Tag Archives: New York

Client News: ERFA’s New Zoning Plan to Stop Supertowers

East River Fifties Alliance Files New Zoning Plan, Promotes Affordable Housing; Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Members Kallos and Garodnick, and State Senator Krueger Co-Sign

After months of intense preparation, our clients, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), just filed a new zoning plan for Manhattan’s Far East 50s (the area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue) with the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan would restrict supertowers and out-of-scale development in that neighborhood, while providing for affordable housing. Not only that, but they had an elite list of co-filers: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger.

This proposal, created via a partnership between the community (through ERFA) and city planners, is one of the most sweeping community residential re-zoning plans in City history, and the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component.

Currently, the Far East Fifties is vulnerable to gigantic megatower development because its zoning is left over from the 1960s and sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings. It’s the last residential-only segment of the city that remains without such protections. (The same zoning is generally limited to busy commercial or mixed use avenues in Manhattan.)  In fact, one developer has already proposed a wildly oversized 1,000 foot megatower on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place that would dwarf the entire neighborhood. ERFA is working to prevent not only that project but all others like it.

Affordable Housing

As Mayor de Blasio has voiced repeatedly, NYC needs affordable housing badly. ERFA not only agrees, but the neighborhood is welcoming such opportunities with open arms. This new zone would urge developers to devote at least 25% of new units to affordable housing in the neighborhood.

As it stands, the East River Fifties’ R10 zone and equivalent zones throughout the city only create about 4-5% affordable units with each new development. If fully implemented, the ERFA plan would nearly quadruple the amount of affordable housing in new developments in our neighborhood. The details of how that goal could be best met – whether by making the affordable housing component mandatory, voluntary, or by some other formulation – will be determined in ERFA’s negotiations with City Planning. it will enter a review process that moves through the various levels of New York City’s government for approval. You can learn more about ERFA and its new zoning plan at www.erfa.nyc

The media is already excited and we’ve received a slew of stories. Here are a few: City Land (New York Law School), Crain’s New York Business, Curbed, DNA Info, Manhattan Express, New York Daily News, Our Town Press, Realty Today, and The Real Deal.

Latest Client News: Welcome Save Gansevoort! Landmarks Preservation Commission Hearing on Fate of Gansevoort Street Development Draws Huge Crowd; Community Members, Elected Officials Testify Against Massive Project

Well it’s been a while, but we’ve sure been busy. Not only are we incredibly excited to belatedly welcome Save Gansevoort as a new client to the LCG family (we’ve only been working with them for about 6 weeks), we’re happy to boast that around 150 people showed up for last Tuesday night’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing regarding the contentious Gansevoort Street development that the group is determined to prevent from happening.


Save Gansevoort, which is composed of community members, preservationists, and proponents of appropriately-scaled construction, has circulated a petition calling on LPC to reject the project, saying that the development plan threatens the unique character of Gansevoort Street, its historic streetscape, and low buildings. The block in question is the only remaining intact block of one- and two-story market buildings in the Historic District, a distinctly New York gem that the developers’ plans would obliterate.

In a blistering editorial entitled, “Save Gansevoort St.; Iconic block under threat,” The Villager newspaper called the plan “nothing short of an assault on the city’s Landmarks Law.”

At the hearing, their numbers spilling out of the packed room, its foyer, and into the hallway, a flood of people took to the podium to testify against the plan. The project falls within the landmarked Gansevoort Market Historic District – a designation that LPC made 12 years ago after a long push from the community. The developer aims to build two massive structures that would dwarf the historically low buildings and market-style architecture that characterize this iconic Meatpacking District street. Quite simply, the proposed development would obliterate that character and history, negating the powerful protection of landmarking.

Last month, Community Board 2 held a Landmarks Committee hearing and full CB2 session, which produced a unanimous resolution opposing the plan. Local elected officials from all levels of government stood firmly behind the sentiments of their constituencies when they wrote a collective letter to LPC imploring it to reject the plan. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Landmark West! have strongly opposed the project, and The New York Landmarks Conservancy, one of New York’s foremost city-wide preservation organizations, also joined in on the cause, writing its own letter to the LPC Chair, urging the institution to reject the project.

To date, over 2,000 people have signed the petition!

The LPC meeting did not yield a decision on the matter; the group will hold another meeting during which the LPC will question the applicant and discuss the plan further. That meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, will be open to the public but will not allow for more testimony.

The youngest person to testify, a girl of about 12 years old, made a brief but eloquent statement where she firmly underlined that, “Owning a building or even a whole street does not mean you have a right to that street’s history; history belongs to all New Yorkers.”

Some of the press coverage: The New York Times, DNAinfo (here, here, live tweeting of the LPC meeting, The Villager (here, here, and here), New York YIMBY, and NY1.

Latest Client News: Rally Against the Corporate University

We were thrilled with the immense show of support earlier this month, when 300 people came out to Washington Square Park to protest NYU’s financial practices, as well as those at Cooper Union and the New School. This remarkable event included an unprecedented coalition of students, faculty, staff, and labor unions at all three schools, as well as many neighbors resolute against the Sexton Plan, and other mammoth real estate developments throughout the city.

STOMP performs at the rally, showing their support for the cause. Photo by Tequila Minsky.

Members of STOMP performed for the crowd and were met with roaring approval. The rally’s heartbreaking climax came when an anonymous NYU student, “Mandy,” told her story of having to resort to sex work to fund her exorbitantly priced education.

NYU student, “Mandy,” recounts her desperate turn to sex work to afford tuition. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The rally delved into the soaring price of higher education, and its consequence of student debt that has reached crisis levels coast to coast. The two main causes of that nationwide disaster are clear: mammoth building booms on campus after campus, and vast bureaucracies whose top executives make six- and seven-figure salaries; NYU is legendary for its contributions to both.

If you were unable to attend, you may get some sense of the event from this short video, produced by NYU students.

Some of the press coverage: Buzzfeed, Observer, The Villager, Washington Square News, Metro, Business Insider, Bedford + Bowery, and NYU Local.

Status Report: Reporters

Those of us who have worked either in the field of journalism or alongside it for at least a couple years have seen a dramatic shift in structure over a very short period of time. Papers don’t sell like they used to, especially when everyone expects information to be readily available and free (and advertisers don’t want to pay for something that not many people see), so the business model has had to change with the times.

Over the last three years, just about every major news outlet in New York City has effectively gutted its staff. The New York Times, the New York Post, The Village Voice, and WBAI radio, each fired at least a third of its staff, and the list continues. The New York Daily News, once renowned for its coverage of local stories, dissolved each of its bureaus situated in the outer boroughs. So what does that mean for reporters? Is journalism a dead profession whose practitioners are SOL, or is there more to the story?

I’ve debated this with friends, colleagues and media contacts alike. Some see the future as relatively bleak: without the large papers, etc. providing job security, writers are forced to scrape together an existence piece-meal as freelancers, with meager earnings for individual stories. On the other hand, this phenomenon has also given rise to countless blogs and websites – often specific to certain topics. Some of them act just the same as a brick and mortar outlet, minus the paper. It’s a whole wide web out there, and we are learning to adjust our perception of where we go for our news.

Meanwhile, we hold our reporters accountable for a lot more than we did previously. Not only does the internet’s never-ending clamor for information mean that we want our news NOW, 24/7, which sort of rules out a regular-hours kind of gig; we also assume journalists will constantly update their social media pages at the same time. Our impatience means that many outlets are no longer willing to let their employees spend the time and resources on long-term investigative reporting (this is less recent than some of the other changes). What would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein couldn’t do the research needed to back up one of the biggest national stories of the 20th Century because they had to live tweet a celebrity event?

Ironically, while we expect a lot from our news sources, all this pressure – the financial stress, the extra duties for full-time reporters, the tighter deadlines, and the global marketplace – has led to a common response: cut back on both the quantity and quality of their product. After all, it’s quicker and cheaper to stream headline feeds from other outlets than to focus on (wo)man-on-the-street stories.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who bemoans this loss, and some fields have seen a resurgence in thorough reportage. New York Magazine, for instance, just published the horrific story about Bill Cosby’s victims, in which it interviewed each of the women – not a trivial task when 35 of them have come forward to speak.

There are still jobs for enterprising writers and quality information is still out there, you just have to look harder – and know what you’re looking for. It’s less likely that you’ll stumble across a serious exposé about such and such as you fold your paper to make room for your breakfast and coffee, but hey – given how much time we spend collectively browsing the internet for interesting tidbits and “sharing” them, maybe all hope is not lost.

Warning: Are Parks and Open Spaces Up for Grabs? Are We Slowly Taking the Public Out of the Public Trust?

We’ve been working with the many groups and people opposed to NYU’s ridiculous, bloated and unneeded expansion plan for some time now. Our main client, NYUFASP, represents hundreds of professors and faculty within NYU who are also against the plan; this, in itself, speaks volumes about what an awful plan it is: one that will crush the Village and abolish some much needed green and open spaces with it.

There was a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the plan. One of the main aspects of the lawsuit was that the green spaces that would be bulldozed by the plan are public parks, and, therefore, under the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine, cannot be simply “given away” for development. That doctrine, which dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, is a crucial part of America’s common law tradition. According to the Doctrine, the government holds the titles to certain waters and lands in trust for the people; this has evolved to extend protection to scenic resources, open space in general, energy generation, preservation of ecosystems and historical sites.

In New York State, if an entity wishes to develop or remove a parcel of parkland from public ownership and use, it must follow a legal process called “alienation,” which, among other conditions, requires approval from the state legislature.

This lawsuit wound its way through the court system and, ultimately, came before the state’s highest court, the NYS Court of Appeals. A few weeks ago, we found out that we’d lost the case.

Reading the Court’s decision left me wondering whether we had somehow travelled to the “doublespeak”-laden parallel universe of Orwell’s 1984. Although it’s true that some of the parks in question never “formally” became part of the Parks Department, at least a couple of them did, in fact, have parks department signage, were maintained by the Parks Department, and were listed on the Parks Department’s website. In addition, one of the parks was actually dedicated – about two decades ago – by the Parks Commissioner at that time, Henry Stern (who, by the way, gave our side an amicus brief detailing the fact that, yes, that’s really a park). This would mean that they were, quite obviously, implied parkland, and that they’d be protected under the Public Trust Doctrine. Not only would they be protected, but they couldn’t be given away for development unless approved by the state legislature. Even then, the developer would have to “give back” to the community the same amount of open space as was taken.

Importantly, the whole community has used those spaces as parks, some for decades. But, apparently, if it looks like a parks, acts like a park, and is used like a park it’s….not. Here’s just part of what the court said, “That a portion of the public may have believed that these parcels are permanent parkland does not warrant a contrary result.” This means that although the public (and, really, not just a part of the public, but ANYONE passing by these parks would think they’re parks) actually thought these were parks, it does not mean that they were/are. Huh? If the Public Trust Doctrine is there to protect public lands, including parks, and if the public has used those lands as parks, and believed them to be parks – for decades – how could they be declared NOT parks? This is a scary precedent.

In better news, however, the folks in Queens fighting the erection of a shopping mall in Willets Point, next to Citifield (home stadium of the Mets), successfully used the Public Trust Doctrine in a lawsuit to stop the mall. The land that developers wanted to build on is public land that was specifically slated to be used only for stadium purposes; clearly, a shopping mall is not consistent with that usage. The lower court ruled in favor of the petitioners – Willets Point shop owners, the City Club of New York and State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens). “Today’s decision sends a message loud and clear — our parks are not for sale,” said State Senator Avella. You can read the full story here.

We wish that Senator Avella’s words were true. Apparently, in the rush toward unfettered development in this city, public lands are, indeed, in jeopardy, and the courts can’t be counted on to side with the public. What’s worse is that, although many elected officials sided with the public in both the NYU case and the Citifield/Willets Point case, the City of New York itself, in both instances, sided with the developers. In the NYU case, the City continued to oppose the public’s stance even when the suit went to the Court of Appeals. Now the question is whether or not the City will be part of the inevitable appeal that developers will file in the Citifield/Willets Point case.

Under the guise of “controlling” City owned property, the City is clearly attempting to violate the Public Trust Doctrine, and is taking away one of the few protections that the public has to save public spaces, parks, and waterways in a time of rampant development. To say that it’s disappointing is an understatement.

Meanwhile, more evidence has arisen that even when developers are ordered to keep their hands off public spaces, they don’t always comply.

In Monday, July 14th’s NY Times column, “The Appraisal,” journalist Matt Chaban uncovered how Donald Trump is now selling Trump wares in a part of his Trump Tower in Manhattan that is supposed to be a dedicated public space. Mr. Chaban explains that, as part of a deal to let developers build larger buildings back in 1961, the City required that a certain amount of the developed space be open to the public. If Trump is in violation of his deal, I wonder how many other developers have done the same. Advocates have tried for years, to get the Trump situation fixed, but clearly, there is no real enforcement against these kinds of encroachments onto public spaces. Trump was fined $2500 for the infringement back in 2008 (a trifling price for Trump), but no other action ensued. You can read Chaban’s excellent piece here.

What does this all mean? I think it’s clear that public spaces are increasingly up for grabs. This is especially true now, when developments – mostly for the wealthy – are overtaking just about every neighborhood in the City. It’s also obvious that the City is clearly disinterested in angering developers, since the City is hoping it can persuade developers to build more affordable housing. (And that’s a subject for another day…)

While, of course, all developments aren’t bad, this slow erosion of the Public Trust Doctrine – with the City’s hearty assent – coupled with little or no enforcement when developers fail to comply with public space agreements, potentially adds up to fewer parks, gardens, and green and open spaces for the people of New York City. In a city where developments are rising higher and higher, blocking out the sun and dwarfing other buildings, and where the ratio of open space to people is among the worst of America’s big cities – 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents (Trust for Public Land 2014 City Park Facts), we can ill afford to let this trend continue.

A Park is a Park, is a Park, or is it? In NYC, the Answer Might Be, “NO”

For the past three years or so, a large swath of New York University’s professors (who have formed a group called NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, a group we proudly represent) and the Greenwich Village community have been in a protracted and fierce struggle over NYU’s plan to expand enormously in the Village.

No one, it seems – other than NYU’s administration, especially its president, John Sexton – wants the monstrous 2 million square foot, multi-billion dollar development plan. The local community board voted unanimously against it, and 39 departments within NYU itself have voted against it. There have also been votes of no confidence passed against Sexton by a number of NYU’s schools. NYU’s own Stern School of Business – where at least two of its professors have earned Nobel Prizes in economics – voted against the unneeded, bloated and expensive plan.

It is unfortunate that in America today, many universities have become nothing more than big business, where the bottom line is most important, and education takes a back seat.

NYUFASP and other community groups have struck back hard, filing a lawsuit that would prevent NYU from implementing its plan. The groups won a big victory in court when it was ruled that NYU could not build on three strips of parkland – LaGuardia Park, LaGuardia Corner Gardens and Mercer Playground – because they are actually, well, parkland. (If you click on the link for Mercer Playground, you’ll see that it’s listed as actually part of the Parks Department!)

In NYC, not every green space is an official part of the parks department. Other agencies, like the Department of Transportation, often have authority of some of these spaces. But, fortunately, what really matters, legally, is how those spaces are used. And, in this case, some of these spaces have been used as parks for decades. In essence, NYC “gave” those parks to NYU illegally. Public parkland can’t simple be given away. In cases where the City does want to have parkland developed by a private developer or institution, there’s a legal process that has to be gone through, called “alienation,” and the City didn’t do that.

This throws a real wrench into NYU’s expansion plan, since those parks – which would be crushed – are needed for its scheme.

So, not surprisingly, NYU is appealing the decision.

What is somewhat surprising is that the City of New York is standing with NYU and appealing the ruling too. Mayor Bill de Blasio has fashioned himself as a progressive champion of the people, and that’s the basis upon which he was elected. He has shown himself to be progressive in other policies, so people are both confused and angered by the City’s response.

The appeals court appearance happened on September 24th, and, before the hearing, the NYU community, Village residents and those concerned about green spaces and overdevelopment held a rally in LaGuardia Park. Over 200 people attended, and many elected officials, including the City’s Public Advocate, Tish James, came to show their support. There was also an incredible performance by the internationally known, East Village-based group STOMP.

One of NYC’s former Commissioner of Parks, Henry Stern, supplied an affidavit for the case, saying that he tried – for 14 years – to get those pieces of parkland officially turned over to the Parks Department, but NYU blocked all attempts. He came to the rally to show his support and he also wrote a blistering editorial that appeared in the Saturday, October 4th edition of the Daily News, asking City Hall to drop its appeal.

The bottom line…everyone is still hoping that the City will come to its senses and drop the appeal. It’s not too late, and would, in fact, be the right thing for a progressive Mayor to do.

Affordable Housing at Atlantic Yards in the News!

The issue of affordable housing has been popping up everywhere in the news lately. We couldn’t be more delighted to announce that our clients, members of BrooklynSpeaks, were just featured in two great TV interviews about the recent deal struck at Atlantic Yards that guarantees completion of all affordable units by 2025.

Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), joined Marjona Jones, who has worked on behalf of Brown Community Development Corporation (BCDC), on ABC7’s “Here and Now” show to talk about the new agreement, how it affects the community, and what it will mean for future developments.

Michelle de la Uz, Marjona Jones and host Sandra Bookman on ABC7’s “Here and Now.”

 

Nick Powell, City Hall Bureau Chief for City & State, sat down with Michelle de la Uz for an in depth discussion about the ramifications of delaying promised delivery of affordable housing, the implications of the project’s name change from Atlantic Yards to Pacific Park, and the details involved in qualifying for an affordable housing lottery.

When Will They Learn? How Big Development Projects Get Green Lighted Even Over Community Opposition

I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees.  The both of us just sighed.

It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening.  Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem.  This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:

Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these.  Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!

They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”

Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council.  The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions.  Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits.  There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part.  Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project.  Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!

The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.

Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.

This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad.  Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.

Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board.  The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal.  Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.

In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes.  Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it.  There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.)  We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.

No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.

Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.

Top Artists, Writers, Actors and Community Join Faculty to Save the Village from NYU’s Huge Expansion; Matthew Modine Blasts NYU as “Bullying, Land- Grabbing Scrooge”

This holiday season, how would you like to have dessert and drinks with Cynthia Nixon and her wife Christine Marinoni? Have lunch with Bill Moyers, Fran Lebowitz or Lewis Lapham?  “Hulk Out” with a signed mask and set of figurines from Mark Ruffalo? Go on a two-hour shopping expedition, to curate your pantry and spice collection, with Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi?  Play basketball with John Leguizamo? Get a signed copy of Bianca Jagger’s ‘Arts for Human Rights’ event catalogue? Get a book signed by E.L. Doctorow, a manuscript page from Philip Glass, an uncorrected galley of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Vol.1, an Alex Katz print, a photograph of William S. Burroughs by Gary Indiana, a painting by actor Joel Grey, signed copies of all Eric Bogosian’s published works, or a signed personal photo by Matthew Modine from the set of Full Metal Jacket?  Become the owner of the rare Omas fountain pen that former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine used to write The Mercy? Snap up a poster signed by Edward Norton?

Hang a gorgeous Carol Friedman photograph of Iggy Pop on your living room wall, tour the best hamburger restaurants in the East Village, or have a private makeup application lesson with Hollywood makeup artist Nicki Ledermann (Boardwalk Empire, Side Effects)?

Right now, all those boldface names—and others—are taking part in an online auctionto help fund the struggle that NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP) and Village residents and supporters are waging against NYU’s ruinous 2031 expansion plan—a project that will crush the Village. The auction lasts until December 18th.

“I can think of no worthier cause than saving the Village from overdevelopment. This neighborhood is one of the most iconic parts of the City and precisely what makes New York so special,” said Padma Lakshmi.

Actor Matthew Modine, 30 years a Villager, said, “NYU has moved from being a friendly neighbor to a power hungry, land grabbing, politician buying, bullying Scrooge. I encourage everyone that loves the Village to lend their support and voice to protecting this beloved oasis of Manhattan.”

 

Other auction items include:

Nearly 170 individuals and businesses have donated items to the auction, which range in value from $25. to $8,000. The silent online auction runs from December 9 until December 18.

Bidders will base their choices on a range of pictures and descriptions of each item, and will be notified by email when they are outbid.