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There Are Still Places in New York Where You Can’t Build Highrises

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

WNYC
Industry-zoned section of Crown Heights (Janet Babin/WNYC)

The sales prices of residential real estate in the city, especially Brooklyn is reaching new highs. And Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a dramatic goal of increasing affordable housing over the next decade. This has some property owners in parts of the city zoned for industrial use frustrated. In some cases, they wish they could turn their buildings into residential properties. But being zoned industrial makes that close to impossible unless the zoning changes. Some want the city's planning department to step up rezoning efforts and to create a mixed-use designation in more neighborhoods that would allow for light industry on lower floors and apartments above.

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is one of those neighborhoods. It is fast becoming one of the city's most popular residential areas. According to research from real estate investment sales company Ariel Property Advisors, Crown Heights saw more apartment building sales transactions than any other neighborhood in New York City between October 2013 and March of this year compared to the same period last year.

Industry-zoned section of Crown Heights. Janet Babin/WNYC

"There's definitely significant interest by residential tenants in the area, and naturally property owners would love to be able to rent...to these high paying tenants,"said Jonathan Berman, vice president at Ariel, who often completes sales in the area. "But zoning is what it is."

Despite the strong demand, just six blocks from the frenetic Barclays Center neighborhood, residential buildings give way to low slung garages and windowless warehouses. That's largely because a portion of the area is zoned industrial and no new residential buildings are allowed without a special permit.

Vacant Lot in Crown Heights. Janet Babin/WNYC

Historically, the area serviced freight rail lines that ran along Atlantic Avenue. Now, owners are restricted in how high they can build, often to just one story. Advocates for more construction argue the limitations are out of sync with the current needs of the neighborhood.

"In the residential zones, they're seeing a lot of development, but this area is somewhat stagnant from a development point of view," said Gib Veconi, a member of Community Board 8.

"I don’t know if the case can be made that we need light industrial,light manufacturing here," said Charles McMickens, managing director of Global Square. "Most of the space is used for storage, which isn’t I think, an optimal use for industrial space." McMickens is developing a former 7,000 square foot garage into a performance space and restaurant.

Crown Heights Industrial District. Janet Babin/WNYC 

Some area businesses want the de Blasio Administration to consider mixed-use zoning in this portion of Crown Heights that would allow for manufacturing on the lower floors of residential towers. The topic came up at a Long Island City Partnership event last month.

"I know there are ways in which we can make our city a more vertical city but also support manufacturing and industrial uses and that’s going to require engaging with innovative architecture and engineering, and having the [New York City] planning department think a little bit differently, said Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development.

These new industrial aspirations might steal a bit of the spotlight that's been shining on the Mayor's ambitious affordable housing goals, 

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Comments [16]

Solendita from Crown Heights

I have been living in this area for a while now and this is exactly what this area needs. Yes, some will say that we will be pushing the manufacturers out of this area; however, there is so little activity going on in a majority of these lots during the day and with mixed use they get to stay and other people can enjoy the benefits. I frequently bike in the area and I am amazed at how little these buildings and facilities are actually manufacturing. Many buildings are abandoned and are 90% unproductive. Has anyone seen the horrendous junkyard on Pacific Street? There are trucks parked outside on the street, a recycling plant, squatters, and trash up and down the street AND people have to live on these blocks. I think if there were more residents on these blocks, it would aid in cleaning up the area. As you walk the from Washington Ave to Franklin Ave during the evening hours it's absolutely desolate. The the reality is that Franklin and Washington and Vanderbilt streets have become major thoroughfares for business. Why not enhance the streets in between and let more people enjoy this area?

Aug. 26 2014 09:43 AM
alan roth from Sunset Park

The elephant in the room is the gentrication of Crown Heights. This is ongoing problem for those families who have been living there for decades, which are African-American and Caribbean folks. It happened in Fort Greene, it happened in Bushwick, and it is happening like a speedy bullet in Crown Hts., and also in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
I think was is needed is to begin with a respect for the community as it has existed, and to protect the affordability of the neighborhood for families who are struggling to survive.
This means mixed-use zoning. The question is not whether one wants to live in a high-rise above commercial space, but how to develop a community that respects the needs of the community as it exists, and that those people's can continue to populate the area. Otherwise, Brooklyn will push the Black population further and further out.
Otherwise, the debate arises from a racist foundation.

Jul. 23 2014 05:40 PM
Sandy from Brooklyn

Doesn't look hospitable but in the future it will be !

Jul. 23 2014 04:04 PM

This is a great idea. There are plenty of quiet, clean, single-story light industrial buildings which could easily be good first-floor tenants for residential. Right on my block, for example, is a business that makes custom wooden and cardboard shipping containers. It's busy, clean, and employs many people.

Jul. 23 2014 03:53 PM
Matthew in Crown Heights

The "industrial" uses are currently auto shops, chop shops and storage. These sit cheek by jowl with "luxury" condos and rentals. I for one, hate the auto shops and would gladly see them leave, they detract from the esthetics of the neighborhood. Personally, I would prefer that mixed use housing/industrial automatically preclude any Hazchem business like a body shop or autoshop. Those chemicals don't conveniently stay on Washington Ave, they migrate to the schools, homes and food retailers nearby.

New York is already way to expensive for anything other than auto shops, and that's only because you can't move the auto shop too far from the autos. Why would you build a factory in New York City when you would get far more favorable treatment down south or in the mid-west?

Jul. 23 2014 02:49 PM
David Calligeros from Bushwick

Hello fellow New Yorkers,
I'd live above a factory, in fact, I work in a factory I'd be happy to live IN, but that's not the point. Without specific zoning for manufacturing uses, the short-sighted view of land value will drive those industrial uses out of the city. Manufacturing provides itself, and grows externally a rich web of, solid jobs that give a leg up into the middle class. English proficiency and a college degree are not a prerequisite, which is a significant characteristic for new immigrants. Even if you don't care about decent employment, if the city becomes a monoculture of housing-only, why would anyone want to live here?

Jul. 23 2014 12:42 PM
David Calligeros from Bushwick

Hello fellow New Yorkers,
I'd live above a factory, in fact, I work in a factory I'd be happy to live IN, but that's not the point. Without specific zoning for manufacturing uses, the short-sighted view of land value will drive those industrial uses out of the city. Manufacturing provides itself, and grows externally a rich web of, solid jobs that give a leg up into the middle class. English proficiency and a college degree are not a prerequisite, which is a significant characteristic for new immigrants. Even if you don't care about decent employment, if the city becomes a monoculture of housing-only, why would anyone want to live here?

Jul. 23 2014 12:41 PM
Shepsl from Jackson Hts Queens

And let's not forget about green space. Some hot neighborhoods (including mine) have practically none and some of that unusual industrial space could be reclaimed.

Jul. 23 2014 11:58 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Some need to understand that not every part of NYC has to have at least a high rise in them. Nobody will argue that housing is very important, but it's very hard to have it where the infrastructure can barely keep up with who's living there now. This is why I didn't support Mike Bloomberg's plan for rezoning East Midtown or even Eric Adams on Downtown Brooklyn. There is a need for industrial space and that is decreasing. Most of those businesses have hardly anywhere else to relocated within city limits if they leave, and will force them to move out of town altogether. Let's not forget that many of those industrial businesses were there before the areas they are in became popular, and it will like an insult to make them move just to have something state of the art take their place.

Jul. 23 2014 11:07 AM
Rachel from Brooklyn

I grew up in Brooklyn and lived in/had friends and family who lived in all sorts of spaces and arrangements. For me the issue isn't about "acceptance"--who is going to be responsible for testing and cleaning up contaminated soil, lead paint, asbestos, etc. in and around these buildings? The companies who would've been responsible are probably long since defunct, and something tells me the property owners using these spaces for storage or the developers they sell to once zoning changes go into effect aren't gonna be too keen on that.

Jul. 23 2014 10:20 AM
Donna Cappella from maplewood, nj

I would live above a factory! As long as it's not smelly/poisonous. During the day there are folks coming and going. At night it's pretty quiet. Parking might be easier... I lived in Red Hook 30 years ago before it was gentrified so I can live anywhere!

Jul. 23 2014 09:56 AM

I spent much of my adult life living in mixed-residential/industrial loft spaces in Soho/Noho from 1970 through the 90s. To support low-income artists with a need for large work spaces, the city initially restricted legal residency to certified AIR artists. But thousands of non-artists attracted by the "truck chic" bohemian lifestyle began occupying those unwanted commercial spaces as well, which led to a plague of landlord abuses against tenants who had no legal right of tenancy (capricious eviction actions, unconscionable rent increases, no heat/hot water, lockouts. etc.) which clogged housing court forcing Mayor Koch to go to Albany and have the Multiple Dwelling Code amended to protect those tenants.

Soho/Noho and to a large extent Dumbo today are the result of that. The two demographics that the city ostensibly tried to protect with M1 rezoning -- working artists and manufacturers -- were both quickly driven out by expensive "alternative lifestyle" developments affordable only by the very wealthy.

Jul. 23 2014 09:48 AM
Hambone from Brooklyn/Gowanus

I would want to know what was being made/done in the space below.

I'd much rather live above many types of manufacturing than live above a dry cleaner with all the bad stuff they put in the air.

Jul. 23 2014 09:33 AM
paul kerzner from Ridgewood, NY

The Ridgewood Local Development Corp (RLDC) has asked City Planning to rezone our M-1 zones to MX, i.e, a special mfging zone, that would require the first two flrs to be light mfging, and allow a max of three additional flrs of residential. There are two other caveats:(1) the entire bldg, both industrial and residential must be a condo, and (2) each condo space must be affordable to local residents and businesses to purchase. paul kerzner, President, RLDC 718- 381- 3366

Jul. 23 2014 08:27 AM
Rachel from Prospect Heights

I did live above a factory in Brooklyn—20+ years ago—in DUMBO. People literally do not believe me when I tell them I lived in DUMBO in the late '80s/early '90s. It was magical and interesting and definitely not luxury. High ceilings and thick cement floors, views of the Empire State Building—and a certain amount of awareness that many coddled (white-collar) New Yorkers lack of the waning industrial activities of this metropolis. Passed by men assembling file cabinets every day on my way to elementary school.

Jul. 23 2014 07:54 AM
becky from nyc

Hey, we're nyers!
Creative living and being a filler in an interesting sandwich becomes part of our dna.
Over 30 years been living, working & raised a little family in mixed use, on quasi-uncertain floors.
First night out of college was spent sleeping under fur pelts on cutting table. The previous tenant had to consolidate & surrender a floor but hadn't yet figured out how to fit his finery into shrunken quarters.
Wouldn't trade my high ceilings & solid thick cement floors for a doorman any day.

Move in, root yourself & let the zoners surrender & eventually decree 'okay'.
City folk adapt and flourish when they share & accept all kinds of neighbors.

Jul. 23 2014 07:38 AM

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