In the past week, those two words—"poor door"—have quickly come to signify the vast inequality embedded in New York City’s housing market. At issue is a separate entrance for tenants living in subsidized rental units in a luxury condo building on the Upper West Side known as 40 Riverside. The property, developed by Extell, was financed through the city’s inclusionary housing program, which grants a tax abatement and additional bulk to developers who include a certain portion of “affordable” units in a project. At 40 Riverside, that means 55 units—or 20 percent of the building—will be rented to families earning between $35,280 and $50,340, according to the New York Times. Those permanently affordable units will be on lower floors and will not face the river. And, of course, there’s the matter of how the tenants get to those units in the first place. The plan for the “poor door” was revealed last summer, but it has received a fresh round of criticism this week after the New York Post reported that the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development gave it the go-ahead. The story got an extra push when comments made by David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers, last summer resurfaced. “No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” he told the Real Deal. “I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.” After the story broke, the de Blasio administration, which has made fighting inequality its major focus, quickly laid the blame on Mayor Bloomberg. "This specific project was given a green light by the previous administration and had multiple stories already built by the time we walked in the door. The previous administration changed the law to enable this kind of development,” an administration spokesperson told Newsweek. “We fundamentally disagree with that approach, and we are in the process of changing it to reflect our values and priorities." The administration, and a host of local pols, are vowing to end the practice once and for all by changing the city’s zoning code. Obviously, the optics of all of this are pretty awful. Gary Barnett, the founder of Extell has said as much. “Separate entrances doesn’t sound good,” he told the New York Post. Making matters worse for Barnett is that his company is developing some of the city’s most expensive and controversial towers, including the 1,000-foot-tall Christian de Portzamparc–designed One57, where a penthouse reportedly sold for $95 million. Extell is also behind a 1,775-foot-tall tower just down the block on 57th Street that will become the “tallest residential building in the world.” Apartments won’t be cheap there either—paging the one percent... Yes, even within the framework of the “Tale of Two Cities,” (which de Blasio repeatedly evoked on his rise to City Hall), the very notion of a “poor door”—whether you call it that or not—sounds too farfetched, too immoral to ever be dreamt up, let alone designed, built, and left ajar. Many have been quick to mention the racial component of having a door for the rich and a door for the poor—noting that more black and brown people will be passing through the latter. The “poor door” would also seem to go directly against the very housing policy that made it possible. The whole idea behind inclusionary zoning is to create mixed-income buildings in very desirable (read: expensive) neighborhoods. Because, from a purely financial standpoint, inclusionary zoning is not the most cost-effective way to actually create affordable units. But what Extell is doing at 40 Riverside is not unprecedented. There are poor doors in the glassy, government-subsidized luxury buildings lining the Williamsburg waterfront. And, thanks to Bloomberg, this is perfectly allowed within the city’s zoning code, at least for the time being. As the Nation explained, “projects making use of [inclusionary zoning incentives] have tended to be large, and the affordable apartments provided have either been mixed in with the market units or else located in separate portions of the buildings, even in separate buildings. Of course, separate buildings require separate entrances, hence the ‘poor door.’” Developers, like Barnett, say they have no choice, but to stick the subsidized units in less desirable parts of a luxury building. “If you say that in any project getting an inclusionary bonus zoning, the affordable units would have to take up some of our best views and units, nobody would build them,” he told the Post. At 40 Riverside, the subsidized units are essentially in a separate building, which explains the two doors. But in cases where two doors exists, one of them is typically not exclusive to the wealthy tenants, as noted by the Real Deal. It’s not surprising that the "poor door" has received so much attention in the past week. For one, “poor door” makes for great copy and it's easy to pile on to developers in cases like this. And it's not surprising that people have had such a visceral reaction to what has been called a "separate but equal" arrangement. But, ultimately, the “poor door” is just a blatant symptom of the city’s housing crisis. And the housing crisis is a reflection of extreme inequality in New York City and around the world. How bad is it exactly? As condos in luxury towers built by Extell and the like repeatedly sell for tens of millions of dollars, nearly half the city lives in poverty. And, according to the city comptroller, from 2000–2012, median rents in the city rose 75 percent while median household income fell nearly 5 percent. This is the context in which something like the “poor door” can even exist. The context in which people have to enter a lottery for an affordable place to live. Given the international reaction this story has received—and the elected officials who have pledged to end the practice—the next “poor door” could very well close before anyone walks through it. The same cannot be said for the harsh reality that made it possible in the first place. That is a thorny, complicated, global issue, but one that deserves just as much passion and outrage directed at the doors on Riverside. Unfortunately, that issue cannot be packaged in the same way. If only it rhymed.
Posts tagged with "Zoning":
Chicago’s Studio Gang Architects announced plans for their New York debut in late 2012. The proposed building, located near the High Line along 10th Avenue between 13th and 14th streets, features a serrated edge that maximizes daylight on the elevated park next door—Jeanne Gang called it “solar carving.” But the legal path to realizing that faceted glass facade had some unexpected kinks of its own. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was “thrilled to report” that the building’s developer withdrew their application for a zoning variance for the building. At 213 feet tall, the tower would have been 34 percent larger than current zoning allows. After a few appearances before the Board of Standards and Appeals, the project's land use attorney told the New York Observer that the zoning request had fallen flat. The developer, William Gottlieb Real Estate, is apparently moving forward with a modified application, but for now the project remains blocked. The High Line intersects the site, which is currently an empty meatpacking plant. Gang’s design placed the tower near the Hudson River, abutting the High Line. GVSHP contested the developer’s position that sandy soils and the High Line’s proximity constituted a “hardship” worthy of a zoning variance. The 186,700-square-foot office tower was planned to open in 2015. If a revised application seeks different setbacks, the “Solar Carve” tower might meet less resistance from neighborhood groups. “We have no objections to the proposed development setting back differently than the zoning requires, as this would have no negative impact upon the surrounding neighborhood,” wrote GVSHP’s executive director, Andrew Berman. “Increasing the bulk of the proposed development, however, would have such a negative impact.”
Piles of dusty, black waste from coal and petroleum processing have been piling up on Chicago’s southeast side, angering residents and prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to weigh in on the contentious environmental issue. The Sun-Times has reported that Emanuel will introduce an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting banning new storage facilities for so-called petcoke—a byproduct of the oil refinery process that can be sold overseas. It’s a step back from an outright ban proposed in December by Alderman Edward Burke, whose constituents were outraged by black dust clouds wafting from uncovered piles of petcoke along the Calumet River. Southeast side communities like Calumet, South Chicago, and South Deering are no strangers to industrial zoning. The Illinois-Indiana border has long been a pastiche of brownfields, residential communities, natural areas, and heavy industry. But the swirling black dust incited a class-action lawsuit filed against three storage sites last year. Chicago’s Department of Public Health shares area residents’ concerns. “We know that petcoke is a respiratory irritant and the main concern is if the petcoke is inhaled,” Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times. “If you have somebody with asthma or other respiratory problems, inhaling petcoke would really lead to more problems…We are advancing this ordinance to protect our residents.” The anticipated zoning ordinance would prevent new petcoke storage facilities from entering the city, and would keep current outfits from expanding. KCBX, the largest such facility in the area, says the ordinance is unjustified, a sentiment shared by some business groups:
Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association called the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.” … The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also questioning the ordinance, calling it an “overreaction.” “We don’t understand what the mayor is trying to accomplish here. Petcoke and coal have been handled and stored in Chicago for decades with few issues. This seems like an overreaction to one incident – good policy rarely comes from overreacting,” Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO said.KCBX is an affiliate of Koch Industries, the business empire of brothers Charles and David H. Koch. Their company, Koch Carbon, came under fire last year for storing the same material along the Detroit River.
Yesterday City Council green lighted new zoning to allow commercial development in 40 historic structures on Governors Island. This change will introduce restaurants and retail establishments to the sleepy, mostly park-filled island, and also help to generate revenue for the upkeep and operations of the island's parkland. One stipulation of the rezoning is a commitment from The Trust for Governors Island to use union labor for all construction projects. (Photo: Courtesy Trust for Governors Island)
Only a little over decade ago, Governors Island was a sleepy coast guard base just a stone's throw from Lower Manhattan, but it has since become a destination for New Yorkers offering a slew of recreational activities, events, and new park land. Now the idyllic island could be populated by a new hotel along with restaurants, retail, and other commercial development. Crain's reported that City Council will vote tomorrow on a zoning change that would allow 40 historic buildings—that make up 1.2 million square feet on the island—to be used for commercial activity. The revenue generated from commercial development would help with upkeep and day-to-day operations of the island, which so far has been paid for by the city. In December, the Trust for Governors Island issued a request for proposals asking developers to submit ideas for the 40 structures that could provide a range of uses and services.
The city of Boston is laying the ground work to grow and simplify the process for urban farming throughout the city. Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) are introducing an amendment, Article 89, to the current zoning that would create opportunity for expanded urban agriculture activities such as rooftop farming and opening farm stands and markets. Beginning in May, the Mayor's office along with BRA launched a series of 11 neighborhood meetings to discuss Draft Article 89 with the public. This amendment change is part of the city's larger Pilot Urban Agriculture Rezoning Project that was initially started in 2010: A group of farming experts and advocates were selected to participate in the Mayor's Urban Agriculture Working Group to provide insight that helped inform a number of the recommendations included in Draft Article 89. This amendment tackles a range of urban agriculture issues from soil safety and rooftop and vertical agriculture to hydroponics and the care of animals and bees. Boston.com reported that the new zoning would allow for 1-acre ground-level farms in any neighborhood throughout the city, and then permit farms larger than one-acre in areas specifically zoned for industrial use. The amendment would also make it significantly easier for Bostonians to start a ground-level farm by requiring a special permit instead of mandating a public review process. According to the BRA's website, the Mayor's Office and collaborating partners are hoping that this ambitious initiative will "increase access to affordable and healthy food, particularly for underserved communities" and "promote economic opportunity and greater self-sufficiency for people in need, including increasing the capacity of Boston residents and business and grow and distribute local and healthy food."
Supporters of the Portage Theater breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when it was announced a local church would withdraw their bid to acquire the 92-year-old cinema on Chicago’s northwest side. A hearing with the Zoning Board of Appeals had been scheduled for Friday, from which Chicago Tabernacle sought a special use permit to convert the theater into a house of worship. The Portage is known around Chicago for its Silent Film Festival and as the set for some scenes in Public Enemies, a 2009 film about bank-robber John Dillinger. It had become somewhat of an anchor for economic development in the Six Corners business district of its Portage Park neighborhood, after a 2006 renovation pulled the aging theater out of hard times. “Save the Portage” became a rallying cry around town when the church announced their plans in March. Roger Ebert and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena were among the many who flocked to the theater’s side. Its management applied for landmark status with the city in April. Chicago Tabernacle is reportedly in “final negotiations” for another site, potentially a defunct movie hall at 3231 N. Cicero Ave.
Yesterday will be remembered as a historic day for Los Angeles planning wonks. First, city council approved the Hollywood Community Plan, which, among other things, paves the way for increased density near transit, more mixed-use development, and more integrated transit plans in the ever-improving entertainment center of LA. Right afterward, we learned from Curbed LA that the council also approved the Comprehensive Zoning Code Revision Ordinance, which will help the city—through a new trust fund—overhaul its zoning code for the first time since 1946. According to LA City Planning, the new code, when completed, will "include clear and predictable language that will offer a wider variety of zoning options to more effectively implement the goals and objectives of the General Plan and accommodate the City's future needs and development opportunities." In other words, simpler, streamlined zoning tailored to individual neighborhoods and needs. Also in the mix, the new codes will include a dynamic, web-based zoning code, a layperson's guide to zoning, and a unified downtown development code. Hallelujah!
Green markets, bike lanes, the design of street life—New York City zoning aims to impact your quality of life. "In the Bloomberg administration, as wielded by the New York City Planning Commission and its director, Amanda Burden, zoning has assumed a more activist role than ever before," writes AN Executive Editor Julie Iovine about the ambitions of zoning 50 years after the New York Zoning Resolution was passed. Read the full article, "Zoning Grows Up," in The Wall Street Journal.
City Planning hasn’t missed a beat since celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Zoning Amendment with a conference in November that brought together zoning czars from academia, business, and government to discuss challenges ahead for planning in New York City. On Monday, Amanda Burden of the City Planning Commission (CPC) announced a new Zone Green initiative making it easier —at least zoning-wise—for sustainable upgrades of residential and commercial buildings across the city. Zone Green focuses on retrofitting existing buildings to high performance standards. To that end and as part of the mayor’s efforts to green NYC’s one million buildings (and lower the $15 billion per year it takes to power and heat them), the new zoning text allows for the addition of external insulation within property lines while exempting insulation from floor area requirements; permits solar panels on roofs to exceed maximum building height limits; allows window shades and screens, whether vertical or horizontal, to project from building facades. The new code is more flexible about rooftop bulkhead regulations in order to encourage and allow cogeneration facilities, skylights, storm water management tanks, as well as—with CPC certification—greenhouses as long as they are not residential in any way. Small wind turbines would be allowable on buildings taller than 100 feet and those under 100 feet that are near the waterfront (except in low-density residential neighborhoods). The new proposal continues the department’s innovative approach that has wielded zoning to applications well beyond building mass and height in order, among other things, to encourage fresh food sources in neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of obesity; mandate access to stairs as an alternative to elevators and escalators also for healthier urban living; and even acknowledge that some New Yorkers just want to be alone by including single seats in parks and on the waterfront. Green Zone will be backed by new amendments to the City’s energy code; it has been submitted to public review by all community boards, borough boards and presidents for 60 days as of Dec 12 through approximately med-February when all comments will be reviewed by CPC and the City Council.
You can’t miss the New York Department of City Planning’s 2011 Zoning Handbook—it’s bright orange. Clear and navigable, the book reads like an intermediate level foreign language textbook. The latest edition, like the 2006 version, includes user-friendly line drawings of buildings connected to cartoon balloons providing detailed information. The new handbook hit the agency's bookstore yesterday. A color coded map of NYC zoning ditricts. Recently, AN reported that a large chunk of Hell's Kitchen may revert from an M1-5 designation to an M2-4 designation. While that's not quite how we put it (our article noted that the proposed Hell's Kitchen commercial district would place height limits at 135 feet) a quick glance at the manual outlines the detailed regulations in surprisingly plain language. The manual goes deep but without getting bogged down in legalese or minutia, offering up the nitty-gritty on everything from parking regulations (none) to setbacks (starting at 85'). The illustration accompanying the M2-4 explanation features info bubbles that point at two parts of the building: the street wall and the set back, explaining that the building "cannot penetrate sky exposure plane, which begins 85' above the street line." Pretty clear. As expected, new zoning changes and an update of the Special Purpose Districts were added to the book. But it's the inclusion of recent initiatives that makes it worth checking out. A press release from the agency noted that during the Bloomberg Administration 9,400 blocks have been rezoned. Much of this activity took place when the city prepared for a bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The release touts that smart growth and sustainable principles that took to the fore in the past nine years. New waterfront design guidelines make it into the text, as do incentives for buildings to provide bicycle parking. A couple of pages are devoted to explaining the FRESH Food Stores Program, a zoning incentive that encourages grocery stores to provide fresh food stores in underserved neighborhoods. A glossary of planning terms assumes the reader is completely new to the subject without being condescending. The book even goes so far as to define the term "building" (a structure that has one or more floors and a roof), but then the elaborates by defining detached, semi-detached, and zero lot line buildings. One section explains how to read zoning maps and another summarizes the NYC Zoning Resolution. There are explanations of the Inclusionary Housing Program, an update on Privately Owned Public Spaces (a.k.a. "POPS"), and a diagram for proper tree planting in parking lots. Public libraries, government officials, and community boards will get copies of the book, which can be bought at the agency's book store at 22 Reade Street for $35.
Red Hook Green gets a red light from the NYC Department of Buildings. Brooklyn's touted "brownstone of the future" is up against the ropes after a zoning decision ruled the mixed-use building cannot proceed as planned. Jay Amato's ultra-sustainable, shipping-container chic Red Hook Green was denied its proposed accessory residential use on industrially zoned land, officially throwing the entire project into limbo. Designed by Garrison Architects, Red Hook Green was to be a model of sustainability in the Brooklyn neighborhood. The 4,000 square foot net-zero-energy structure would have provided live-work space with an array of green technologies including a solar car charging station, photovoltaic panels, and an ultra-insulated building envelope. It was that residential component that ran Red Hook Green afoul with the DOB. By law, the accessory residence cannot exceed 15 percent of the building's gross area - and in fact the space in question only comprised 12 percent of the total area - but the city saw the entire structure as too small to warrant such a space to begin with. Amato shares the latest on the RHG blog:
As of yesterday, my dream of building the first net Zero-Energy work live building in Brooklyn seems to be officially DEAD! ... I was advised that given my particular use, I could make an “M” zoned plot work. What that means is that given the majority of my structure was to be dedicated to commercial use, the living quarters would be an ‘accessory’ to the true function of the building. Therefore we would request the building department grant us permission to live in what would is called a “caretakers apartment”, which would be incidental to it’s primary use.The Brooklyn Paper spoke with the architect about the current state of Red Hook:
Garrison saw his defeat as part of an ongoing conflict in Red Hook between residential and manufacturing. “It’s been a battleground,” Garrison said because industrial businesses do not want Red Hook to become residential. So Garrison’s lot remains zoned for manufacturing, even though it is actually too small to be used for anything except residential. “Common sense is not prevailing here,” Garrison said.Red Hook blog A View from the Hook shares this sentiment, pointing out that the lot where the project was to be built is next to two residential structures. We'll see how Amato proceeds from here. Three options he's considering - redefine the project as an office building, file for a zoning variance with its requisite costs and delays, or scrap the site and begin anew somewhere else - will surely add time, cost, and frustration to the already ambitious project.