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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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Midtown Rezoning Would Let Developers Buy Height With Ped Improvements

The Midtown skyline could look very different, with new buildings (an example is shown in white) reaching taller than the Chrysler Building. Such height would only be allowed in return for funding pedestrian improvements in the area. Image: DCP via the Observer

Transit-oriented development is a virtuous circle. New transit infrastructure makes it easier and faster to get to a place, and then that place grows. New development in turn leads to demand to justify better infrastructure, and more tax dollars to pay for it. That, in a nutshell, is the story of how Manhattan grew into what it is today, first around streetcars, then els, and eventually the subways.

In its new proposal for a major rezoning of Midtown East, the commercial capital of the country, the Bloomberg administration is embracing this virtuous circle. Due in part to the billions of dollars being invested in the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access project linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, the administration wants to allow a crop of new skyscrapers, some nearly as big as the Empire State Building. To build tall, though, developers will have to kick in funds to improve Midtown’s cramped pedestrian environment, above ground and below.

For a detailed look at how the zoning proposal will work, check out Matt Chaban’s write-up in the New York Observer. In short, though, the city plans to allow developers in the area — roughly from Madison Avenue to Third, and from 39th Street to 57th Street — to proceed with fewer procedural hurdles and to build bigger.

Along Park Avenue, new projects could be as large as Goldman Sachs’ new downtown headquarters, which is 43 stories tall. Around Grand Central, the transportation heart of the area, buildings could be roughly as big as the 51-story 1 Bryant Park. And if developers come up with something near Grand Central that exhibits “superior design relative to the sidewalk and the skyline,” said Frank Ruchala, the project manager for the Department of City Planning, it could reach taller than the Chrysler Building. The goal is to spark development in an area that only saw two new office buildings constructed in the last decade.

More office space around Grand Central would, on its own, promote a more sustainable regional transportation system. Almost every new Midtown commuter will take transit or walk to work. According to a separate DCP study, 86 percent of commuters entering the central business district during rush hour took transit in 2009.

DCP has structured the upzoning to improve the quality of those trips on train and on foot as well. To build taller than current zoning allows, developers will have to contribute to a new “District Improvement Fund” dedicated to public space and pedestrian improvements.

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Study Predicts “Resilient Walkable” Places Will Lead the Housing Recovery

This morning, a Minnesota Public Radio host asked me if the exurbs, whose growth rate flattened when the recession hit, are going to come back. Lots of people from far-distant suburbs like Blaine and Farmington called in, saying they like the way of life out there – they like having acres of trees buffering them from their nearest neighbor — and people won’t want to stop living in communities like that.

The data suggests otherwise, though. Earlier this week, the Demand Institute (a think tank created by the Conference Board — “a global, independent business membership and research association” — and Nielsen — yeah, the TV ratings people) released a report on the housing recovery. They say the worst of the housing crash is over and glimmers of recovery are on the horizon. But hope isn’t spread out uniformly across these United States. Those exurbs like Blaine and Farmington, Minnesota? They’re not coming back so fast.

Urban areas didn’t lose as much value during the recession. Home prices didn’t crash so hard. Not so many people found themselves under water, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. And urban areas are bouncing back faster. The Demand Institute calls these places “Resilient Walkables.” Only 15 percent of the U.S. population lives there.

The report bases its prognosis for recovery on seven factors: population size, walkability, severity of the crash, current affordability, unemployment, foreclosure inventory, and foreclosure policy. The Institute found what Angie noted earlier: Walk Score is positively correlated with strong housing prices. The Institute’s analysis of almost 1,700 U.S. cities showed that walkable cities had more positive price growth.

And it found that these “Resilient Walkables” were resilient indeed, with house prices projected to rise three percent next year and five percent a year for the four years after that.

Compare that to the places the Institute calls “Slow and Steady” – where more than a third of Americans live and where double-digit housing declines destabilized the market. Economic indicators are gloomy for these areas, but the authors find the planning solid, so the future is relatively bright. These are places like Charlotte, NC, Dallas and semi-urban D.C. suburbs like Gaithersburg, MD, and the study forecasts three percent growth starting in two years.

Then there are the “Damaged But Hopeful” areas – a category that encompasses big but depressed cities like Chicago and smaller ones like Stamford, CT. Thirty percent of Americans live in these places, too many of them fighting foreclosure. It will take them a little longer to get to three percent growth but from 2017 onward, the Demand Institute predicts that they’ll beat the national average.

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Active Living For All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit

Streetfilms teamed up with the Public Policy Institute at AARP to bring you a look at how Arlington, Virginia plans for its senior population using transit-oriented development (TOD).  Arlington has been practicing TOD since the late 1970s, when Washington’s Metrorail first began service there, and it’s proved very effective in accommodating the population growth of this inner suburb.

TOD helps older adults maintain their independence by providing good pedestrian access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and health care.  As Rodney Harrell, senior strategic policy advisor at AARP’s Public Policy Institute points out, “When you plan for older adults, you plan for the entire community.”

Learn more about the Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities initiatives.

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Can Staten Island’s North Shore Become NYC’s Next Great Neighborhood?

Corridors and intersections slated for mixed-use development by DCP and EDC.

Staten Island’s North Shore is one of the city’s great sites of opportunity. The neighborhoods along the Kill Van Kull are twice as dense as the rest of Staten Island, but lack any transit option beyond the bus. There are historic town centers at St. George and Port Richmond, but car-centric planning deadens street life. The waterfront, much of which still hosts a vibrant maritime industry, is only accessible to the public at three locations in six miles.

The opportunities aren’t lost on the city. With the release of North Shore 2030, a plan put out in December by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning, the stage has been set for opening up the waterfront, fostering mixed-use development, and making streets safe and friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. Realizing the full extent of that vision, however, largely hinges on the success of plans to restore rapid transit to the North Shore.

To learn more about the plan, this Wednesday I headed over to the North Shore, where Staten Islanders Meredith Sladek and Nick Rozak took me on a half-day bike tour of the area. North Shore 2030 is a broad planning effort, looking at everything from transportation to bolstering the North Shore’s significant maritime industry. At the center of the plan is a proposal to encourage traditional mixed-use developments, with residences on top of retail, along certain corridors, including Richmond Terrace, Castleton Avenue, and Victory Boulevard.

The economically depressed intersection of Richmond Terrace and Port Richmond Avenue. Photo: Noah Kazis

Pedestrian-oriented housing and commerce would be clustered in four “neighborhood centers.” Along the North Shore, there are a number of older neighborhoods with walkable bones, especially where rail and ferry stations existed prior to the opening of the Verrazano Bridge. As Staten Island has shifted toward the automobile, however, those areas have fallen on harder times, with commercial activity moving into malls and shopping centers. At the corner of Port Richmond Avenue and Richmond Terrace, for example, one block from a former rail station and ferry terminal, older pedestrian-oriented buildings have shuttered windows and “for rent” signs. North Shore 2030 reimagines the intersection full of pedestrians walking between the waterfront, shops, and their apartments.

The city imagines the intersection of Port Richmond Ave. and Richmond Terrace as a bustling pedestrian center.

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Deadline Approaching for Towns to Get a Helping Hand With TOD

A rendering of the Wyandanch Rising project, which used a planning grant to develop a downtown redevelopment vision that went on to win both state and federal funding.

An important heads up from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign: Towns looking to shape their future around NYC region’s extensive transit network have until the end of the week to apply for a grant from Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group to help turn those aspirations into a concrete vision.

This marks the second round of grants being issued by the groups. The first, given out in 2009, have helped a number of cities and towns in the region. Stratford, Connecticut turned a $50,000 grant into a plan for growth around its Metro-North train station and a draft of a new zoning code. Those plans, in turn, earned Stratford $250,000 in additional funding from the state. Wyandanch Rising, a downtown development project on Long Island, parlayed its funding into $2 million from the federal goverment and a share in the $100 million prize Long Island received from the Cuomo administration for winning its economic development competition.

Towns and cities in southwestern Connecticut, northern New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester County are eligible for the grants, as is New York City. Grants will provide between $10,000 and $50,000 for planning and public outreach. You can get more information and apply on Tri-State’s website.

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Eyes on the Street: At Knickerbocker Ave. Station, No Such Thing as TOD

With the Knickerbocker Avenue subway station visible in the background, this land is being used for a single-story building and a surface parking lot. The sidewalk, meanwhile, is blocked by federal employees headed to the armed forces recruitment center. Photo: Christopher Taylor Edwards.

This isn’t what transit-oriented development is supposed to look like.

Reader Christopher Taylor Edwards sent us these photos from two blocks of Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick. Immediately adjacent to the M train, suburban-style development  – complete with single-story buildings, drive-throughs and underutilized parking lots — marks the end of a vibrant commercial corridor.

One block down Knickerbocker from the subway is a single-story strip mall with a surface parking lot between the sidewalk and the door. The biggest tenant is a cell phone store, but for pedestrians headed to the subway, the most important might be the Armed Forces Career Center, which regularly hosts a fleet of government cars parked illegally on the sidewalk. Reported Edwards: “The cars parked on the sidewalk is a once a month or more occurrence. They are federally tagged cars generally or from Virginia and Maryland. No one is ever ticketed.”

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HUD Awards Bring “Bittersweet” End to Sustainability Program

Just days after the interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities was issued a death blow by having its funding axed in the FY2012 transportation budget, which President Obama signed into law Friday, HUD issued a reminder of just how sad that loss is: The agency released its list of 2011 award grantees — communities embarking on visionary projects that, with this assistance, will enable them to plan for the future holistically.

The City of Grand Rapids was awarded $459,224 for the Michigan Street Corridor Plan. Image: City of Grand Rapids

HUD granted nearly $96 million in 27 Community Challenge grants and 29 Regional Planning grants.

“The communities selected to receive these grants have a great opportunity to put their plans for smarter development and economic revitalization into action,” said Geoffrey Anderson of Smart Growth America in an email. “These grants are bittersweet, however, since they come just days after Congress passed legislation that did not include specific funding for another round of HUD grants next year.”

The Community Challenge grants are awarded to communities and organizations working to integrate transportation and housing, a key smart-growth goal and the focus of many livability advocates, like the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which seeks to include transportation in the calculation of housing costs. With a HUD grant, communities can update their local plans and zoning and building codes to support mixed-use development, affordable housing and the re-use of older buildings, according to HUD.

Regional Planning grants do much the same thing on a regional scale, with a priority on partnerships, including arts and culture and philanthropy. These grants aren’t just for planning, either; they’re also available for implementation of well-drawn plans for sustainable development.

As if it weren’t tragic enough to see Congress kill off the office’s funding, it’s especially sad that it had to happen during a banner year for interest in the program, in which applications outstripped available money more than 5 to 1. And, according to HUD, they’re encouraging just the kinds of partnerships they’re designed for:

This year, HUD’s investment of $95.8 million is garnering $115 million in matching and in-kind contributions – which is over 120 percent of the Federal investment – from the 56 selected grantees. This brings to total public and private investment for this round of grants to over $211 million.

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Department of City Planning Continues to Restrict Development Near Transit

Though the 2 train runs up White Plains Road, the Department of City Planning has proposed downzoning all the areas bounded by yellow on either side of the street. Image: NYC DCP

The Department of City Planning’s commitment to rezoning the city along more transit-oriented lines is a critical component of its sustainability agenda. Allowing more people to live and work next to transit means more people will ride transit and fewer will drive.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, upzonings have indeed been concentrated near transit. But what the administration gives with one hand, it takes with the other. Over the last decade, the Department of City Planning has also downzoned large swaths of transit-accessible land, preventing further development in these locations. Indeed, under one representative five-year period of Bloomberg and Burden’s city planning, three-quarters of the lots rezoned for greater density were located within a half-mile of rail transit, but so were two-thirds of the lots where development was further restricted, according to research by NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

The pattern still holds. In fact, some of DCP’s most recent rezonings are restricting development on blocks literally around the corner from a subway stop.

Take the Williamsbridge/Baychester rezoning in the Bronx, which the City Planning Commission certified last month. There, an elevated train, the 2, runs up White Plains Avenue. Along White Plains itself, DCP proposes to either maintain the existing rules or allow slightly more growth. But turn the corner off the main street even a fraction of a block, and the department is seeking to sharply curtail the opportunity for growth.

At the 219th Street station, for example, the allowable floor area ratio (or FAR), a measure of density, would drop from 2.43 to 1.25 as soon as you move east off of White Plains. Parking minimums would rise, requiring 85 parking spots for every 100 homes (up from a 70 percent ratio). To the immediate northwest of the station, the proposed zoning would be even stricter, with a FAR of 1.1 and a parking space required for each new residential unit.

The story is the same one stop further north at 225th Street. Walk one short block south of the station, turn left and the allowable FAR drops to 0.9, again with a parking space required for each unit.

Two sides of the Baychester Avenue stop on the 5 line are slated for the same extremely restrictive zoning, but in that case there won’t even be any upzoning along a main street to compensate for it.

Those neighborhoods are in the northeast Bronx, near the end of the subway system. Even so, transit is heavily used in the area; in that City Council district, less than half of residents drive to work.

Moreover, DCP is tightening its zoning precisely because developers want to build in these areas. Explaining the need for the new restrictions, the department writes on its website that “the residential neighborhoods in the rezoning area have been experiencing development pressure” and that the new rules are needed to “preserve the scale and context of these areas.”

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$100 Million for HUD Sustainability Program Survives in This Year’s Budget

With multiple versions of two years’ worth of federal budgets flying around, some details are still emerging about what’s in and what’s out. At the end of last week we heard that the FY2011 budget, which has been sent to the president for his signature, includes $100 million for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. According to HUD Sustainable Communities Director Shelley Poticha, the partnership was allocated $70 million for regional planning grants ($17.5 million is slated for regions with populations of less than 500,000) and $30 million for Community Challenge planning grants.

Chicago's GO TO 2040 plan to link transportation, land use, and economic development was awarded a $4.25 million Regional Planning grant from HUD last October. Image: CMAP

That’s still a significant reduction from the $150 million the partnership had last year, but in this time of shrinking budgets, it’s a lot more than some livability advocates feared. If the Sustainable Communities program had been killed in this budget, it would have been all the more difficult to revive it for inclusion in the upcoming reauthorization of the transportation bill.

The president wants to keep the partnership going, and indeed, within the administration and among reformers, the funding for the partnership is seen as a money-saver, consolidating duplicative agency programs, cutting through red tape, and using outcome-based metrics to identify and fund effective projects. Still, it’s an administration program labeled “livability” and was, therefore, extremely vulnerable to the GOP ax.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is the name for the coordination among DOT, EPA, and HUD to promote planning and infrastructure investment according to their six tenets of livability: transportation choices, affordable housing, economic competitiveness, support for existing communities, coordination of federal policies and investing in healthy communities. The two planning grant programs, which are funded and managed out of HUD, are a centerpiece of the entire partnership. The other main part of it, TIGER, is run through the DOT and also saw the bulk of its funding — the lion’s share of TIGER, if you will — preserved (perhaps somewhat surprisingly, in the current budget bill), suffering only a 12 percent cut.

Meanwhile, transit capital funding (the FTA’s New Starts program) was reduced by about a quarter, high-speed rail was zeroed out completely, Amtrak took about a 10 percent hit, and TIGGER (a greenhouse gas reduction program for transit) got cut from $75 million to $50 million.

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HUD Grant Will Lay the Groundwork for TOD in New York and Connecticut

From Suffolk County to New Haven, the communities of New York and Connecticut are planting the seeds for a serious investment in transit-oriented development in the years ahead. Funded by a $3.5 million grant from HUD’s Sustainable Communities program, nine cities, two counties and six regional planning organizations have come together to develop regional plans for tying sustainable transportation and new development. Those plans are the first steps toward an impressive array of projects across the region, from new rail stations to new zoning codes around existing transit hubs.

The New York and Connecticut region have the best transit and rail network in the country, explained Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association, which is administering the collaboration, but also the largest income gaps and most expensive housing. For the region to continue to prosper in the 21st century, he said, it needs to embrace its transportation system as the backbone for continued development, including affordable housing.

By mid-century, said Adolfo Carrion, the regional HUD administrator and former director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, the country will need an additional 200 billion square feet of development to house its growing population and economy. “It has to be vertical,” said Carrion. “It has to be reliant on mass transit.”

For that to happen, local government needs to lay the groundwork now, so that when the economy recovers from recession and the real estate market again kicks into high gear, dense and transit-oriented projects are built. This grant makes that kind of planning possible.

In New York City, for example, the Department of City Planning will develop strategies to encourage transit-oriented development at Metro-North stations in the Bronx and at the East New York LIRR station. “Growth in New York City in the right places actually takes cars off the road,” said Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. The Bronx was selected due to its strong growth in recent years, she added. “The logical place for the Bronx to grow more is along its Metro-North corridors.”

In East New York, fantastic transportation resources are paired with major economic challenges and strong community organizations to partner with. The area near the train station will become what Burden called “a really complete neighborhood, live/work, mixed-income, mixed-use, that’s really walkable, bikeable with strong mass transit.”

In Stamford and Bridgeport, the grant will fund feasibility studies for new rail stations, which could catalyze the redevelopment of entire new neighborhoods.

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