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Posts from the Development Category


This Map Shows Where de Blasio Wants to Reduce Parking Mandates

Parking requirements for affordable and senior housing have already been eliminated in the dark grey areas. Under the mayor's plan, they would also be eliminated in a new "transit zone," shown in purple. Map: DCP [PDF]

Under the mayor’s plan, parking requirements would be eliminated for subsidized housing in a new “transit zone,” shown in purple. Map: DCP [PDF]

In February, the Department of City Planning outlined the broad strokes of how the de Blasio administration will seek to change the rules that shape new development in New York. After eight months of public meetings and behind-the-scenes work, City Hall’s proposals were released this week. The documents reveal details of how the city wants to handle parking minimums in new residential buildings, and it looks like incremental progress, not a major breakthrough, for parking reform.

Mandatory parking minimums, which require the construction of a certain amount of car storage in new buildings, have been in the zoning code since 1961. Multiple studies have shown that they drive up the cost of housing and increase traffic. The de Blasio administration is proposing to reduce parking requirements near transit, but primarily for subsidized housing, not the market-rate construction the city expects to account for most new development.

Perhaps the biggest change in the plan, called Zoning for Quality and Affordability, is the creation of a “transit zone” covering most land that allows new multi-family housing within a half-mile of a subway line.

Within the transit zone, off-street parking would not be required for new public housing, senior housing, or apartments reserved for people earning below a certain income. Buildings that include a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing could apply for a special permit to reduce or eliminate parking requirements on a case-by-case basis [PDF].

Existing parking could also be removed: Senior housing will be allowed to take out parking without needing any approvals, but other types of affordable housing would require a special permit to get rid of existing parking.

There are plenty of holes in the transit zone. Most of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights has long been excluded from the map, despite access to the N and R trains. An earlier map included much of the Rockaways, which was later dropped, and sections of Eastchester in the Bronx were also dropped. In Queens, large sections of Woodhaven and Ozone Park are excluded from the transit zone, despite being adjacent to the A and J trains, because zoning in that area is slightly less dense than nearby sections of Brooklyn.

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CB 12: Proposed Building on Top of 1 Train Is Too Big, Needs More Parking

X marks the spot of the 1 train entrance below a proposed apartment building on Broadway in Washington Heights, which CB 12 says needs more than 50 parking spots. Image via DNAinfo

X marks the spot of the 1 train entrance under a proposed apartment building that CB 12 says needs more than 50 parking spaces. Image via DNAinfo

Community Board 12 members voted against a proposal for a new apartment building in Washington Heights, to be built on top of the 1 train, in part because they want the developers to build more parking, according to DNAinfo coverage of the Wednesday meeting.

HAP Investment Developers wants to build a 16-story, 241-unit residential building at 4452 Broadway, with 50 parking spots to be accessed through a garage entrance on Fairview Avenue. Most residential buildings in Washington Heights and Inwood top out at six to eight stories, and the company needs a zoning variance to allow for additional height.

From DNAinfo:

Members of the Land Use committee voted unanimously to oppose HAP’s request for the zoning changes, citing the height of the building, the lack of parking and the potential impact on the character of the neighborhood.

The building would sit on top of the Broadway entrance to the 191st Street 1 train station, and would be served by several bus routes. It’s apparently lost on CB 12 members that the board serves an area where parking is not a concern for most people, given that only 25 percent of households own cars.

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De Blasio NYCHA Proposal: More Space for People, Less Subsidized Parking

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stabilize the finances of the New York City Housing Authority includes higher, but still subsidized, parking fees and a promise to develop a mix of market-rate and affordable housing on under-utilized property, including parking lots.

A conceptual plan for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

A concept for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

The mayor announced that the city will be developing new housing on NYCHA property. De Blasio took pains to distinguish the levels of subsidized housing in his proposal from an un-implemented Bloomberg administration proposal to develop housing on NYCHA property in Manhattan.

The new development plan would build 10,000 units in buildings where all residences would have below-market rents, plus about 7,000 residences in buildings that would be a 50-50 mix of market-rate and below-market units.

It’s an open question, however, exactly which NYCHA properties will be the site of new development. De Blasio said the city will begin announcing development sites in September. The New York Times reported that the first sites would be at Van Dyke and Ingersoll houses in Brooklyn and Mill Brook Houses in the Bronx.

The authority says the developments would “transform underutilized NYCHA-owned property,” including parking lots and other street-facing parcels like trash or storage areas, over the next 10 years. Parking lots are particularly promising, since they cover more than 467 acres of NYCHA property, according to a parking reform study prepared for the Institute for Public Architecture last year.

The Bloomberg administration’s development plan would have replaced any parking removed to make way for new housing. The de Blasio administration has not yet replied to a question asking if that will be the case with its plan.

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The East Bronx Doubles Down on Traffic-Oriented Development

This suburban development is coming within walking distance of a new Metro-North station planned for the East Bronx. Image: Simone Development

This suburban office park will be built within walking distance of a new Metro-North station planned for the East Bronx. Image: Simone Development

The East Bronx is on track to get new Metro-North service, but developers are building unwalkable, traffic-generating projects near the stations, fueled by state and city funding for highway ramps and expansions. Unless things change, the new rail service will be marooned in a sea of car-centric sprawl and traffic congestion.

The biggest development site, sandwiched between an Amtrak line and the Hutchinson River Parkway, is just east of Jacobi Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It was originally a 76-acre campus for the Bronx Psychiatric Center, a state facility that’s downsizing and selling off land for development.

Simone Development has already built the first phase of the Hutchinson Metro Center, a complex featuring office space, retail, and a hotel. Earlier this year, Empire State Development, the same state agency behind the Atlantic Yards mega-project in Brooklyn, awarded Simone the second phase, with even more office space.

While there’s a shuttle to the nearby 6 train, the project is designed to generate lots of car trips. “We do have an abundance of parking. One of the things that’s very attractive about the Hutchinson Metro Center is that people can come here and actually find a parking spot,” said Simone Development President Joseph Kelleher. “Having parking is very important.”

“The best of the city and the suburbs,” croons the project’s promotional website, which features a video with tenants raving about the plentiful free parking. “When you come into the Hutchinson Metro Center, you don’t believe you’re in the borough of the Bronx,” a tenant says in the video. “You don’t even believe you’re in New York City.”

More car infrastructure is on the way: The Department of City Planning is undertaking a broad review of traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway, and State Senator Jeff Klein secured $1 million for NYC DOT to study adding a new ramp directly from the parkway to the Hutchinson Metro Center, to make driving even more convenient.

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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.


De Blasio Team Gradually Beefing Up Its Parking Reform Proposals

New York is one step closer to overhauling a discredited policy that drives up the cost of housing and makes traffic congestion worse, but the scope of the reforms the de Blasio administration is pursuing remains limited.

The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone -- but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP

The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone — but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP

Last week, the Department of City Planning came out with the broad strokes of a major update to the city’s zoning code, including the elimination of parking mandates for affordable housing near transit. It’s the first time City Hall has proposed completely doing away with mandatory parking minimums for any type of housing in such a large area outside the Manhattan core. However, market-rate projects, which the administration expects to account for most new housing in the next 10 years, would still be required to include a predetermined amount of off-street parking.

The new proposal is a step up from the housing plan that City Hall released last May, which sought to reduce but not eliminate parking minimums for affordable housing close to transit. To cut the costs of housing construction, DCP is now seeking to get rid of parking mandates for affordable housing within a newly-designated “transit zone.”

Similar parking reforms for affordable housing are already in effect in Downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan core. What’s encouraging is that the transit zone is much larger than those areas. Most new construction in the city will probably fall within its boundaries.

The transit zone overlaps in large part with areas less than half a mile from a subway station where multi-unit housing is allowed. Some neighborhoods with low car ownership rates just beyond the reach of the subway are included, while others with subway access, like Bay Ridge and Howard Beach, are not. It covers just about every part of the city where large-scale housing construction is likely.

Within this new zone, parking requirements would be eliminated for new affordable housing, including senior housing and “inclusionary” housing attached to market-rate projects. Existing senior units in the transit zone would be able to get rid of parking without requiring special approvals, while other affordable buildings in the zone must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission before eliminating unused parking.

Outside the transit zone, parking requirements for all types of affordable units would be simplified and reduced. Mandates for senior housing in high-density areas outside the transit zone would be eliminated entirely, while areas that allow single-family houses would retain existing parking rules.

Parking policy experts lauded the city’s move, but noted that it falls far short of what other cities are doing. “Overall, this is a really positive step,” said Columbia University city planning professor David King. “Recognizing that parking requirements are a burden for supplying housing, and affordable housing, is a big deal.”

While the city acknowledges that mandatory off-street parking contributes to high construction costs, it proposes solutions to this problem only for subsidized units. Market-rate units, it seems, will have to continue under the current parking mandates.

“If it’s good for affordable housing, why isn’t it good for all housing?” asked King.

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Bus Rapid Transit, Not Ferry Subsidies, Would Help Struggling New Yorkers

Image: EDC [PDF]

Per rider, ferries need significantly higher subsidies than subways or local buses. Image: EDC [PDF]

In today’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio returned to his signature campaign issues of affordability and equity. Focusing mainly on housing, the mayor outlined a plan for growth centered around transit-accessible neighborhoods, and he recommitted to building several new Bus Rapid Transit routes.

But de Blasio missed the mark with his big new transit initiative — a subsidized ferry system. Dollar for dollar, ferries are just not an effective way to spend public money to improve transit options for low-income New Yorkers.

“If we are going to have affordable housing, how are we going to help people get around? What’s the role of transportation in making sure that people have access to opportunity and connecting to where the jobs are all over the five boroughs?” the mayor asked. “Well, we thought about that.”

De Blasio said rides on the new ferry system will cost no more than a MetroCard swipe when it launches in 2017. The system will receive $55 million from the city and serve neighborhoods including Astoria and the Rockaways in Queens, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Soundview in the Bronx, according to DNAinfo.

“Ferries will be affordable to everyday New Yorkers, just like our subways and buses,” de Blasio said, adding that the ferries will help revitalize commercial corridors near their outer-borough landings.

This sounds great, until you look at how much ferries cost and how many people they would serve compared to better buses and trains.

Even with fares at $3.50 per ride, running ferries from Pier 11 to the Rockaways last year required a subsidy of nearly $30 per rider, according to the Economic Development Corporation. In part, that was because its limited schedule failed to attract much ridership. The more centrally-located East River Ferry has more ridership and a better schedule, but still had a slightly higher per-rider subsidy than bus service in 2013, on top of its $4 fare [PDF]. Dropping the fare to match the bus and subway would likely require additional subsidies.

Even the popular Staten Island Ferry, which is free and has frequent service, had a per-rider subsidy in 2011 more than three times higher than local MTA buses, and more than 10 times higher than the subway [PDF].

The role that ferries can play in the transportation system is limited by the accessibility of waterfront sites and the difficulty of connecting to other transit services. The East River Ferry maxed out at a daily average of 4,000 weekday riders and 6,000 weekend riders in 2013. 

There’s also a disconnect between most of the areas the ferries would serve and the transit needs of low-income neighborhoods. A better way to spend those subsidies to help struggling New Yorkers would be to bolster Bus Rapid Transit improvements across the boroughs.

De Blasio did mention Bus Rapid Transit in the speech, recommitting to his campaign promise to bring the city’s BRT network to a total of 20 routes by the end of his first term. The pace of expansion will have to speed up considerably to hit that target. So far, the administration has cut the ribbon on just one new Select Bus Service route, with a handful of additional routes in the planning stages.

A coalition of groups backing expanded BRT, including the Working Families Party, the Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Riders Alliance, issued statements thanking the mayor for commitment to BRT. City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez also promised to hold a hearing on the future of BRT in New York and the mayor’s plans.

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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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Livable Streets or Tall Buildings? Cities Can Have Both

Chicago's 17-story Monadnock building provides pedestrians with an interesting architectural experience and retail amenities at their eye level, despite being almost 200 feet tall. Photo: ##

Chicago’s 17-story Monadnock building provides pedestrians with an interesting architectural experience and retail amenities at their eye level, despite being almost 200 feet tall. Photo: Wikipedia

Kaid Benfield’s new blog post on density is getting a lot of buzz over at NRDC’s Switchboard blog. Benfield, a planner/lawyer/professor/writer who co-founded both LEED’s Neighborhood Development rating system and the Smart Growth America coalition, has some serious street cred when it comes to these matters. And on this one, he’s with Danish architect Jan Gehl, who says wonderful places are built at human-scale density — three to six stories.

Benfield’s low- to mid-rise ideal is a great fit for smaller cities and towns trying to become more walkable and less car-dependent. And in most of America, building walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods out of three story buildings would be vastly more dense than the typical low-slung, single-use development pattern that predominates today. But it won’t work everywhere.

With demographers expecting the U.S. population to grow by 100 million people over the next 35 years, we’re going to need to build smarter and more vertical. In some cities, housing is already maxed out and unreasonably expensive. In those places, building up is often the only way to go. Can taller buildings engage people on foot and work at street level? It can be done. Just ask a million and a half humans living in Manhattan, or the 600,000 residents of Vancouver, or the residents of other cities where street life and skyscrapers coexist.

Benfield allows that taller buildings can be designed well for pedestrians, but his enthusiasm is for density-without-height, not how to integrate height into the pedestrian environment. He cites a study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab that concluded neighborhoods with smaller and older buildings are more successful urban places than those with larger, newer buildings. They tend to have greater densities of both population and businesses and have higher Walk Scores and Transit Scores. And the street life in those older districts tends to continue later into the night. (Again, Manhattan might want to speak up here.)

I get it. I tend to like living in a neighborhood with the “eyes on the street” security and community spirit that comes from front porches and stoops. But there are probably a lot of factors at play in that study by the Trust aside from building size.

Preferences differ and not all neighborhoods are the same. “Eyes on the street” can come from simply having a sidewalk full of people — or from the lower stories of a tall building. Architects and designers who care about the pedestrian environment have figured out how to create streets and public spaces that attract people amid towering skyscrapers. Even the shadowy caverns of Lower Manhattan, built before zoning codes mandated building setbacks, appeal to some people — the area has been undergoing a residential boom for years.

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Are There Any Affordable Cities Left in America?

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

When you factor in both housing and transportation costs (H+T) as a percent of income, the car-dependent cities in the right column are especially expensive. But are DC, SF, and NYC that much more affordable, even if you count the benefits of transit? Source: Citizens Budget Commission

Are Washington, San Francisco, and New York the most affordable American cities? A new report from the New York-based Citizen’s Budget Commission [PDF], which made the rounds at the Washington Post and CityLab, argues that if you consider the combined costs of housing and transportation, the answer is yes.

But a closer look at the data casts some doubt on that conclusion. Between the high cost of transportation in sprawling regions and the high demand for housing in compact cities with good transit, very few places in America are looking genuinely affordable these days.

The CBC report uses a better measure of affordability than looking at housing costs alone. Transportation is the second biggest household expense for the average American family, and looking at what people spend on housing plus transportation (H+T) can upend common assumptions about which places are affordable and which are not. Regions with cheap housing but few alternatives to car commuting don’t end up scoring so well.

There are some problems with the CBC’s methodology, however. While abundant transit is absolutely essential to keeping household transportation costs down, and it provides a lifeline to low-income residents of major coastal cities, the report still tends to exaggerate overall affordability in these areas.

According to the report, for example, New York City ranks third in affordability among 22 large cities. A “typical household” in New York City, the CBC finds, spends 32 percent of its income on housing and transportation combined. Part of the reason New York comes out looking good, though, is that CBC used a regional measure of income but looked at typical rents only in the city itself. Because the region’s median income is higher than the median income in the city ($62,063 vs. $51,865, respectively, according to 2008-2012 Census data), NYC appears more affordable than it really is.

Another issue, flagged by Michael Lewyn at his CNU blog, is that by looking at average rents, which in some cities include many rent-stabilized units, the calculation doesn’t necessarily capture what someone searching for shelter is likely to pay. If you’re trying to find an apartment in New York now, getting a place for the average rent would probably be extremely difficult.

What really stands out in the CBC report isn’t that New York, San Francisco, and DC are affordable — it’s that car-dependent areas that may have cheap housing turn out to be so expensive once you factor in transportation.

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