on the waterfront of the Harlem River, and will include about 600 units of affordable housing in phase one (1,045 units total) as well as the nation's first brick-and-mortar hip-hop museum, officially called the Universal Hip Hop Museum. Among the founding members of the museum are recording legends Kurtis Blow and Rocky Bucano; its cultural ambassadors include Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, LL Cool J, and many other recognizable names. Law and Order: SVU's Ice T is on the board of directors. Executive Director Rocky Bucano said the museum's goal was to bring "hip-hop back to the Bronx where it originated from [...] it's gonna be a complete history of hip-hop." The site of Bronx Point is located adjacent to the 149th Street corridor, making it very transit-accessible. Additional plans for the property include a public multiplex theater, a waterfront esplanade extending to Mill Pond Park, an outdoor performance space, an incubator for small food vendors, and educational spaces in partnership with established organizations like Billion Oyster Project, City Science, and BronxWorks. The project is projected to produce over 100 new jobs (and 915 temporary jobs during its construction) during phase one alone. It also aims to incorporate sustainable building practices for LEED Gold certification. Once approved, phase one is slated for completion in 2022. The proposal for Bronx Point has entered the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) with the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Community Board 4 District Manager Paul A. Philps, and the City Planning Commission ... not to mention Detective Tutuola.
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AN Investigates

Landmarks cites nonexistent permits for iconic Citicorp Center plaza
Last month the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) sidestepped a crucial discussion of a developer's plans to overhaul a plaza at the Citicorp Center (now 601 Lexington Avenue), citing permits that were, in fact, never issued (Update 5/8/17: see note at bottom). The opaque and irregular approvals process for these renovations—detailed below—deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the landmarked Citicorp Center, one New York’s most essential late modern buildings. Those changes especially impact a plaza and fountain by Sasaki Associates, one of the firm’s only surviving works in New York. In March The Architect's Newspaper reported on the planned changes to the building, one of the city's newest landmarks. The 59-story tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977, commands a busy corner in East Midtown, Manhattan. The landmark designation includes three interrelated structures—a 59-story, 915-foot-tall office tower on the western portion of the site, a six-story mixed-use structure nestled into the main tower, and St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan—all connected by a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are privately owned but open to the public. At the Midtown East building, though, proposed changes to those spaces—known to city planners as POPS—have attracted attention.  The LPC put the Citicorp Center on its calendar for landmark consideration in May 2016, and, after one hearing on September 13, the commission declared 601 Lexington Avenue—three buildings and the POPS—a New York City landmark in December 2016. Typically, calendaring puts all renovations on hold—but not this time. In July of that year, just two months after calendering, the owner, Boston Properties, filed plans with the DOB for a $46.8 million renovation that included changes to the POPS and the six-story office-retail building at the base of the main tower. Fast forward to a March 21, 2017 hearing to discuss a proposed renovation, designed by Gensler, that included work on the building's facade. At this hearing, LPC commissioners twice stated that they couldn't comment on the plaza renovations because they were "already permitted" (5:38:01 and 5:41:40), while LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the owner "already got the permits" for the plaza reconstruction. But where are those permits? The permits the LPC referenced could only been approved by one agency: the Department of Buildings (DOB). For this project, the DOB approves development plans, while the Department of City Planning's (DCP) City Planning Commission oversees and approves changes to privately owned public spaces. Neither agency can approve major changes to a landmark or potential landmark without LPC approval. Today, a DOB spokesperson confirmed to AN that the agency rejected Boston Properties’ plans (just this week, in fact) but stated that the owner may file new plans at a later date. With no permits on file, was the LPC referencing approvals from City Planning? At the March 2017 hearing, the commission stated that, because the DCP oversees privately owned public spaces, any changes to the POPS had to be—and were already—approved by that department. That’s true: At DCP, public review of the project commenced September 14, 2016—a day after the LPC’s September designation hearing—and garnered departmental approval on November 2, 2016, months after the May calendaring and a little over a month before designation. This bizarre dialogue between Landmarks and City Planning left no opportunity for the public to comment on major changes to a landmarked public space. The LPC was unable to confirm what permits the commission was referring to at the March 2017 hearing, despite repeated requests. The designation report (PDF) confirms that the DCP has oversight over the POPS, but it incorrectly says Boston Properties received DOB approval to modify the sunken plaza. (The designation report contains an additional error: The Citicorp Center's calendaring is listed as August 9, 2016 but an LPC press release pegs its calendaring to May 10.) The DOB confirmed that it had not issued a permit for the renovation of the POPS at the site. With regard to the plaza changes, "I'm not sure what the Landmarks Commission thinks it is doing," said Michael Hiller, Esq. Hiller is the founding principal of Hiller, PC, a New York City firm that litigates zoning, preservation, and land-use issues. At press time, the LPC issued the following statement:
The application before the Commission on March 21st was limited to the building’s façade. The applicant represented to the Commission that they had valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza that pre-dated designation and, as a result, that portion of the work was not before the Commission. During the process, the Commissioner’s reference was based on the representation by the applicant. If there were no valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza issued prior to designation, the applicant would be required to obtain an LPC permit prior to the issuance of a DOB permit.
A site visit this week revealed that there is construction fencing surrounding the perimeter of the plaza, though the stair to the subway through the sunken plaza remains unimpeded. Signs show a Gensler rendering of the revamped plaza and office building, above, but the only permits posted are for work on the 29th floor: Boston Properties could not be reached for comment on the current status of the renovations or the approvals process. The changes that DCP approved in Boston Properties’ land use application would add benches and would not reduce the total area of the POPS's sunken plaza. (Technically, to the DCP, the plaza is an "open air concourse," an exposed area that sits more than 12 feet below-grade and provides access to the subway. Here, at its lowest, the tiered public space sits 13 feet below grade.) Its 6,000 square feet of tables, chairs, and concrete gave the Citicorp Center a FAR bonus of almost 59,000 square feet. In exchange, the public received six trees, 19 tables, 76 chairs, and a designer fountain, plus retail at the western edge of the concourse. The DCP-approved changes would add two tables, eight chairs, and 153 feet of benches to the count, and a new fountain would replace the Sasaki fountain in "approximately the same location." Among other changes, the plans call for a stairway from the concourse to the sidewalk would be widened, and repositioned to improved pedestrian circulation from the subway to the street. The land use review application says the changes would "improve public access, provide better circulation and connectivity, and create a more visible and vibrant Public Spaces [sic]." This fountain-for-fountain, space-for-space tradeoff is acceptable per City Planning but for preservationists, the thought of losing Sasaki fountain is devastating. “The Citicorp Center is about public space—that’s what makes it architecturally interesting and designation-worthy,” said preservation activist Theodore Gruenwald. “We are seeing all of these changes done very much behind the scenes, without public oversight.” Designed by Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, the Citicorp Center's plaza and fountain is just one of the city’s 333 POPS, the essential New York City micro-spaces that make public places out of office building plazas, atria, and concourses. Introduced as a development incentive in the 1960s, POPS let developers build taller than zoning allowed in exchange for open space. Recently, though, the public-ness of these public spaces has come under threat. The election propelled Trump Tower's inaccessible POPS into the limelight, and the loss of the Water Street arcades last year has further highlighted the vulnerability of POPS, especially those that are more marginal. Though not a POPS, the owners of SOM's landmarked One Chase Manhattan Plaza tried—and failed—to build three glass pavilions on the building's plaza, a move that would have segmented the public space and blocked views of a massive Dubuffet sculpture. Rule-breaking POPS have caught the attention of the law, too. This month the office of the New York City comptroller released the results of a POPS audit (PDF), which found that more than half of the city's privately owned public spaces did not provide mandated access or amenities (though the POPS at Citicorp Center was in-compliance—at least by this measure). UPDATE 5/8/17: The DOB initially represented to AN that there were no permits issued for the work on the sunken plaza and Sasaki fountain. On May 5, 2017, the agency informed AN that an ALT–2 permit to remake the plaza was filed on November 18, 2016 and issued on December 2, 2016. The LPC signed off on the permits that same day, four days before Citicorp's landmarking on December 6 and well after the conclusion of the public comment period. AN plans to update readers on this developing story.
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All Shook Up

Maria Torres-Springer to lead New York's housing agency; Vicki Been steps down
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that Maria Torres-Springer, current head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), will replace Vicki Been as commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The shakeup comes on the heels of Carl Weisbrod's decision earlier this month to leave his job as chair of the City Planning Commission for the Trust for Governors Island. (Unrelated to architecture and planning, de Blasio’s commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, Gladys Carrión, left her post last month.) “It has been an honor and privilege to lead HPD, and to be part of the Mayor's all-star housing team. We came in with a bold agenda to change the paradigm for how we grow as a city," Been said, in a statement. "We promised to produce and preserve more affordable housing than ever achieved, to reach New Yorkers at a broad range of incomes, and to work with communities to ensure neighborhoods are diverse, inclusive, and rich in opportunity. We’ve financed 62,506 affordable residences, including the highest three years of new construction in the city's history. We've changed the way we work to ensure that we achieve more affordable housing for every public dollar spent, and that our housing reaches the New Yorkers who need it most." Been, a law professor, is headed back to New York University to teach and will return to directing the university's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. Torres-Springer is leaving her role as president and CEO of NYCEDC. At the agency she spearheaded the nascent revamp of Spofford, a former juvenile detention facility in the Bronx, into a mixed-use development with a large affordable housing component. “Having grown up in Section 8 housing, I know first-hand that the work we do is a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of families," said Torres-Springer, in a statement. "Housing is the top expense for New Yorkers, and for far too many rising rents threaten their ability to stay in the city they love. I’ve spent my career helping people secure better jobs with better wages, and developing neighborhood projects that provide affordable homes and economic opportunity. Vicki leaves big shoes to fill, but I’m honored to have a chance to keep up the record-breaking progress she’s achieved." James Patchett, deputy mayor Alicia Glen's chief of staff, will succeed Torres-Springer at NYCEDC. Agency leaders will assume their new roles on February 6.
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Bronx Commons

WXY and Local Projects–designed theater included in new Bronx affordable housing complex
Today officials broke ground on Bronx Commons, an affordable housing complex designed by Danois Architects and WXY Architecture + Urban Design. The mixed-use development, in the South Bronx's Melrose, includes 305 affordable apartments and is developed by local nonprofit WHEDco and BFC Partners in conjunction with New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In a distinctive twist, the project is grounded by a 14,000-square-foot, 300-seat arts and cultural center and performance space. The Bronx Music Hall, which grew out of WHEDco's storefront music "lab," will bring programming to thousands annually and focus on nurturing the borough's artists. A public plaza and 22,000 square feet of retail at East 163rd Street rounds out the program. “As we build more and more needed affordable housing, there is no finer tribute to New York’s deep artistic history than including a music hall in this Bronx development," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement. "The projects will transform long-vacant City land into a vibrant cultural mecca and residential community for the borough and the City. I congratulate the Melrose community, and the future residents of this 100 percent affordable development." True to its diverse programming, the project is being executed by three different New York firms. Danois Architects is designing the housing, while WXY and Local Projects are designing the Bronx Music Hall. The latter firm specializes in interactive media design and its work anchors the new and stellar permanent exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. The 426,000-square-foot project is being built on vacant city-owned land, the last free parcel in the Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Area. The city is touting its "deep" affordability, with units for households making between 30 and 110 percent of the Area Median Income, or $22,032 and $89,760 for a family of three. The borough's median household income was $34,299 for 2015. This article appears on HoverPin, a new app that lets you build personalized maps of geo-related online content based on your interests: architecture, food, culture, fitness, and more. Never miss The Architect’s Newspaper’s coverage of your area and discover new, exciting projects wherever you go! See our HoverPin layer here and download the app from the Apple Store.
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Prison Break

A notorious former Bronx prison site to become affordable housing

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) recently unveiled plans to redevelop a former Bronx juvenile prison into a mixed-use development centered on affordable housing.

WXY architecture + urban design (WXY) is collaborating with Body Lawson Associates (BLA) to transform the infamous Spofford Juvenile Detention Center into the Peninsula, a $300 million project that will create 740 units of 100 percent affordable housing.

Claire Weisz, principal-in-charge of WXY, said that “no parts of the former prison [were] being reincorporated” into the development. “The goal is to create a campus that incorporates living and working to reimagine this promontory place in Hunts Point,” she added.

The rest of the team—Gilbane Development Company, Hudson Companies, and Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)—was chosen through a 2015 request for expressions of interest (RFEI).

The team is working with longtime neighborhood stakeholders like the Point CDC, BronxWorks, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, Urban Health Plan, Sustainable South Bronx, and others.

In 2014, Majora Carter—the urban revitalization activist and founder and former executive director of Sustainable South Bronx—partnered with AutoDesk to imagine alternatives to the Spofford site, which operated as the Bridges Juvenile Center when it was shuttered by the city in 2011 over appalling conditions and inmate abuse.

Along with the typical deliverables that come with a project this size—retail, community, and green space—the Peninsula will bring 49,000 square feet of light industrial space to the Hunts Point neighborhood.

Weisz said that “recreating and reconnecting the street grid” while “making a courtyard space [that] expresses the permeability and openness to the community” was a “priority of the team’s proposal.” Victor Body-Lawson, principal at Body Lawson Associates, added that the team “designed the courtyard as a hub that will foster interactivity between the community, residents, and visitors while melding commercial, manufacturing, and residential activities around a central space.”

In addition to providing housing, the plan integrates different types of workspaces, including artist work studios and light industrial space for Bronx-based businesses to both launch and expand. The Peninsula will host a business incubator, job training facilities, school space for pre-kindergarten (an on-site Head Start program will be incorporated into the project) and higher education, 52,000 square feet of open space, and an 18,000-square-foot health and wellness center operated by Urban Health Plan. “The housing and these work spaces will together create a lively and open addition to the neighborhood of Hunts Point,” said Weisz.

Food, too, is key to the Peninsula: The NYCEDC stated that in addition to a 15,000-square-foot supermarket, local favorites like Il Forno Bakery, Soul Snacks Cookie Company, Bascom Catering, and Hunts Point Brewing Company will be setting up shop in the development. According to Weisz, these “will serve as anchor tenants for the Peninsula because they provide access to fresh produce, offer health care services, and strive to be part of a larger vision that benefits their growing business and the community they serve.”

The five-building development is coming online in three planned phases: Phase one is expected to be complete in 2021, with phase two coming online the year after and the third phase set to open in 2024.

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Hunts Point

Former Bronx juvenile prison to become 740-unit affordable housing development
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) have unveiled renderings for plans to redevelop a former Bronx juvenile prison into a mixed-use development centered on affordable housing. WXY architecture + urban design (WXY) are collaborating with Body Lawson Associates (BLA) to transform the notorious Spofford Juvenile Detention Center into The Peninsula, a $300 million project that will create 740 units of "100 percent" affordable housing. Along with typical deliverables—retail, community, and green space—for a project this size, the Peninsula will bring 49,000 square feet of light industrial space to the Hunts Point neighborhood. The project is one of many mixed-use complexes cropping up in the borough: In May, Mastermind Development broke ground on a $117.7 million project in East Tremont and FXFOWLE's La Central in Melrose is moving forward. The development team—Gilbane Development Company, Hudson Companies, and Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)—was chosen through a 2015 request for expressions of interest (RFEI). The team is working with longtime neighborhood stakeholders like the Point CDC, BronxWorks, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, Urban Health Plan, Sustainable South Bronx, and others. In 2014 Majora Carter, the urban revitalization activist and founder/former executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, partnered with AutoDesk to imagine alternatives to the Spofford site, which operated as the Bridges Juvenile Center when it was shuttered by the city in 2011 over appalling conditions and inmate abuse. DNAinfo reports that a development team spearheaded by Carter was rejected in favor of the winning proposal. "The lack of diversity on the team chosen by NYCEDC to develop Spofford is not indicative of Mayor de Blasio’s much-publicized commitment to including minority businesses in the city’s contracting," Carter told DNAinfo. "Instead EDC selected a typical team composed exclusively of white men 'partnered' with uncompensated minority nonprofits to whom no transformative capital benefits will accrue." The five-building development is nevertheless coming online in three planned phases: Phase one is expected to be complete in 2021, with phase two coming online the year after, and the third and final phase set to open in 2024. In addition to providing housing, those facilities will host a business incubator, job training facilities, school space for pre-K (an on-site Head Start will be incorporated into the project) and higher ed, 52,000 square feet of open space, and an 18,000-square-foot health and wellness center operated by Urban Health Plan. Food is key to the Peninsula: According to the NYCEDC, in addition to a 15,000-square-foot supermarket, local favorites like Il Forno Bakery, Soul Snacks, Bascom Catering, and Hunts Point Brewing Company will be setting up shop in the development.
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Manhattan Transfer

Hudson River Park/Pier 40 deal reveals the tangled web of calculated collusion that shapes NYC
“Follow the money” is the immortal, if apocryphal, phrase uttered by Deep Throat, offering the key to unlocking the mysteries of Watergate. Understanding cities requires similar forensics. Urban morphology maps the flow of cash with concrete precision and the New York skyline is a literal bar graph of investment and return. The manufacture of real estate (what some quaintly refer to as “architecture”) is our leading industry and the art of the deal the epicenter of our creativity. Money not only talks, it designs and “planning” in most American cities is almost entirely devoted to refining the process of spatial arbitrage. There’s a project underway on the Manhattan waterfront that spins this tangled web with a remarkable combination of clarity and opacity, exposing the freakish calculated collusion of intentions and outcomes that shapes the city. The story begins in September 1985, when the death knell was sounded for Westway, a lunatic land manufacturing scheme to shove the Manhattan shoreline four hundred feet into the Hudson all the way from 40th Street to the Battery. Beneath this massive fill was to have been embedded an Interstate—the most expensive per mile ever constructed—replacing the terminally rusted West Side Highway. Planners were looking for the most extravagant scheme possible and were strongly supported by public officials (including Rockefeller, Koch, Cuomo the Elder, and Moynihan), the development community, and the construction unions. Visionary rhetoric and seductive greensward images notwithstanding, it was all about the money: The Feds would have picked up 90% of the $2.1 billion ($10 billion in today’s dollars) price-tag and the resulting 220 acres of new real estate—100 for a park and the rest a free-fire development zone—and would have been the most spectacular piece of physical fiscalization in the city’s history. But if the magnitude was singularly impressive, the impetus was widely shared. Cities all over the country had been committing urban suicide—ramming highways through their yielding tissues (often of color)—to get their hands on that government cash and New York—cresting in the Robert Moses era—had been an absolute champ. Westway was opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, mass transit advocates, community activists, and progressive pols but was finally killed by a Federal court ruling that its sponsors had failed to consider the landfill’s potentially adverse impact on the Hudson’s striped bass population. This narrowly-decided opinion nevertheless proved a turning point in the urban highway wars: In its aftermath, Bella Abzug–sponsored legislation allowed a trade-in of highway money for mass transit (to the great benefit of our subways, busses, and pedestrians) and other cities—from San Francisco to Seattle—began tearing down the waterfront highways, a continuing trend. Today, instead of Westway, we have a surface “boulevard” that—if billions cheaper, tree-lined, and lit by ornamental luminaires—is still too much of a surrender of this precious edge to traffic. Along the road’s waterside, though, runs the lovely, if incomplete, Hudson River Park which—while far from big enough to meet demand— offers great pleasures as it struggles towards durability and completion. Instrumentally, the park both reproduces and inverts the Westway principle. Westway proposed to use public funds simultaneously for public benefit (a highway and a park) and to create opportunities for the accumulation of private wealth, which would, in theory, yield further public return in the form of income from land sales and real estate taxes. The current park, on the other hand, although built substantially with public funds for public use, is not exactly a public work, inasmuch as it is obliged to finance its own future by directly attracting private capital. This parlous paradigm of the “public-private partnership” has, in our Republican age, become the default strategy for “public” development and has deeply embedded the culture of the trade-off (literal pay to play in the case of the park) in our civic life. The genius of progressive taxation for “general revenue” is that, in theory, it embodies that equitable proposition, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If the U.S. system is wildly distorted on both collection and distribution sides, ability and need are nominally meant to be determined democratically. Unfortunately, when democracy lurches towards plutocracy, the distortions on both ends grow to the inevitable detriment of public needs. As the system becomes more and more regressive, the question of public benefit is increasingly situated in the elective territory of philanthropy—optional altruism—rather than collective responsibility. A tax code designed to favor private fortunes (with the corollary commonweal reliant on trickle-down) begs the question of their public disposition: ceding this to individual interest, itself answerable to charity, guilt, avarice, deductibilty, and political power in varying degrees, depending on whether the fortune belongs to the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, sundry Rockefellers and Fords, or the Clinton Foundation. The demonization of shared—“redistributed”—wealth is a trope as abiding as it is rank: one reason that Bernie was ultimately unsuccessful is our generalized hostility to high-tax. Scandinavian-style “welfare states” (every citizen a welfare king or queen!) and the sapping canard of the individual initiative-killing effects of “hand-outs” from big nanny. Even in “liberal” New York, we’ve long since internalized Trumpism as policy: Everything’s a deal. “Return” on public investment must not simply be quantifiable (gross municipal happiness anyone?) but literally monetized. This calculus undergirds the arcane systems of swaps and bonuses that radically territorialize and delimit our practices of urban planning and improvement, with the result that we now insist that virtually every public enterprise (save, of course, warfare—although Trump’s neo-imperialist, spoils-to-the-victor, proposals might bring this too under the umbrella of self-finance) demonstrably pay for itself. Thus, instead of public construction of housing we have inclusionary zoning, instead of public education we have charter schools and rising college tuition, and instead of public healthcare we have the confusions and insufficiencies of a rapacious marketplace. And, littering New York, we have those oxymoronic POPS—“privately owned public spaces”—a sad archipelago of plazas and lobbies (Trump Tower’s among them!), purchased in a currency of lost light, air, revenue, equity, and pride. Any trade begs the question of who gets the better of it. Are the view-blocking luxury apartments now built in its midst too high a price for the excellent Brooklyn Bridge Park? The conundrum lies less in the answer than the question, with its predicate in a fragmented, discontinuous, idea of public space. Its further, and all too legible, implication is that the location and quality of such spaces depend on their realization in places where they can graft values from already successful environments. Precisely because the investment is both self-serving and easily recouped in a rising gyre of adjoining real estate prices, private money pours into Central Park, those condos rise in Brooklyn, the High-Line flourishes, and Barry Diller wants to build a Fantasy Island on piles in the Hudson—just beyond the window his office—in the “undeveloped” waters between the piers of the park. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park is administered by a trust, a legal arrangement in which someone’s property—in this case New York City’s and New York State’s—is managed by someone else. The Hudson River Park Trust was created by the State Legislature in 1998—during the Pataki administration—and is nominally controlled by a thirteen-member board of directors, five appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, and three by the Manhattan Borough President. The Trust’s board, however, is backed by another larger and perhaps more important one: the self-perpetuating “Friends of Hudson River Park,” charged with fund-raising for on-going construction and maintenance and largely comprised of investment bankers and real estate types (as well as—for cultural leavening—Martha Stewart and David Chang, of Momofuku fame). Both boards are dominated by Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s President and CEO since 2011, a shrewd and well-connected operative with long executive service on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and—as Chairman—Community Board One, in lower Manhattan. It has fallen to Wils to deal with fact that the park, legally obliged by the terms of the trust to self-finance, is stone-broke. Her duties thus include not simply supervising the operation of the park but, most crucially, fulfilling the Trust’s mandate to “ensure the park’s future financial self-sufficiency by developing the remaining commercial nodes.” These “nodes” include both the actively commercial piers under its control (the Chelsea Piers sports complex, the New York Waterway ferry terminal, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, etc.) as well as the unrealized potential of other undeveloped piers (or deals for new ones like Diller’s island). Its largest such asset is the fifteen-acre Pier 40, former terminus of the Holland America line, which occupies a charismatic spot between Greenwich Village and Tribeca, west of burgeoning “Hudson Square,” an area recently rebranded and rezoned to incite development and supersede its industrial past by attracting “creative” and tech uses, luxury housing, and a froth of Portland-sur-Hudson amenities to go with. Pier 40 currently accounts for approximately 30% of the Trust’s revenue—mainly from parking nearly 2,000 cars (a truly idiotic use for one the city’s most wonderful sites)—but is crumbling and urgently needs extensive rehabilitation. It’s best known by locals for holding several large—and much beloved—playing fields in an area that is one of the most underserved with recreational space in the city. Cash must somehow be milked from this alpha cow. Thus, on her arrival, Wils and Board Chair Diana Taylor took control of the then moribund “friends,” loading it with wealthy donors. This move was not without turbulence, including the 2012 purge of uber-developer Douglas Durst (who did not go quietly), nominally over a fight about the Trust’s intention to build housing on Pier 40, which Durst thought might be more profitably exploited by something more commercial. Indeed, over the years, a variety of contentious schemes for the pier have been mooted, including construction of offices, housing, shopping malls, theme parks, a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, more parking, the expansion of NYU, and other not-exactly-park-like uses. However, this being New York, the pier also offers possible monetization through the sale of its very lack of development: by cashing in on its air rights. The main impediment to this has been that New York’s air rights regulations restrict their transfer to another site within a single block or zoning lot, technically obliging the pier’s rights to be fully exploited on the pier itself. Re-enter the State Legislature. In 2013, the Hudson River Park Act was amended to permit the transfer of the park’s air rights (in toto around 1.5 million square feet) to “receiving sites” within a zone a block deep on the other side of West Street, the park’s landside boundary, running from 59th Street to Canal Street. This amendment was crucial both in establishing the park’s most potentially lucrative revenue stream and in enabling a particular deal already in the works between the Trust, the city, the state, and a consortium of developers (one of whom—Michael Novogratz—who subsequently and profitably sold his share—just happened to be the chair of the park’s “friends”): the transfer of 200,000 square feet of development rights to a site directly across West Street, now occupied by the ginormous, three-block-long, St. John’s Terminal Building, erstwhile end-point of the High Line (and, interestingly enough, with Bloomberg LC its major tenant). Throughout this multi-party negotiation, the key intermediary was the PR firm of James Capalino. Capalino is a long-time donor, fundraiser, bundler, and pal to Bill de Blasio who, in 2015, somehow made more money ($12.9 million) than any other lobbyist representing clients to the city. Capalino’s much in the news these days, implicated as the fixer in the lifting, by the city, of a deed restriction on the (now former) Rivington House AIDS Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, allowing it to be converted to upmarket condos. Capalino represented the building’s owner—VillageCare, a non-profit—which sold the building to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home company, which, with the restriction lifted, flipped the building to the Slate Property Group, realizing (per The Wall Street Journal), a profit of a cool $72 million. Capalino now works for the Chinese developer Dalian Wanda, itself a partner of China Vanke, part of the consortium that bought Rivington. At the end of August, de Blasio—although claiming to know nothing about the deed deal approved by his administration—cut his erstwhile fundraiser loose: “I have not been in touch with Mr. Capalino….I do not have contact with him anymore.” According to a timeline put together by the excellent Danielle Tcholakian of DNAinfo, Capalino e-mailed First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in late January 2014 (just after the mayor’s inauguration) with a copy to Carl Weisbrod, who was himself appointed Commissioner of City Planning a week later! The e-mail: “Tony, for the past twelve months, my firm has been working with Madelyn Wils on a proposal to secure a $100 million contribution by our client, Atlas Capital, to the Hudson River Park Trust to fund the cost of rehabilitation/stabilizing Pier 40 for continued recreational use. We are in discussions to have the residential project over St. John’s Terminal become an ESD (Empire State Development) project through a State sponsored general project plan.” In fact, the Trust, the ESD, and the developer had already inked a secret Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2013 that fixed the scale of the project and the $100 million price for the enabling air rights. According to Crain’s, this had been signed-off on during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration by Robert Steel, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Bloomberg (as well as Wils and Weisbrod) apparently also supported the use of the “general project plan” to be overseen by the ESD, a process which the developer was eagerly seeking (via copious lobbying by Capolino’s firm) as a means of circumventing the city’s more rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), an end-run the developer believed could save many years (and bucks) in obtaining approvals. Negotiations between the state, city, Trust, and developer—lubricated by the continuing ministrations of Capalino—were proceeding briskly in camera until May of 2015 when the secret MOU became public. Consternation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (“Shocked is an understatement for how we all felt”), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (a leader in the fight against building housing on the pier itself but also an original sponsor of the Albany transfer legislation, believing it the only hope for saving the pier), the media, and the public, resulted in an about-face by the de Blasio administration—with the immediate agreement of the developer (who clearly knew who his friends were)—to renounce the MOU and the General Project Plan route and to go through ULURP. ULURP—now nearing its conclusion—runs a statutory 200 days from the submission of the developer’s plans and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). During ULURP, these are reviewed, successively, by the affected Community Board (CB2), the Borough President, the City Planning Commission (which is obliged to hold a public hearing and did so on August 26), by the City Council (which may hold a public hearing), and finally by the Mayor. The Community Board and the Borough President are authorized to make recommendations (including rejection) but these are entirely non-binding. The Planning Commission, the Council, and the Mayor have actual power but, in the case of this project, the Planning Commissioner, the ambitious local Council Member, Corey Johnson (who now has great power over the endgame), and the Mayor have long since come out in strong support of the deal and it’s unclear whether push-back from CB2, Borough President Brewer, a few members of the Planning Commission, and many in the community (including the energetic Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation which has been trying hard to use the deal to leverage its own struggle to preserve a large swathe of Greenwich Village just north of the site) will materially affect the final outcome. Indeed, their concerns had little impact on the Planning Commission which, on October 17, voted to approve the project without substantial modification. Since the proposed development departs radically from the site’s existing zoning, the Department of City Planning (a government agency that reports to the politically appointed City Planning Commission) prepared a revised zoning map to define a “Hudson River Park Special District” that could receive—and advantageously use—the transfer by greatly increasing allowable bulk, changing designated uses, permitting additional parking, and building in exceptions to the “contextual” strictures that govern the scale and character of construction nearby, including those revised to create the Hudson Square Special District a block away. The parameters of the new receiving site, to the administration’s credit, would also bring the project under the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning regime, which obliges the developer to provide a meaningful percentage of affordable housing in the mix but which also further ups the site’s permissible bulk. The end-point of ULURP is approval, rejection, or modification of these zoning changes, which—if passed—will provide the legal space for the deal to be consummated. And the project? Its design is a particularly ripe variation on the “form follows finance” mentality at the core of the way New York City plans and is larded with bluff (a big box store, vast amounts of parking, extremely tall towers, and a truly grotesque “as of right” alternative scheme (a standard-issue developer threat that could be built without special approvals should this deal come a cropper). The plans have been skillfully reverse-engineered from the Trust’s primary imperative to realize the $100 million from the deal and are driven by its better-get-it-done-now recognition that public resistance to any further transfers into CB2 will be strenuously opposed, ditto possible transfers to other communities elsewhere along the waterfront. Indeed, recent push-back to the plan from CB2 and the Borough President has specifically demanded that transfers from the park to the adjacent neighborhood be strictly capped at 200,000 feet. Architecturally, the plan (albeit the work of good architects) is a bad one, both in its general outlines and in its particulars. Most strikingly wrong is the almost complete disconnection of the special district—on which would rise by far the largest project ever constructed in CB2—from its surroundings (including Pier 40 itself) and its total failure to anticipate and conduce to future changes, including the much-wished restoration of the street grid obliterated by the St. John’s Building and by the equally long, single-story, UPS facility running parallel in the blocks behind it. The vigorous development taking place on all sides (as well as future advances in logistics technology) will eventually create pressures on UPS (and nearby FEDEX) and provision should surely be made to restore the streets now erased, and to think about—to plan for—what will happen on these newly created blocks, including parks and schools. The plan placed on the table was clearly an opening gambit, stuffed with calculatedly negative capability in the form of too much stuff but also with a series of artful deficits that might open avenues for more positive demonstrations of cooperation. For example, the public space component is, by the developer’s own arithmetic, so sparse that the project will produce a net decrease in local public space per capita. The DEIS is also deeply suspect and blithely concludes that this humongous erection will have virtually no seriously adverse impacts on traffic, solar access, public services, and other critical infrastructure. Equally irresponsible is the developer’s long-standing resistance to including a school to serve the kids among the thousands of new residents. Finally, the plan is non-committal about its internal distribution of the mandatory affordable dwellings (as well as the actual degree of their affordability), although it appears they’re going to be primarily small units for seniors and concentrated in a single building, facing the UPS garage (the presentation package—full of street level perspectives rendered to obscure the mammoth bulk of the buildings looming out of frame—disingenuously depicts a rare apartment at the back of the building with a water view through a wee gap in the surrounding condos). All of these issues might be addressed in a revised proposal and both CB2 and Borough President Brewer have demanded a number of adjustments. But there’s a sad, deckchairs on the Titanic, quality to even the strongest of these, which, in the end, fall for the plan’s artful misdirection. The salient, undeniable, fact is that the project is vastly over-scaled. The tallest of its towers—at 420 feet—is three times the height of the surrounding built texture and certain to have a deeply deleterious and distorting impact on the neighborhood that it and its companions will overwhelm. The complex will also irrevocably alter the profile and rhythm of the Hudson riverfront as a whole, a contemptuous interruption in a continuous—and historic—low to mid-rise skyline that now stretches uninterrupted from Chelsea to Tribeca. An authentically “contextual” solution would simply extend the scale of the existing street wall, which tops out at around fifteen stories. Urbanistically speaking, this is clearly the right way to go. In the report issued by her office, Brewer tellingly—if somewhat wistfully—observes that, given the city’s reliance on private development for the direct financing of public facilities, “the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest.” Yes, and? Alas, no public body or official seems willing to walk away from the specific public return on this expression of private interests: the $100 million for Pier 40 repairs, the “up to” 476 units of affordable housing, the now rejected curb on further bulk transfers into CB2’s backyard, and support for land-marking the nearby South Village, a decision that rests with another, nominally independent, agency. As the negotiations enter their end-game, a variety of predictable gambits are being played. Westbrook Partners, the majority stakeholder (Atlas still holds a minority share), has just let it be known that it’s “rethinking” the project because of a weakening in the residential market and might be forced to revert to a purely commercial, as-of-right, scheme. More, Crain’s reports that Westbrook is actively looking for an equity partner for the site, which both suggestively reinforces the threat to abandon residential use entirely and almost certainly reveals the real plan beneath the plan: to get approvals for the maximum project and then flip the whole thing and walk away with the cash. The public-private daisy chain keeps yielding moments of delirious, if nauseating, irony. The City Planning Commission (Chairman, Carl Weisbrod) held a hearing on September 19, during which a few minutes were devoted to listening to the responses of the City Planning Department (Director, Carl Weisbrod) to questions raised about the project at their August meeting. A visibly nervous planner from the Department was obliged to present her answers to a body presided over by her boss, the man who had been most instrumental in structuring the deal now under review! And, while we’re still in ironic mode, there’s another I find especially hard to overlook: The projected cost of Barry Diller’s little entertainment island has now reached $200 million. The design (by Thomas Heatherwick) is tasty enough but the money would surely be better spent (and the island’s entertainment program easily accommodated without displacing the ball fields) were it to be used on Pier 40—100 million for repairs, 100 for theaters and trees. And, Diller would have an irresistible counter to Doug Durst, who has been biliously bank-rolling lawsuits to thwart Barry’s plans, out of some truly pathetic billionaire pique. I make this suggestion seriously as one of a number of ways to manage and coordinate both direct investment in the park and the sale and use its air rights. Another would be to expand the Hudson River Park Special District to encompass Hudson Square (and the UPS site which will surely be transformed at some point) and to radically disaggregate the 200,000 square feet into much smaller increments that could be added as a series of bonuses to the on-going wave on construction in the area. Yet another would simply be to gerrymander a 1.5 million square foot skyscraper (or add just a few additional stories to several already proposed) into the thicket of towers under construction in Hudson Yards further uptown, an area already given over to large-scale building and one that has a huge underbuilt perimeter (including the Javits Center) into which even these enormous numbers could easily be made to disappear. Our representatives should steel themselves and fight for the big picture, for something much better than this too-many-eggs in one basket contrivance. The project is far, far, too big for the bearing capacity and character of its site and nibbling at the edges of the design—reducing parking, slightly shrinking a tower, 86-ing the big box that everyone knows is only there to disappear, redistributing bulk a bit, getting a few more affordable units, adding a wee plaza at grade—will make little real difference. If public money cannot be made available for maintaining the public park (or housing the poor), the question of the fungibility of air rights—if that is to be the Trust’s primary asset—must be regulated with much greater invention and subtlety: Having crossed the West Street Rubicon, there’s no reason this conjured property “right” cannot be more broadly and appropriately distributed. Indeed, the question of the creation and deployment of these rights lies at the very core of the way in which we define public space. It’s our air, after all! The complete failure of the DCP, the Trust, or any other public (or quasi-public) body to formulate a rigorous, sustainable, and beautiful plan for this part of town is simply dereliction. Not simply have they acquiesced in a completely barse-ackwards mode of defining and financing genuine and general public interests and slighted a truly collective—and expansive—vision of community needs, benefits, rights and desires, their “spot” planning mentality totally ignores a truly mammoth elephant the stalks the room: the inevitability of sea level rise that will almost certainly inundate this low-lying place, piers, special districts, underground parking, twee little shops, and all. While our public servants blithely order another cup of bouillon, an iceberg looms on the horizon. Time to change course! It’s not too late! While the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the plan almost entirely as originally presented, the Council (which tends to defer to the local member) and the Mayor can still intervene, although de Blasio in unlikely to oppose a creature he was so instrumental in stitching together. The Commission altered the scheme only in cosmetic or predictable ways: the Big Box is now gone as are the “public” bridges over Houston Street. The developer has also agreed to provide 10,000 square feet of subterranean recreational space that would be publicly “available” on unspecified terms. A little more open space is to be squeezed in at grade. However, no modification of the project footprint was demanded to reconnect the street grid, no guarantees were offered about a cap on transfers into CB2, no reduction was made in height, and nothing was said about the larger context of the project, including the form and use of Pier 40 or the character of the extended neighborhood. As part of the deal, however, the South Village Historic District has been placed on the Landmarks Commission’s agenda at its regular November 1 meeting for a vote to “calendar” it, launching a process of hearings, deliberations, and possible designation that can last as long as two years. It’s likely to be fewer as the professional staff at Landmarks is expected to offer a strongly favorable recommendation to the Commissioners. Although the precise manner by which the exquisite timing came about remains murky, the agreement to hear the case was surely the result of strong—and long—advocacy by the Greenwich Village Historic Society (GVSHP), CB2, Councilperson Johnson (who now holds a great many cards), and others, and Andrew Berman, the energetic Director of GVSHP (with Johnson’s apparent support) has threatened to fight to derail the project should the South Village landmarking fail to go forward. Courage to them both! And to those who are opposed to dumping any further FAR into CB2 and to all who advocate for more public space, affordable housing, and rational planning. Yet, whatever the outcome of the landmarking gambit, the fundamental contradiction at the heart of both project and process looms huge, both literally and conceptually. I’ve met virtually nobody with a non-financial stake in the new building who supports it as a piece of architecture or planning, simply as the formal resultant of a negotiation for something else. This is the heart of the deal, the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The developer wants to build a gigantic project and has surely calculated its return with precision, using a knowable metric of profit. The city—in all its roots and branches—is obliged to a far more notional heuristic for determining the cost of our benefit. Would it be a good deal if it only produced the hundred million for the pier? The hundred million plus the affordable housing? Pile repair and housing plus the South Village Historic District? Should the developer be offered another 100,000 square feet to build a school? To decrease the building footprint by going higher still? That we have tipped so far to inducement rather than obligation as a planning strategy is a tragic, indeed Trumpian, marker of the decay of the commons. This collusive failure of imagination, responsibility, and democracy is staggering, if all too typical. Time to demand a vision that grows from our shared “right to the city”, planning that looks beyond a contracting, bottom-line, approach to the possible and sees our architecture not simply as an outcome but an aspiration. No deal!
Michael Sorkin is the President of Terreform, the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY. A planning and architectural study of this site has been prepared by Terreform and may be downloaded from its website. Comments are greatly welcome.