James Felt

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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