|Preservation Groups, Community Leaders and Elected Officials meet for a|
Press Conference in front of City Hall, March 25, 2015 (Photo: Sean Khorsandi)
Friends of the
Upper East Side
Re: Zoning for Quality and Affordability Text Amendment (CEQR no. 15DCP104Y)
As any good preservationist would, I will start with a bit of history. In 1985, our founder David I. Karabell and first president, Halina Rosenthal wrote to our members:
With the passage of the new R8-B zoning... [there] is a guarantee of the survival for the low-rise and small scale of the precious mid blocks which were constantly being endangered by the growing encroachment upon them of tall buildings out of context with their neighbors, dwarfing them and casting longer shadows on the streets where we live.
For FRIENDS, this zoning change is the culmination of nearly three years of active and often 'round-the-clock work which began on January 28, 1982, when we asked the City Planning Commission (CPC) for a zoning change which would replace the 1961 zoning regulations that gave the license, as-of-right, to consume and destroy our mid blocks and to line them with towers. We asked the CPC to give us instead a good and reasonable alternative. This quest resulted in the R8-B zoning just passed...
Once again, over 30 years later, we are calling upon City Planning to give us a good and reasonable alternative.
We need an alternative to the proposed undoing of contextual districts which make up 64% of the
Upper East Side.
We need an alternative to the dismantling of the Sliver Law, another hard-fought protection of our neighborhood's low-rise character.
We need an alternative to the elimination of existing affordable housing. In our contextual zones on the
Upper East Side, 36%
of parcels include rent regulated units. Can City Planning explain how it has
come to the conclusion that demolition of buildings containing affordable units
will not be incentivized by this proposal? Has City Planning analyzed the
requirement of affordable units to be built on site in these new, taller
We need an alternative that anticipates future construction methods, and not just the current "standard." Has City Planning analyzed building types that may perhaps be preferable to what is on offer today? How does modular housing age?
We need an in-depth, citywide survey of historic and cultural resources, along with careful study of each and every neighborhood's individual character and sense of place. How does City Planning intend to accomplish such a large scale undertaking?
We need thoughtful consideration of each neighborhood's unique qualities. A block in Yorkville is different from one on the
Upper West Side
which in turn is distinct from one in Flatbush. Has City Planning looked at the
effects this zoning could have on different neighborhoods?
We need worst case scenario evaluations of not just one building prototype on one block, but all the prototypes on all the blocks throughout all of the city. Indeed, the cumulative effect is the worst case scenario. Has City Planning analyzed the consequences, if, for example, an entire block is rebuilt?
This proposal touts the desirability of historic buildings, and seeks to emulate some of their best qualities like variation, design, and "streetscape-improving conditions." And yet this plan could result in the destruction of those model buildings on a massive scale, effectively eviscerating our neighborhoods.
We need City Planning to give us a good and reasonable alternative to this plan.
Thank you for your time; we will be submitting additional questions.
Re: 'Zoning for Quality and Affordability,' CEQR No. 15DCP104Y
Dear Director Dobruskin:
On behalf of the East Village Community Coalition, I would like share with you concerns we have regarding the scope of the environmental impact assessment for the "Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (CEQR No. 15DCP104Y) plan. The proposed scope threatens to undo long-term community planning achievements in the
and we urge that the scope be
expanded to consider existing neighborhood protections. East Village
The needs and conditions in this community must be analyzed when considering a change to our individually crafted rezoning. In 2005, the community initiated a plan that would become the
East Village/ Lower East Side
rezoning resulting in the low-scale, high-density character that is both
historic and efficient. This 197-a proposal emerged from a collaborative
process involving a range of community stakeholders. Implemented in 2008, the
grassroots plan incorporated consensus terms for height limits, floor area
ratio, use, and inclusionary housing incentives. Loosening the height limits without
the promise of affordable housing is a betrayal of that community process. It
is critical that the scope of the environmental review consider protecting our
hard-fought height limits as well as the Quality Housing program adopted at the
The changes to contextual districts if implemented retroactively may not yield the intended results in the
. The neighborhood
retains many affordable housing units and local groups are robust in their
defense of existing units and effort to produce more. Permitting vertical
extensions must be also considered in the context of the neighborhood. In too
many cases, penthouse construction atop existing buildings has degraded living
conditions for existing tenants while not resulting in new affordable
development. We urge that the scope consider the impact that taller development
will have on neighborhood character, shadows on narrow streets and greenspaces
including more than thirty community gardens, the existing housing stock, and other
historic resources. East
I strongly urge you to include current height limits in contextual zones and existing neighborhood protections within the scope of the environmental review.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Dave Holowka, Architect and
As an architect, I have to tell you the rationale for higher floor-to-floor levels in this proposal based on so-called “changes in best practices” in construction doesn’t make sense.
The proposal cites modular and concrete plank construction specifically. It says contextual zoning’s typical building depth of 65 feet isn’t achievable with concrete plank because of 30-foot span limitations, and that building depths should economically use two spans to achieve a new standard depth of 60 feet, with lost area recouped by adding allowed floors. I called two concrete plank manufacturers: Molin Concrete Products in
Minnesota said its
8-inch deep planks can be reinforced and tensioned to span longer than 30 feet
for not a lot of money; Oldcastle Precast of Selkirk, NY, said their span limit
for 8-inch deep planks is 32 feet, not 30. Adding 6 inches front-and-back for
brick facing and an air space results in the now-standard 65-foot building
depth. Only slightly more expensive 10-inch deep planks can span much farther.
No one says you have to span perpendicular to the street or use concrete plank
in the first place. There are countless ways to make floor structure thinner or
stronger even in modular construction. It’s what engineers and architects are
there for. To buy into this proposal’s arguments, you’d have to believe
advances in construction technology have introduced rigid limitations rather
than the efficiency and flexibility demanded by free market competition. Does
anyone believe sprinklers eat up enough space to warrant adding fifteen feet to
the height of a building?
Zoning shouldn’t be driven by construction details at any rate, and never was. Zoning should be about urban-scale issues of light and air and compatibility of building forms, which this proposal conveniently ignores. Affordable housing is a zoning concern, too, but of a categorically different kind. It would be one thing if we were talking about substituting one kind of open space for another to everyone’s benefit, but open space and contextual building envelopes are apples and affordable housing units are oranges.
The plan’s claim that greater height will allow more interesting building forms is unbelievable. There are countless ways to achieve architectural interest. Market forces are interested in the bottom line, not artistic expression. The developers of
New York’s designated landmark, Lever House,
achieved its celebrated design by consuming less than the site’s zoning-allowed
area, an option still open to any developer not driven solely by profit. Given
additional height to work with, today’s developers will make building envelope
decisions that enhance the value of the individual apartments they have for
sale, at the community’s expense. The plan’s proposed changes will only make
for taller and more luxurious market-rate housing for the rich, blocking light
and air for the general public.
The plan’s assumption that zoning envelopes should allow full development of floor area ratios shows a willful disregard for zoning fundamentals, as does its application of across-the-board height limit changes. The worst thing about this proposal is that it will sacrifice the entirely separate benefit of painstakingly crafted contextual zoning without making
New York any more affordable. It will only
put New York’s
already-runaway gentrification on steroids. In Chelsea, the cost of new condominiums is over
$2200 per square foot. Not coincidentally, rents in the neighborhood are now
among the highest in New York,
even as neighborhood businesses are being driven out by rent increases.
This proposal’s scoping must include the option of communities’ retaining existing height limits where, as in
Chelsea, raising them will harm both
neighborhood fabric and affordability.
The stated goals of creating affordable housing and affordable housing for our growing senior population are laudable goals that we support.
The premise of the proposed zoning changes is that we should allow every lot in the City to be built as high as possible and on every square inch of the lot, by doing this we will have affordable housing for all.
The premise of the proposed zoning changes is the only way to achieve these goals is that our senior and low income residents must give up their quality of life, and live in less space and not have access to required parking spaces.
We believe that the proposed changes will not achieve its goals and would negatively affect and diminish the quality of life in communities throughout the city.
One of the proposals is that seniors should have less square footage in their dwelling units than market rate housing; seniors should give up their existing parking spaces, new senior developments should not give seniors any off street parking spaces. Many seniors rely on care givers to bring them grocery and take them to their doctors; they are in walkers and wheelchairs. To be able to have a car or parking area for their use makes their lives more manageable. Why would one want to take that away from them?
The proposed changes to reduce building setbacks, allow taller buildings in height and increase the number of stories will result in a denser city with less air, light reaching the ground and adjacent properties. The reasons that these setbacks exist are because enlightened civic leaders and planners early in 1900s saw that unregulated buildings in bulk and height were negatively affecting the quality of life for the citizen, they passed zoning laws that required these setbacks to minimize these negative qualities.
The proposed changes make a premise that these existing controls for constrained sites, corner sites, existing zoning does not allow modern sustainable building to built in the city, and make for poor buildings. [According to the plan] the proposed changes would improve design flexibility and make more affordable housing. Architects are trained to be creative individuals and are able to design quality buildings for any site and conform to zoning and code constraints. We do not believe the
building Woolworth building, the Dakota and thousands of other buildings that
conform to the zoning constraints are inferior designed buildings. In the 1980s
when architects/builders made similar complaints that the zoning only allowed
wedding cake building designs, Midtown Zoning was created to allow more flexible
The increase in floor to floor height and building story heights may place our citizens at risk unless there are substantial changes to our building and fire codes. Building height and fire protection are directly related because egress calculations are based, in part, on how long it will take someone to go down a flight of stairs to exit the building and how high the fire department ladder truck can reach.
[On] the proposed change to reduce or eliminate rear yard dimension, court size and distance between buildings, these dimensions established standards for minimum amounts air light ventilation and privacy to the residents. The distance between windows and buildings is an important fire protection feature because it minimizes the spread of fire from flames leaping to one building to another and allows fire department apparatus access to the exterior sides of a building.
The proposed change is to reduce and eliminate parking requirements for the affordable housing units within one half mile of walking distance of a subway but the proposed law allows the market rate units in the same building to have off street parking. The proposed changes state that by eliminating parking requirements for the affordable units and allowing more market rate units there will be more affordable apartments for all perhaps as much as one or two additional affordable units more that the current regulations allow in the building.
Many families in our boroughs need a car to go to the supermarket or work nights and do not want to walk home one half mile at night.
There was time in
New York City
when people were densely packed into dwelling units, interior living rooms had
little or no access to air, light, ventilation, privacy. The buildings were
built to every square inch of the lot lines there were no required rear or side
yards there was no required separation between windows and/or buildings. There
were numerous fires that caused large numbers of fatalities. The average person
lived in deplorable and unsafe conditions.
The builders and developers at the time said we are providing for housing for the waves of new immigrants who have come to New York City, this is the only way to provide them affordable housing.
[That was] the 1880s and 1890s. Our civic leaders, philanthropists, and reformers were horrified by these deplorable living conditions and the Tenement House Act of 1901 was enacted, followed by the Housing Maintenance Code and the Multiple Dwelling Law to correct these conditions.
Here we are in 2015 proposing to go back to the past with same mantra it is the only way to provide affordable housing. Who benefits, as in the past well connected real estate interests. Is this our vision for the future?
There are many proven past ways to provide affordable housing. Look at Co-op city in the Bronx, Stuyvesant town, Peter Cooper Village, West-Beth Artist, Mitchell-Lama type housing, Amalgamated Houses, etc.
The proposed path will be the path of destruction and diminish the quality of life for the average New Yorker.