This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Felt, Chairman of New York City's Planning Committee, answers questions about city planning.
Marvin Sleeper moderates.
Panelists: Flo Casey, Paulette Singer, Jim Farrell, Bruno Wassathiel
Zoning laws are intended to see that land is properly used, in good and proper order. Interrelationship between uses of land. City zoning laws are inadequate. They were developed in 1916, when NYC was the only city with a zoning ordinance. Since then, other cities have developed zoning more in keeping with current concepts. We haven't had the courage to move forward along the lines that are required in modern urban communities. We have a crazy patchwork of amendments and changes.
Changes in 1954 don't carry out the purpose intended. What we need is a complete rezoning, rather than changes and patchwork. Would rather see patches that will improve some of the conditions but at the same time move forward to do the entire job. Present plan for rezoning the East Side of Manhattan. Would prefer to see rezoning in the city, but if they waited the 2 or 3 years to accomplish that, then the conditions on the East Side would have further deteriorated.
Changes along 3rd Avenue: upgrading the zoning to add office buildings and apartment houses. Make sure inferior uses (like a factory building) would not be detrimental to envisioned changes (modern apartment buildings and offices). Encourage utilization for space along 3rd Avenue for the "higher and better use." Retail stores would be permitted. Zoning would enable the land in that area to be improved with the structures and related uses that would apply to those structures (stores).
NYC's Master Plan: sort of a misnomer. Under the charter, the city planning commission is obliged to develop many plans: schools, hospitals, libraries, docks.
Relocations are handled practically and soundly. Whenever a large area is redeveloped, there is bound to be some inconvenience as a result. Improvements must be made to maintain the preeminence of NYC.
Lincoln Square project: Ready for construction (site cleared) within 3 or 4 years. Relocation allows for at least 2 years. For large projects, relocation of families must be done on a staged basis. A small section of the families now living in the site will be able to rent in the new buildings in the area. The average rentals will be $47.50/room/month; now they are substantially lower.
Middle income housing is dififcult. ($75/month/apartment) A private builder that doesn't receive any tax exemptions or other benefits, it would be impossible to make rooms available for less than $40/month, so a 3 room apartment would be $120 a month. Robert Moses said that aid from the state and federal government for housing is lessening.
Is the lack of low cost housing the only gripe middle income families have about living in NYC? 1938 Charter lists all responsibilities of City Planning, which includes traffic and recreational facilities.
Problems between NYC and Westchester county regarding the use of parks and highways.
A great deal can be done to alleviate the city's traffic problem, but it probably won't be completely unsnarled.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72279
Municipal archives id: LT7065
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
How does the city planning commission operate how can we get to middle income group in New York City exactly what is the purpose of zoning laws what is the master plan for the answers to these and other questions lissome out of the campus press conference transcribed program in which college editors interview a prominent personalities in the news here to whether it is the panel and their guests as your moderator Marvin sleep or award winning reporter for The New York Journal America Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of campus press conference our guest today is Mr James felt chairman of the New York City Planning Commission the Planning Commission primary duty is the preparation of the master plan of the city and of course to modify it is changing conditions demand the Planning Commission was born during may look what is administration it had portents of being the fair haired boy who would solve many of the city's ills but some municipal experts say the commission never got off the ground the politicians were afraid of it it could wield too much power and so future administrations kept it under wraps but when Mayor Wagner took office he saw the possibilities of the Planning Commission as a group or could really contribute to the well being of the city and when he appointed James felt last January a man who had spent his life and real estate and planning he also made a member of his cabinet so the chairman could see exactly what went on behind the scenes and understand all the problems of the city is confronted with Incidentally we asked Mr Felt to come before microphones when he first took office he declined saying you needed time to get the feel of the job before he sounded off. But now with six months in the job of hiding him perhaps you can give us an idea of what he sees in New York's future here to interview him our campus press conference report dislocating of the Hunter College Errol Paul etc The N.Y.U. square Journal gym for the for the RAM I'm sure a lot of biology C.C.N.Y. observation post how about first question from you Flo Mr Feld Can you give us a rundown on exactly how your commission operates in producing this master plan for the city well our commission is assisted by the Department of city planning of the department of city planning has about one hundred twenty five on its staff these men and women are continually checking into conditions throughout the city and advised the commission the commission consists of seven members it has regular hearings we meet every two weeks and discuss develop findings on all matters relating to the master plan zoning and some of the other responsibilities that are given us under the charter and this to sell Could you explain just what the purposes of zoning laws in New York City yes Paula zoning laws are intended to see that land is properly utilized. That the relationship between various uses of land throughout the city are in good and in proper order to make sure that you don't have a laundry establishment alongside of an apartment house or an office building erected in good shape and then have a garage that would have a deteriorating influence right smack up against it the uses to which land may be put and the interrelationship of those uses all intended so that people could have better living better working space and conditions better recreation all of those matters are covered by zoning are New York City's current zoning laws adequate I think they are all together in adequate the zoning laws we now have were developed in nineteen sixteen at that time New York City was the first city in the country with a zoning ordinance it was the first zoning ordinance in the world I think but since then many other cities have developed the zoning more in keeping with current concepts and the changes of urban living the changes in our economy but New York City hardly enough still operates under its first zoning law this forty year old ordinance Why is that why has this happened why are we so far behind other cities. I think that we are far behind because we haven't had the courage to move forward along the lines which are required in modern urban communities for example many cities in the country had their first zoning ordinance in the twenty's in the thirty's and have already scrapped that zoning ordinance to bring it into modern requirements but we still have a sort of a crazy quilt patchwork of amendments and changes it's like an old car that is running to be sure but so patched up and in such archaic condition compared to the new cars that we have that it hardly performs the function required it must have felt and I think fifty four some of the zoning laws were changed this if it later on for the characters New York of the young the Times Square area they haven't claimed that there's all this new zoning law has not accomplished its purpose do you think this is true well I don't think that any patch where examining which we have. Or may have at the present time can carry out the purpose intended and benefit the city as a whole I think that what we need and we're moving in that direction is a complete restudy of our zoning ordinance a resulting if you will rather than changes and patchwork to our present zoning ordinance and then you are against the procedures now under which the yet Time Square years being reconditioned if you can use that time well I would save us the from time to time I would rather see patches which will ultimately improve some of the conditions that they are intended to correct but at the same time move forward to do the entire job at the present time we're working on a rezoning of the East Side of Manhattan specifically the area in the vicinity of Third Avenue from fifteenth Street tonight and six three now I would prefer to see our rezoning of the entire city completed today and ready today but if we waited for the two years or three years that might be necessary to accomplish that there could possibly be a good deal of the terrier ation along Third Avenue so that the present spot zone and I shouldn't say spot sounding I take that back the the present modification of zoning ordinances is intended to check a spoilage of further spoilage until such time as we come out will be improved product and what do you plan for this Third Avenue where you can give us some idea of the changing zoning down there the. The zoning at Third Avenue was hardly modified at all since one thousand nine hundred sixteen we are upgrading the zoning having in mind that it will be improved in a great measure with office buildings and apartment houses we want to make sure that inferior uses which were are now permitted would not be detrimental to the improvements that we now invested what would be eliminated there that is allowed there now where you might have a factory building on Third Avenue and that if you had a factory building it would be very discouraging for those owning land in the vicinity to put up a modern apartment house or a modern office building alongside of a of a factory building by prohibiting that downgraded use we encourage the utilization of the space along Third Avenue and the surrounding street for the higher and better use what about retail stores where they still be allowed and there are bars and grills Well retail stores would be permitted and office buildings and in many sections of Third Avenue would be permitted in apartment houses the is owning that we have in mind would and able the land in that area to be improved with the type of structure that I have mentioned and with the ancillary uses of the related uses that would apply to those structures if people live in an apartment house they'd like to have stores available which can service them for their various needs and requirements and this goes back to the master plan I believe but has the New York actually ever had a master plan. Borough know the master plan as is a sort of a misnomer when you hear the word master plan one anybody hears if you think of a fixed rigid pattern a plan which would indicate either what conditions are today or what we intend they should be at some future time but in effect under the charter the city planning commission is all blonds to develop a number of master plans there's a master plan for schools there's a master plan for ducks and morphs as master plan for hospitals a master plan for libraries all of those plans indicate the sections in which such uses for various buildings would be designated and all in all if you ultimately put them together you have at once what the city is today and what we would think the city should be in time to come but it's not and there's a popular misconception on that there is there is not one single plan a series of plans for various facilities and sometimes for various sections of the city there's a master plan for the Manhattan civic strata a master plan for the Brooklyn Civic Center and if we would add up the total number of master plan and it would run. I think close to a hundred master plans covering various facilities all set forth in the charter. So although one of the biggest problems in city planning has been relocating the people who live and renovated areas all formulate uneasy areas do you think there's any better way of handling these we locations. I think the way in which those relocations are now to be handled flowed and are to be handled in the future represents about the most practical approach and the approach that I think is soundest can we must we must bear in mind that when ever a large area is redeveloped there is bound to be some inconvenience some dislocation as a result of it and we should know when we should always be mindful of the fact that in a city such as New York where huge areas are torn down and new sections developed in their place not only tenements and housing the Ritz Carlton Hotel was torn down and an office building erected in its place large apartment houses are often torn down if we want to maintain the preeminence of New York City we must realize that improvements of that type must be made and as long as they will be made there is bound to be some suffering there is bound to be some hardship I don't think we can avoid it but we can make sure that there is no on do hard chip and that the city uses every bit of its knowledge and influence and control to see that hardship is reduced to a minimum Well relocation has been the very problem of the Lincoln Square project when will that project be ready for actual construction. I would say that the Lincoln Square project should be ready for construction and the site cleared. Within three or four years it will be that long before you get ready to build there I think it will because two to three years will be required to relocate the families on the site the schedule of relocation indicates a period of two to three years now it may be that some sections of Lincoln Square will be started earlier than that but in so far as having the entire site available to move ahead on new construction I would say three to four years while on your is really a very level headed approach you're taking to this in leaving that much time so that no one is really terribly inconvenienced that they all get adequate housing that's correct you see some of the people on the side of the amp or of the opinion that within a short time within a few months from now everybody will be forced to move Well obviously when there is a large site such as one can square to be redeveloped the relocation of families has to be accomplished on a stage basis the slum clearance committee's report and brochure indicates I believe that a period of up to three years will be required to relocate the families A Well I don't know if this is within your ken but will many of these people be able to get back into Lincoln's where after it is built will I be within the income groups I can get back into that area. I would say that a very small section of the families now living on the side will be in a position to pay the Randalls required within in the new buildings erected in the area I believe if I'm not mistaken that the average rentals for the new buildings will be somewhere in the neighborhood of forty seven dollars and fifty cents per room per month and the average rentals now paid by families on the side is substantially lower than that that brings us to another question. How do you think we can adequately housed New Yorkers and that middle income group that pay eighty ninety dollars a month for a good sized apartment and a hope for every getting them adequately House or the lack of will that in New York and into the suburbs. It is extremely difficult without some aids and assistance from government for private enterprise to develop new housing care for families of the middle income groups I assume you mean families who would pay a rattle of say seventy five dollars per month per apartment that's right yes well I did I did if planned in Manhattan is purchased on the basis of current costs and if the so-called private builder erected a building and did not receive any benefit. Benefits of writing down land cost or tax exemption the usual benefits which we hear of as being applied to Title one job it would be almost impossible to make rooms available in Manhattan my experience is less than forty dollars a room a month so that they a three room apartment would be one hundred twenty one hundred twenty five dollars and contrast to the rental of seventy five dollars that the average family might might be willing to pay. Well. Our City construction coordinator loss' just believe the word and June appear before the city council and said that aid from the state and the federal government was lessening it would gradually taper off well what what is the solution to the problem for that seventy five dollars a month apartment if we're not going to get the federal and state aid. In as much big a large amount as we have been getting in the past if we received a declining amount of state aid the federal aid let's say governmental aid I think it would be virtually impossible to develop any new housing in Manhattan bear in mind that Manhattan is a high land cost Bartle and in Manhattan that would provide such housing but there are. Measures as a result of recent legislation which might bring housing down to twenty one or twenty two or twenty three dollars around a month under the Mitchell landmark law but the maximum cost I believe that could be paid for a land in order to accomplish. That would be substantially less than what anyone could be acquired for in Manhattan you're often postulate of the truth that planning is for people if we did have adequate housing for the middle income group where that still be the answer to keeping in the New York City but the words middle income group has more gripes about New York City than just inadequate housing Well the middle income gro