Applications for Special Parking Permits Keep Rolling in to City Planning

City Planning needs to decide whether to legalize this parking garage make its illegal extra cars

City Planning will decide whether to let this 44th Street parking garage buck the Clean Air Act and store 90 more cars than currently allowed by law. Image: Google Street View.

With two days until the City Planning Commission votes on the parking-heavy Riverside Center mega-project, the commissioners had a chance yesterday to ask any final questions about the project before the vote. As it happened, they didn’t bring up parking at that section of the meeting, but parking was a hot topic elsewhere on the commission’s agenda, including a pair of requests for special permits to build more parking below 60th Street.

First up, though, was an example of more enlightened planning: Courtlandt Crescent, slated to be the next development in the South Bronx’s much-heralded Melrose Commons revitalization project. This 217-apartment project, which will also house a 10,000 square foot child-care center, will include 29 spaces for cars, according to Department of City Planning staffer Vineeta Mathur. Courtlandt Crescent will also have parking for 110 bicycles.

When planning commission member Angela Battaglia wondered why there was so little car parking included, chair Amanda Burden responded, “It’s expensive. As you know, it would affect the affordability.” Battaglia then agreed that the affordability levels were indeed admirable.

Next was a request for a special permit to build a 42-space garage on the ground floor of a downtown office building. The building, located at the corner of Water and Broad Streets, is going to be the new home of the New York Daily News, and the News is requesting the garage so that its reporters and photographers can quickly get in a car and drive off to cover a story, according to DCP’s Grace Han. The garage would convert an existing loading bay and an under-used mailroom.

The desire to use ground floor space for a parking garage stands in sharp contrast to the Downtown Alliance’s new vision for Water Street, which calls for remaking the entire length of the corridor to put pedestrians first and revitalize street life. That vision has started to take shape with a DOT pedestrian plaza at Water and Whitehall Streets [PDF].

The final item was another special permit for a parking garage, this time a public garage on West 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. The garage currently is allowed to hold 260 cars but often stores more and has been cited for doing so by the Department of Buildings, according to DCP’s Erike Sellke. The garage, which exits onto 43rd Street across the street from an elementary school, is applying for permission to hold up to 350 cars.

Both Manhattan lots require a special permit because no new off-street parking is allowed in Manhattan south of 60th Street without one, in order for the city to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. But special permits are nearly always granted, weakening the effectiveness of the regulation. Things got so bad that a lawsuit recently forced the city to crack down on special permits and put a hard cap on the number of off-street spaces in the Hudson Yards area on Manhattan’s Far West Side. As part of the settlement, the City Planning Commission stated in city law that limiting the amount of off-street parking is an important component of “creating an area with a transit-and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood character.”

The West 44th Street lot is just one block away from the Hudson Yards area. Will the same logic apply?