30 Issues Day 7: Rezoning New York

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When it comes to development and the balance between commercial, industrial, and residential projects, zoning laws may be everything. So when it comes to assessing the candidates for Mayor, zoning policy matters. Vicki Been, director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU explains zoning basics. Then, Julia Vitullo-Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association, and Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, discuss re-zonings and how they've affected development in the city.


Vicki Been, Adam Friedman, and Julia Vitullo-Martin

Comments [15]

Tom La Farge from Brooklyn

I work in the Gowanus district, which would probably be considered "underutilized land" in Vitullo-Martin's phrase. Plenty of artists utilize it, and plenty of businesses are dotted about in what developers see as a wasteland requiring an upgrade by them, especially along the canal. My question is: who would be hurt if the Gowanus were left as it is? Who would be hurt if the canal were left as it is?

Sep. 29 2009 12:23 PM
bowerygals. from Manhattan

my neighborhood of the Bowery experienced open season for high rise condo and hotel construction. There was a building near mine (we've lived here 30 years) that was torn down to create a "green" hotel. The construction destabilized a small building that housed two small businesses and now both sites are abandoned. The hotel remains a hole in the ground for years now. I think part of the issue is the arrogance and short-sightedness with which all of this takes place. The people who build a neighborhood in concert with their neighbors (often mixed class/race) are pushed out without a real long term plan in place- just a temporary presumption that this is how you insure the city's economic base. I don't think Bloomberg actually understands something basic about what a neighborhood is both as a reliable economic engine and as a center for human gathering.

Sep. 29 2009 11:49 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Bloomberg has been in office 8 years. We know what he will do.

Thompson may prove different from what he has been in the past.

Kirsten Gillibrand has certainly moved to the more liberal since becoming senator.

Sep. 29 2009 11:46 AM
Brennan Cavanaugh from Chelsea

I live in North Chelsea, or what I call Noche because it's become so dark with all the 33 story hard-front luxury rentals that have gone up in the last 10 years. One a year -- the construction hasn't stopped since I moved in 10 years ago. The buildings have a massive and bland character, and invite multinational -- not local -- shops. Car and truck congestion, road deterioration, rubbish, light and noise pollution have replaced the flea markets and flower district for the sake of apartments unaffordable to most NYers.

Sep. 29 2009 11:46 AM
Ellen from Brooklyn

I have lived in Greenpoint for 13 years. The rezoning and overbuilding of Gpt/Williamsburg have been a travesty.
Beautiful architecture has been destroyed only to be replaced by boxes and bad (really bad) architecture. Not one building has gone up that is aesthetically pleasant. And much of the quality of the building is horrible. There are already problems w/ some of the new buildings. No inspections apparently. And some of the builders violated their contracts (the finger building on N 7th and Bedford is several floors higher than approved).

And no planning for schools, transportation and parking for all of the new residents. And where will all of the out of neighborhood people park who are coming to visit the new businesses? Public transportation doesn't serve our area terribly well.

Manufacturing is gone. Industrial space is going. Rents have gone up.

The artistic community is being/has been shoved out. The character will be gone when the rest of the industrial buildings are torn down. It will be Disneyland. Or Atlanta.

I don't pine for the days of no restaurants and everything shutting down at 8 pm, but, there are some major problems with the mayor's (and other politicians) slapdash approval of all of the building without really looking at its impact on the community.

Sep. 29 2009 11:43 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

If there were no regulation of any kind, as was the case 100 or 125 years ago, development would proceed in some 'natural' way.

At some point, people decided that things needed to be managed -- for safety, for well-being, etc.

It seems that the only concern Michael Bloomberg has is that the wealthiest developers be given free reign. Artists, the poor, ethnic minorities are left out in the cold.

The artistic character of Williamsburg is going. Before that it was an ethnic neighborhood. My understanding is that Chinatown in Manhattan is under considerable pressure.

Meanwhile, middle class and poorer New Yorkers seem pushed ever further outward.

It seems that the richest New Yorkers -- those represented by Bloomberg and who have the power -- want a very different New York from the rest of us.

Sep. 29 2009 11:42 AM
NIna from East Village

Could you please tell your guest that rezoning in what she calls "vibrant neighborhoods" like Williamsburg destroys that very quality of the neighborhoods? I've found myself thinking lately about how, a few decades ago, high rise redevelopment of urban ghettos destroyed culture and community there--this is an acknowledged failure. As I watch the luxury high rise buildings sprout in this neighborhood, and the Walgreens and CVSs, Chain Designer stores replace the small drugstores, galleries and individually owned shops that made the East Village so vibrant and desirable, I find myself grieving over the loss of community and culture here . . . The same has beenhappening in Williamsburg, in Harlem, all over the city. It glitters now, more than ever, but the communities are dying.

Sep. 29 2009 11:42 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

The guest talked about 20% being re-zoned, but earlier she defined rezoning as being either up-zoning or down-zoning. It would be useful to have this language parsed. When we ask her about the rezoning, it should be about UP zoning -- which seems to be the more controversial version.

For example, of the 20%, how much is up zoning and how much is down zoning?

Sep. 29 2009 11:41 AM
Jeremy from Brooklyn

White people (young and old) love capitalism until it happens to them.

Yuppies suffering through gentrification, etc. is cyclical. For people of color it is a constant.

Caucasian upwardly mobile urbanites wants things to get just good enough to displace the poor and just enough people of color so that they may still refer to their neighborhood as diverse. A feel-good phrase.

Diverse means, more of us and less of you.

Welcome to your world.

Jeremy - Brooklyn

Sep. 29 2009 11:40 AM
Carey from Jersey

Your caller seems disillusioned about what she is saying. Rezoning isn't bad as long as it is able to keep the people in the neighborhoods that were there before the rezoning.
How can it be good for development and growth if all the working people and young businesses can't even afford to live there?
It makes no sense.

Sep. 29 2009 11:40 AM

after guiliani then 3 yrs of bloomberg our family is so glad we left the city for a more civilized place to live. nyc is good for rich foreigners, poor foreigners, and the vendors who sell to each. for most americans it has become too 3rd world in terms specifically of rezoning. we said goodbye to too many friends, the artists, the teachers, the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants. the neutron bomb has dropped.

Sep. 29 2009 11:38 AM
James from Brooklyn

You can see that this lady's language - "zoning is an economic tool"; "it is not the appropriate policy" - is anti-artistic, antiseptic, and itself against the spirit of a place like (the former) Williamsburg.

Nothing says culture like, "Natural economic development."

Sep. 29 2009 11:37 AM

"under american capitalism"

under american capitalism zoning is considered socialism lady

Sep. 29 2009 11:36 AM
Greg B from Bronx

The rezoning has been a nightmare here in Riverdale. My neighborhood, which really has a neighborhood feel per Rev. Billy, has been scarred by ugly, too-tall, garish and unaffordable (to me or any of my neighbors) condos and co-op buildings.

My 'hood is a zone of shops, 1930s-40s red-brick apt. buildings and a few rows of private houses. Several of these modest houses were razed and replaced with eye-sore, unoccupied 7 or 8 story buildings, with a huge unfinished shell of a building a few blocks away that the builders ran away from in scandal and financial ruin.

The worst example being the Solaria, once promoted heavily by Derek Jeter and now sitting with less than half-occupancy on the Henry Hudson Parkway at 238th Street, complete with astronomy observatory on top. I don't think South Riverdale needs more wrong, innappropriate development along these lines. We need practical, affordable housing for teachers, nurses, city workers, office folks and artists etc.

Sep. 29 2009 11:35 AM
John from Brooklyn

The New York City Zoning Resolution was established in the 1920s as an extension of the City's general Constitutional mandate to look after the "health, safety, and welfare" of its citizens.

The Resolution recognized that there was a proportional relationship between the size of a building -- not its height, but its size -- and the quality of the physical environment for the people on the street. That's why there were caps put on the bulk of any single building.

The plan for the World Trade Center is the perfect example of how seriously Michael Bloomberg takes the Resolution.

While everybody was distracted looking at pretty pictures, the rebuilding authorities railroaded through a plan calls for buildings that are between 2.5 and 5 times more bulky than is legally permitted by the Resolution.

That is unprecedented in the history of the City.

And Michael Bloomberg lifted not a finger.

Sep. 29 2009 11:28 AM

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