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State’s Top Court: Low-Cost Parking Is Not a Tax-Free Charity

The owner of five Queens cut-rate parking facilities will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court has ruled. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the city’s decision to take back a tax exemption it had previously granted the politically-connected non-profit that operates 2,000 parking spaces in downtown Jamaica.

Photo: Google Street View

The politically connected non-profit operator of discount parking garages in Jamaica will have to pay property taxes, the state’s top court ruled. Photo: Google Street View

Over the course of a decade starting in 1996, Jamaica First Parking LLC, a subsidiary of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), purchased parking garages and lots in downtown Jamaica from the city. The GJDC board, which includes former Congressman Rev. Floyd Flake, is well connected to much of the political establishment in southeast Queens.

In 2007, the city’s Finance Department said Jamaica First’s parking garages would be exempt from property taxes because they serve a “charitable” purpose under the law. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez smelled something fishy in late 2010, and the city reversed its property tax exemption just months later.

GJDC then sued the city for taking back the property tax giveaway. The case ultimately went to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which on July 1 ruled 5-2 that the non-profit will have to pay property taxes for its public parking lots [PDF].

While the court didn’t question the wisdom of below-market parking garage construction as an economic development strategy, it was clear that the court didn’t buy the argument that operating public parking is related to non-profit charitable work.

“We disagree with petitioners’ assertion that the parking facilities are charitable in and of themselves because they fulfill the primary purpose of economic development,” wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. “While these goals may be laudable, they are not charitable.”

“We’re waiting for the lawyers to review the decision so we can figure out how to move ahead,” GJDC spokesman Bob Liff told the Press of Southeast Queens. “If this means they have to pay property tax, it is our job to figure out how much that is.”

GJDC now owes at least $2.7 million in back taxes, a de Blasio administration spokesperson told the paper.

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South Bronx Greenway Takes Shape on Food Center Drive

Planting is underway on the latest segment of the South Bronx Greenway on Food Center Drive. Photo: Angela Tovar/Sustainable South Bronx

Crews tend planter beds on the latest segment of the South Bronx Greenway on Food Center Drive, set to open this fall. Photo: Angela Tovar/Sustainable South Bronx

A decade in the making, the South Bronx Greenway segment along Food Center Drive in Hunts Point is almost complete. The loop, which will provide a protected path along a busy truck route past some of the region’s largest food and beverage distributors, is set to open this fall.

First proposed by the city in the 2005 Hunts Point Vision Plan, the greenway along Food Center Drive will provide a safe link between residential areas of Hunts Point and the neighborhood’s waterfront parks.

Currently, Food Center Drive has three lanes in each direction divided by a concrete median. A 2004 traffic study by the city found that 70 percent of truck traffic on the loop moves counter-clockwise, so the street will become one-way under the new design, with both sides of the median carrying counter-clockwise traffic. The project also removes one car lane on the outer loop to make way for the greenway.

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The bikeway on Food Center Drive will help link the residential areas of Hunts Point to its waterfront parks. Map: EDC

One-way operation enables the elimination of left turns across the greenway. The change, which has been under discussion for years, entailed mapping Food Center Drive as a city street and receiving approvals through the city’s land use review process, including from the borough president and the local community board.

Some businesses along Food Center Drive, however, launched a last-ditch effort to stop the one-way change at last week’s Bronx Community Board 2 economic development committee meeting.

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NYC Replaces a Parking Crater With Parking-Free Housing and Retail

One of Manhattan’s few remaining parking craters is going to be filled in with housing and retail — all without any car storage, despite the city government’s belief that the site called for up to 500 parking spots. Call it “Parking Sanity.”

The project, called Essex Crossing, is on the Lower East Side. It replaces surface lots formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, which were cleared decades ago and formed a parking crater engulfing multiple city blocks. The development will add 1,000 apartments (including 500 subsidized units), park space, a grocery store, a public market, and other retail.

Earlier this year, the developers decided to drop parking from the project entirely, even though the city pushed for up to 500 parking spaces — above and beyond the parking maximums that would normally be allowed under the zoning code.

The city, which initiated the project before selecting the developer, saw off-street parking as an elixir to help the project go down smoothly with the neighborhood. But it was not economical to build that much parking, and the developer eventually chose to eliminate parking entirely because site limitations would have placed the garage in a problematic location.

Streetsblog and Streetfilms recently sat down with Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area. Chin has advocated for the city to replace parking garages with affordable housing in her district, and she thinks things will be just fine without parking in the new development. As she says, people have plenty of other options for getting around.

Construction on the first phase of the development is set to begin this summer.

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Industry City Developer Thinks Sunset Park Waterfront Needs More Parking

The owner of Industry City, in background, says Sunset Park needs more parking. Photo: Google Maps

The owner of Industry City says Sunset Park needs more parking lots. Photo: Google Maps

A Sunset Park developer wants to use city land for a giant new parking lot, in what’s shaping up to be a test for Council Member Carlos Menchaca and the NYC Economic Development Corporation.

Industry City, which has 6 million square feet of industrial, office, and retail space in 16 buildings across more than 30 acres on the Sunset Park waterfront, is owned by a group of investors led by real estate firm Jamestown. Yesterday, the group announced a $1 billion redevelopment plan to attract employers in media, technology, fashion, and small-scale manufacturing.

The developers are asking for zoning changes to allow academic facilities, additional retail, and hotel uses at Industry City, which is zoned for manufacturing. They also have their eyes set on adding lots more parking.

The area has decent transit access, but it could be better. Industry City is near the express subway stop at 36th Street and Fourth Avenue and is served by three bus routes, including the crosstown B35 to Brownsville. That route has been identified as a priority for Select Bus Service expansion. Industry City is also right next to the planned Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route and is a potential candidate for ferry service, though it was skipped over in the ferry network Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month.

What the developers are focused on, though, is parking.

Industry City sits across the street from the city-owned South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which already leases parking space to its neighbors, including 450 spots to Industry City. The development’s owners are looking to carve out up to five more acres for car storage in a corner of the 88-acre terminal site. According to back-of-the-envelope calculations by The Brooklyn Paper, that area — equal to the size of four football fields — could result in as many as 750 parking spaces.

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Attention EDC: Big Development Projects Don’t Need Parking After All

Just one of Essex Crossing’s nine sites could have handled a parking garage pushed by EDC. Instead, the developer and members of the project’s advisory group decided against adding more traffic to Delancey Street. Image: Essex Crossing

During the Bloomberg administration, city officials spearheading a giant Lower East Side mixed-use development larded it up with parking above and beyond what’s normally allowed in Manhattan. Now, the company in charge of building the project says it’s going to go parking-free, and is hosting a public meeting on its plan tonight. This could be a huge victory for Lower East Siders who want more housing but not more traffic and dirtier air, and it should be a lesson for the NYC Economic Development Corporation with far-reaching consequences.

The story of Essex Crossing, formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, goes back decades, but the latest chapter began a few years ago when the Bloomberg administration restarted the development process for long-dormant parcels near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. EDC hashed out a development proposal with neighborhood groups and Community Board 3 before securing permits from the City Planning Commission and selecting a developer to build the project.

EDC pushed for 500 parking spaces, replacing 400 surface parking spots and adding another 100 for good measure. Parking, you may have heard, is an obsession of car owners at community board meetings. To keep this constituency from going ballistic about its plans, EDC almost always proposes a net increase in the number of parking spots at its development sites, usually above what zoning requires or allows.

More parking leads to more cars clogging already-congested roads, but most community boards and elected officials eat up EDC’s parking-saturated plans in the mistaken belief that tons of off-street parking will make it easier for car owners to find free on-street spaces.

Early versions of Essex Crossing, which spans nine city blocks above the confluence of four subway lines, included a 356-space municipal garage on Ludlow Street. To keep that cheap parking intact, the project’s boundaries were redrawn in 2012 to avoid building over the garage. (Council Member Margaret Chin has since asked Mayor de Blasio to replace the garage with affordable housing.)

The nine parcels that remained in the six-acre plan included parking lots with 400 public spaces. The development’s environmental impact statement estimated that it would need a maximum of 257 spaces, and the city’s zoning code allowed no more than 345 spots. In the end, EDC got the City Planning Commission to sign off on a 500-car garage, above and beyond what zoning would normally allow for the project, which will consist of retail and commercial uses and 1,000 new housing units.

Soon after, EDC selected Delancey Street Associates LLC, a joint venture of L+M Development Partners, BFC Partners, and Taconic Investment Partners, to build the project. Earlier this month, the developer revealed that while it had permission to build a 500-space garage, the final project will be built entirely without parking, just like most of the rest of the neighborhood. To repeat, the government wanted to build 500 parking spaces, but now that the project has been handed off to the developer, the parking garages are gone.

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Weisbrod and Kimball Tie Their Own Hands on Parking Reform

Reducing the amount of parking in new development promises to make housing more affordable and curb traffic congestion, but it hasn’t gained much traction in Bill de Blasio’s first months at City Hall, despite the mayor’s ambitious promises to ease the housing crunch. Today, two top city officials explained why, unlike their counterparts in more car-dependent cities, New York’s leaders are suggesting only the meekest changes to off-street parking policy.

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC

The mayor’s housing plan recommends lower parking requirements for affordable housing near transit, senior housing, and commercial development that also includes residential units. At a Municipal Art Society forum this morning, Planning Director Carl Weisbrod highlighted these reforms as one of the ways the mayor’s housing plan aims to reduce the cost of construction — but only in places where car ownership is very low.

“Other areas have to be examined more carefully,” Weisbrod said after the event. “What we’re looking at is how we can appropriately reduce the cost of construction while not having a significant — or any — impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods.”

This outlook matches the philosophy of DCP’s nascent parking plan for “inner ring” neighborhoods, which lists “maintaining an adequate supply of residential parking for people who choose to own a vehicle” among its “quality of life” goals. The result: DCP tries to tailor the city’s parking regulations to local car ownership rates, rather than using parking policy as a tool to make housing more affordable and reduce traffic.

DCP isn’t the only place where the tail wags the parking policy dog. If anything, things are worse at the Economic Development Corporation.

EDC President Kyle Kimball said he follows Streetsblog and that while he supports our policy angle, he takes issue with how we’ve reported about EDC projects. “[EDC] never had a policy of incentivizing parking as an economic development strategy,” he said. “Actually, at the end of the day it ends up costing the city. Developers don’t want to build parking, either.”

Yet EDC’s projects often include massive amounts of parking. At Yankee Stadium, EDC arranged public financing for 9,000 mostly-empty parking spaces whose operator defaulted on tax-exempt bonds. “The Bronx parking situation was one where they put in the right amount of parking at the time, given what they thought and what the Yankees were willing to pay for,” Kimball said of the subsidized project.

To hear Kimball tell it, the parking was done in by an over-performing train station. “There has turned out to be more commuting from that Metro-North station than the EIS anticipated,” he said. “So do I think it was a mistake to build the parking? No. Do I think the EIS could have been done differently? Yes.”

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West Side Project Calls For 400-500 Parking Spots. Would EDC Want More?

Developer TF Cornerstone has begun the process of getting rezonings and special permits from the City Planning Commission for its residential and retail project on 11th Avenue and 57th Street, which would replace a string of auto dealerships and a 1,000-space parking garage with a new project containing either 395 or 500 parking spaces, depending on the retail tenants.

This project will cut the number of parking spaces currently on site by at least half. If EDC were in charge, parking would likely increase. Image: TF Cornerstone

TF Cornerstone’s project — 1,189 apartments plus 42,000 square feet of retail that may or may not include car dealerships — would be a step up for the site, but whether the garage has 500 or 395 spaces, it would still be more than what’s allowed under the city’s Manhattan Core parking regulations, which cap by-right “accessory parking” for mixed-use projects at 225 spaces. Even that cap, well below the proposed 500 or 395-space garage, is still higher than peak parking demand estimated in the project’s draft environmental impact statement — 150 spaces.

What’s notable about the project is that it approaches parking differently than city-led developments: It would probably look a lot worse if the Economic Development Corporation were in charge. The city’s economic development arm regularly compels developers to preserve any parking that already exists at a given site and increase the parking supply beyond what zoning normally allows or requires.

Even if TF Cornerstone gets a special permit for its garage and builds by-right accessory parking on top of that, the combined 725 spaces would still fall below what’s currently on site. That’s something EDC simply doesn’t do in most of its development projects.

At the Lower East Side’s Essex Crossing development, formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, EDC got a special permit for a 500-space public parking garage, exceeding the project’s estimated demand for parking, the caps written into the zoning code, and the number of parking spaces already on the site.

At Flushing Commons, zoning mandated 700 spaces, but EDC made sure the project included 1,600 spaces — more than double the requirement — in an effort to replace existing on-site parking. EDC is pretty explicit about its desire to never eliminate a parking space: For a project in Harlem that would replace an under-capacity garage, it told developers to “maintain as many parking spaces as possible.” EDC declined to comment on the TF Cornerstone project.

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Feds Reject All Three NYC Applications for Latest Round of TIGER Grants

Without a TIGER grant, New Yorkers will have to wait a little longer for the next phase of the Bronx River Greenway (in red). Map: Bronx River Alliance

This morning, U.S. DOT announced the winners in the latest round of its highly-competitive TIGER grant program. While upstate New York won grants for two projects — a highway teardown in Rochester and a complete streets project in Olean — New York City missed out, with applications for ferry improvements, a greenway connection in the Bronx, and the redesign of a busy intersection in Downtown Brooklyn failing to make the cut.

DOT had applied for funding to implement the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway project, a long-anticipated reconstruction of the intersection of Tillary Street and Adams Street that would dramatically improve cyclist and pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge. DOT, which had unsuccessfully submitted the partially-funded project for earlier rounds of TIGER funding before trying again this year, told Streetsblog it was looking at other federal funding sources to fill the gap.

The Parks Department applied for $27.5 million from TIGER to match $10 million in city funds for the completion a section of the Bronx River Greenway between Starlight Park and Concrete Plant Park. The Bronx project includes three bridges — two over the Bronx River and one over the adjacent Amtrak corridor. The project, delayed by negotiations over the Amtrak bridge, saw state funds dedicated to its construction expire in 2009.

A third application, from EDC, would have been dedicated to ferry infrastructure. Streetsblog has inquired with Parks and EDC to see how they plan to fund their projects without TIGER; we’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

New York City has previously won TIGER grants for Hunts Point freight rail infrastructure, Moynihan Station, the city’s Sheridan Expressway study, and the redesign of Fordham Plaza.

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Don’t Ask Seth Pinsky About NYCEDC Parking Development

“The worst thing we could do is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”

Seth Pinsky. Photo: NYCEDC

That was Seth Pinsky, former head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in 2010. True to that philosophy, during his tenure NYCEDC incentivized and financed suburban-style parking in development projects in neighborhoods across the city, ensuring that local residents will be dealing with resulting motor vehicle traffic for years to come.

Having recently departed NYCEDC for the private sector, Pinsky sat for an interview with Nancy Scola at Next City. It’s a wide-ranging piece, and well worth a read.

Here’s Pinsky on NYCEDC and parking:

NC: What do you make of the critique that NYCEDC has focused on big development projects with a ton of parking, not necessarily places that people can walk to and that are well-integrated into the fabric of street life?

Pinsky: It’s a critique that in no way reflects the reality of the record. The fact is, if you look at the major development projects that the city has undertaken under Mayor Bloomberg, whether it’s in neighborhoods like Willets Point or Coney Island or St. George in Staten Island or Hudson Yards, the city has either developed these projects around excellent public transportation access or [has] actually invested in the public transportation that will be necessary to allow people to commute. Anyone who thinks that this has not been a public transit-friendly administration is either blind to reality or has some sort of alternative agenda to push.

Note that Pinsky avoids answering for the thousands of parking spaces that EDC under his watch shoehorned into neighborhoods that do, in fact, have excellent transit. Though he is asked explicitly about EDC parking development — once a point of pride for Pinsky — he never even says the word.

It’s true that NYCEDC’s record over the last several years speaks for itself. Even if Pinsky now won’t acknowledge it.

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NYC’s Top Parking Subsidizer, Seth Pinsky, Moves On

Seth Pinsky, whose legacy as head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation will be years of parking-induced traffic in city neighborhoods, with taxpayers footing the bill, is headed to the private sector.

Seth Pinsky. Photo: NYCEDC

The news came this morning, via announcements from City Hall and RXR Realty, which hired Pinsky.

During Pinsky’s five-year tenure, NYCEDC incentivized and financed the inclusion of suburban-style parking in development projects across the city, from Flushing to the Lower East Side, Downtown Brooklyn to Staten Island. The ethos that prioritized parking and attendant motor vehicle traffic for some of the densest neighborhoods in the most transit-rich city in America was summed up in a statement from Pinsky himself.

“The worst thing we could do,” Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010, “is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”

Outdated environmental review regulations factored into some of EDC’s parking-saturated developments. But there are plenty of examples of EDC-sponsored projects, large and small, that were the product of an autocentric mindset and plain old political patronage. To name a few:

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