Seems the bad news is about to get worse for Jamestown Properties. The developer's plans to add 330,000 square feet to New York's Chelsea Market met with resistance from the Community Board 4 and Borough President Scott Stringer, both of whom gave conditional nays to the proposal designed by Studios Architecture. Now with City Planning's public hearing set for this Wednesday, Commissioner Amanda Burden has clearly indicated that she is not pleased with the an addition proposed to hover over the High Line along Tenth Avenue. "I remain concerned about the massing and how it effects the High Line experience," Burden said a pre-hearing review session today. The two additions to the market include 90,000 square feet addition on Ninth Avenue and a 240,000 square foot addition along Tenth Avenue. As much of the building's mid-block remains excluded from Jamestown's plan, it seems likely that area will come in to play. "They do have a whole block," the commissioner said. Though not exactly in line with BP Stringer's suggestion to move all of the massing to Ninth Avenue, it does mean that High Line view planes fundamental to the Special West Chelsea District remain a concern for the commissioners. Jamestown has already indicated that it is willing to decrease the height of the Ninth Avenue addition from 150 feet high to 130 feet. The addition along Tenth Avenue dropped from 230 feet to 184 feet. Exposed steel trusses at Tenth were redesigned to be clad in a "contextual" terracotta and a wide cantilevered gap has been cosmetically anchored back to the original building with corner posts, despite the fact that the engineering for the cantilever remain in place. Now with the suggestion of moving the building back toward the middle of the block, we'll see what other design tricks the architects at Studios can pull off as the restraints tighten.
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The New York Times explored the news of Vanderbilt Avenue becoming a pedestrian plaza through a not-so-rosy Ivy filter today, featuring a photo of the Yale Club rather than the street in question. AN first reported that the "site has obvious potential for a DOT plaza" back in mid-June when we first examined the Grand Central rezoning proposal that City Planning will present to Community Boards 5 tomorrow night.
In a 12 to 1 vote this morning, City Planning approved NYU’s Core expansion plans for two superblocks in Greenwich Village designed by Grimshaw with Toshiko Mori and Michael Van Valkenburg. In slow and deliberative pace, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden read from a prepared text that included several aesthetic and few programmatic changes to the proposed plan. The new plan will reduced the size of the overall project from 2.47 million square feet to 2.1 million. All four proposed buildings were approved with tweaks here and there. Both of the so-called “Boomerang Buildings” will be reduced in height that will not exceed the slabs of the Washington Square Village buildings that frame them. The “Zipper Building” will not be allowed to include a hotel component as part of its programming. The proposal for a temporary gym was also nixed. Of the changes to the nearly four acres of public space the most significant is that the university will not be permitted to build beneath the green strips on the northern superblock, thus saving the mature trees that are on the site. The proposed light wells that allow natural light to flow to the massive subterranean structure will be reduced on the Mercer Street Boomerang Building so as to create more open space at grade. The creation of the an Open Space Oversight Organization will be set up to insure public oversight, and allow for future modifications, “especially as the space is not to be built until 15 years from now,” said the Commissioner. As the lone commissioner to vote against the proposal Michelle de la Uz praised the university’s “laudable efforts,” but noted that it was done to address the impression that “their growth thus far has been haphazard and insensitive.” She also voiced concern, shared by many in the community, that the programming for the northern superblock is still too vague. She added that a lack of affordable housing and a public school were also troubling. In the end Uz concluded the project’s size has not dramatically changed, as indeed it hasn’t. For their part NYU seemed pleased with the outcome, with NYU’s vice president of government affairs Alicia Hurley finding most of the changes as “not an impediment” to the university’s overall goals. The one building that seemed to get lost in the shuffle was the building replacing the Morton Williams super market on the southern superblock. That building is supposed to house the public school which sparked Commissioner Uz’s concern. Hurley said that ongoing talks with the Department of Ed are going well. “They are interested,” she said. After the hearing, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, employed the shoehorning-the-Empire-State-Building-into-the-Village phrase he’s used throughout the process to describe the plan. He did not seem particularly surprised by the outcome, saying that every major development application that went before this commission was approved. Still, he held out hope that the next stop for the application at City Council will put a halt to the project. “Hopefully City Council will show some independence from the mayor,” he said.
One of Jane Jacobs’ most valuable contributions to the understanding of cities was her faith in the wisdom of the urban dweller. She argued that the physical city—and any approach to city planning—could not be separated from the wisdom of each individual inhabitant, “People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is. I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers’ descriptions of rhinoceroses.” The complication arising from Jacobs’ argument is simple though difficult to solve; how can we plan a city when planning is one part abstraction and abstraction removes us from Jacobs’ precious “real life” mentality? A step towards solving this contradiction is sfbetterstreets.org, a website launched last week by the City of San Francisco. Developed by the San Francisco Planning Department in conjunction with other city agencies, the website is part of the city’s larger, “Better Streets” initiative. The legislative concept, described in San Francisco's Better Streets Plan, is to create streets “designed and built to strike a balance between all users regardless of physical abilities or mode of travel… maximizing features for the comfort, usability, and aesthetics of people walking.” Many cities have made strides to improve the everyday experience of urban dwellers; PlaNYC in New York is an excellent example. Unique to San Francisco’s approach though—encapsulated in the “Better Streets” website—is an emphasis on direct citizen engagement through the provision of necessary tools for engaging city government and the community. The website empowers individual citizens and associations to change their streets by including ideas for street improvements, accessible descriptions of necessary permit processes, and suggestions for building community support. On the page for each specific street improvement, a small box entitled "Agency who can help" provides access to further information on how to request a specific street improvement. Sfbetterstreets.org is best understood as city-supported citizen engagement. When the New York City Department of Transportation created a website to solicit crowd-sourced suggestions for locating stations of the upcoming Bike Share program, it received over 70,000 votes from interested members of the public. San Francisco’s “Better Streets” outreach is an important example of how to harness the public’s interest in shaping city planning. Although a city-led initiative, “Better Streets” taps into the city itself, acknowledging what Jane Jacobs believes to be the most knowledgeable voice in the city: the people themselves.
As if to underline, highlight, and italicize the mayor's support for green design, today New York Mayor Bloomberg signed into law a bill that will allow sun control devices to protrude from buildings up to two-and-a-half feet. If the legislation sounds similar to the Zone Green legislation passed by City Planning back in March, that's because it is. But the new legislation brings this particular building code in line with one of the many zoning codes encompassed by Zone Green.
New York City Planning's Zone Green initiative cleared City Council yesterday, paving the way for new regulations and variances that will help make going green that much easier. Building owners and architects will no longer have to jump through hoops to install a green roof, add solar panels, or harness the wind for power. "The new zoning recognizes what we’ve seen people designing for their projects," Howard Slatkin the director of sustainability for City Planning told AN back in March. Today, The Times teased out the benefits of the plan through a Q&A interview with Slatkin and Rose Comapanies' Paul Freitag.
Despite a very public effort by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) to stop City Council's landmarks subcommittee from approving Downtown Brooklyn's skyscraper district, the measure passed, paving the way for a full Council vote on February 1. As the proposed district always had full support of Council Member Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz, it wasn't likely that REBNY's shot across the bow would make much of a difference. But it may point to a more assertive stance by the group which has been decrying layers of regulations from Lanmarks and ULURP. REBNY sent out a full color flier that portrayed a dumbstruck cartoon figure looking at bland Court Street edifice with a banner reading "Is this a landmark?" According to the Daily News, it's the first time the group has had done a direct mail campaign in response to landmarking. Just last week REBNY's senior VP Michael Slattery told AN that he found the landmark districts "problematic." With Mayor Michael Bloomberg promising to streamline City Planning's land use applications, and with a regulatory-fatigued industry grumbling a lot louder, REBNY's public stance against Landmarks has all the markings of a campaign. The group's loud opposition against the 21-block historic districting accompanies a gathering storm of anti-ULURP opinions from high-profile developers like Jonathan Rose who called for an overhaul of the review process at Planning''s Zoning the City conference last November. But as Landmarks trumps zoning on many levels, the campaign, if it can be called that yet, seems to be starting on the ground floor.
"Clockwork City" is the fantastical vision of animator Roy Prol calling for a city of rotating rings that change the notion of getting around in large city. As the video (after the jump) notes, the 3,000 meter diameter "Clockwork City" won't need cars or even transit since work and home are a mere minutes away, anywhere in the city. The city itself is in effect one large form of public transportation. To get to work, the video notes, "Just wait at home until you see your workplace closer." Four concentric rings each 280 meters wide housing offices, residential, industrial, and agricultural/energy zones are traversed by smaller cogs joining them together. Boldly proclaiming "endless movement" complete with the prospect of an ever-changing skyline, it's unclear how such a "Clockwork City" could be built or sustained. What are your thoughts? (Via Digital Urban.)
Flummoxed Lenox. Inspired by a Gothamist post about hidden rooms in the Frick, Mark Lamster digs a bit deeper and shares his knowledge of the site when it was occupied by the old Lenox Library. "...sober, imposing, and correct, much like the man who designed it, Richard Morris Hunt," he says of the old edifice, before delving into the curious history of the Hunt memorial across the street. Boulevard Blues. Brownstoner is still hammering away at a bleak streetscape along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, where first floors of the new residential buildings leave a lot to be desired. The site reports that City Planning may be looking at measures to fix mistakes from 2003 upzoning and bring more life onto the street. While they're at it, perhaps they can tap the DOT to add some green to the median. House vs. Home. A kinder and gentler Peter Eisenman emerged from nearly 20 years of Jungian analysis, the architect tells The Washington Post. Far from the heady world of theory ("I was a cerebral cat"), Eisenman returns to the world of bricks and mortar. The change helps him expound on the differences between a house and home. Tick Tock. The clock is ticking for the Brooklyn Bridge Park to make a decision on how to pay for maintaining the park, reports Crains. “If we don't have a financial model, we won't be able to proceed with construction,” BBP President Regina Myer tells the paper.
A group of Midtown residents and concerned citizens, many from the West 54th/55th Street Block Association, have been the leading opponents of Jean Nouvel's MoMA tower. They have been very vocal during hearings at Landmarks and, just a few weeks ago, City Planning Commission. Now, The Coalition for Responsible Midtown Development, as the group is calling itself, have launched a website, no2moma.com. There, they succinctly recast their previous opposition to the project--light & shadows, traffic & congestion, out-sized & ugly--as well as presenting a six minute documentary that makes the group's best case yet. Our favorite part is the clip above, where the Nouvel tower rises, Frankenstein-like, from "a lot no bigger than a McDonald's drive-thru." The full video is after the jump, but, given statements made by some commissioners during a meeting Monday, all this flash and frustration may be too little too late. At the very end of Monday's scheduled City Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners held an impromptu discussion of the project they were presented at the hearing two weeks ago. Impromptu because the full discussion, and likely the vote, will all come at the next scheduled meeting on the matter September 9. Still, the commissioners are clearly struck by this project, it's Pritzker Prize-winning architect, its heavyweight patron, its skyline-altering design. But as before, the discussion centered on the design and not its surrounding impact, which is the overwhelming concern of the tower's opposition. Asked by fellow commissioner Kenneth Knuckles how she would be voting on the project, chair Amanda Burden gamely demurred, saying she was withholding judgment until the actual vote. And yet at the same time, she seemed to be leaning strongly in favor of the project. "We're an optimistic city, we're a skyscraper city, so this project would not be out of place" Burden said. "It must be iconic, it must be distinguished. To get to that height in the sky, it's got to be great. I don't have a problem with the height. But let's see it, and see where it falls with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building and if it deserves it." Burden added, underscoring the commission's concern with preserving the building as designed over other issues, "It's very important how we memorialize and freeze critical design elements." This way, the commissioners believe, and the applicant, Hines, seems to agree, Nouvel's tower and nothing else would or even could be built there. It's a valid concern (see: Frank Gehry, Atlantic Yards), but for the building's neighbors nowhere near the top of the list. Perhaps the coalition should have brought this video with them last month, as it might have helped sway the commission in its favor. Then again, there's always the City Council, where Speaker Christine Quinn, in whose district the project lies, has yet to take a position. Perhaps she's more of a cinephile than Burden. The coalition had better hope so.
The rezoning of Coney Island may have takn up all the oxygen at the City Council Wednesday, but it was far from the only rezoning to pass, and far from the only important one. The council also approved a major downzoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which, at 175 blocks, is not only huge, but important, as it was meant to protect the area from out-of-scale overdevelopment. It may be a little too late for that, but better late than never, we guess. Or maybe never again is more like it. The Flatbush neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park got a similar treatment, receiving a massive 180 block downzoning again to protect against uncharacteristic development. Dumbo was rezoned, though in a particularly contextual manner, given its unique historic character, as were four contiguous neighborhoods in Queens. But perhaps most important was a citywide change to the inclusionary housing bonus. The chief mechanism by which the Bloomberg administration has promoted affordable housing, the inclusionary housing bonus was extended throughout the city beginning with the original rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in 2005. It had existed since 1987 in some of Manhattan's highest density areas, but it would later be deployed throughout the city because the administration liked how it married private development to the public needs of affordable housing. Essentially, the program offers developers additional density, usually in the neighborhood of 10-12 percent, if they make at least 20 percent of their units affordable. Because this means extra height, it is often worth it in the world of residential development. (At the same time, the program is voluntary, which has created complaints from numerous housing advocates, as some developers forgo the bonus because of construction costs, thereby depressing the number of affordable housing units created.) Yesterday's amendment creates a relatively new home ownership option--it had been deployed in discrete instances in the past--that would not only allow planners and developers to create affordable rentals in neighborhoods, but what are essentially affordable condos. The one downside? The price is regulated, so it would be near impossible to sell and reap much in the way of profits, one of the many reasons for buying a home (at least until recently). The program will likely be targeted at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, though, where such things are less of a concern and it's more about getting out of the projects or substandard rental housing. The amendment also impacts the original program from 1987, which affects the city's highest density residential districts, the R10s. Currently, affordable units in those projects are ineligible for subsidies, but now they will no longer be exempt, thus paving the way for additional affordable units. (For the best explanation, including some really good visuals, check out the DCP's slideshow.)
Former LA City Councilman and current LA City Planning Commissioner Michael Woo has been named dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design. Since joining the commission in 2005, Woo has been involved in a number of its most high-profile initiatives. He helped launch a moratorium on new billboards and opened a review of the health effects of polluted air in residential developments near freeways. He also helped draft the city's "Do Real Planning" principles, adopted in 2006, which call for more affordable housing and jobs near mass transit, improving the city's aesthetics, reducing visual blight, and improving walkability. He served on the LA City Council from 1985 to 1993 before leaving to run for mayor (he lost). Cal Poly's College of Environmental Design combines the school's departments of architecture, art, landscape architecture, and urban and regional urban planning. Woo's appointment begins on July 30.