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Waterfront plan: nice idea, but....

A revitalization plan for New York City's waterfront revitalization received both cheers and jeers from the real estate community last.

While the 200-page plan identifies

areas to be rezoned from manufacturing to residential and light retail use, it also seeks to limit the buildable square footage, reserve corridors for public views and access to the waterfront and place design restrictions on what may be built.

The plan was released by the New York City Planning Commission at a water-front press conference with the mayor standing by.

The city envisions the development of vacant or under-used waterfront properties which could include the addition of 50,000 to 75,000 new housing units.

Rosina K. Abramson, executive director of the City Planning Department said the planners identified areas where the current zoning no longer made sense and a change would result-in a reuse of the property. Between 25 and 50 sites are expected to be rezoned for development with 40 sites identified for enhanced public access in connection with residential and commercial development while six industrial sites are slated for improvement.

Any zoning resolution would have to be approved by both the City Planning Commission and the City Council and public hearings will begin in October.

"The city never looked at it as waterfront as far as zoning is concerned," said Steven D. Kowaloff, a Manhattan zoning attorney.

Kowaloff said rezoning from manufacturing to residential is the kind of rezoning that will increase the value of the property.

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) said they sent Planning Commissioner Richard Schaffer a letter of comments.

"While they've done some positive things in the document it is still an attempt to limit design flexibility, development rights and impose additional burdens on projects, "he noted.

Spinola said the rezoning would eliminate the usable floor area between the bulkhead and the pier line, taking away development rights.

"That's a significant reduction in zoning," he said.

Kowaloff said, because the waterfront rezoning would disqualify most of the underwater area in calculating the buildable floor area calculation, "if the economy was sound and there was financing you would see a rush to build now."

The city has put forth significant architectural design limitations, Spinola continued.

"This is not an area for fat, squatty buildings," he said. "Leave the flexibility to the architects and the demand. You want tall, slender building on the water.

Kowaloff said: "If you're a developer, the view creates value and the money comes from that view. You want a tall wide building with as much window area facing the water."

He suggests the regulations permit some method to build high rises.

Developer Jeffrey Stern, a former city planning official, agrees it may make more sense in some places to build high-rise buildings and have more land in between. "I would hope there is a negotiation," he said.

Kowaloff foresees problems with the city's plan to have 15 to 20 percent of the land area at the waterfront open for public access and a 15-foot wide piece that would. be a setback.

"They are forcing the building back from the waterfront and then requiring public access," he said, noting the lots may not be large enough to make this financially feasible.

The Real Estate Board also objected to the mandating of public amenities without accompanying bonuses.

"If they are going to require money for amenities they are going to have to give incentives to make a project happen," Spinola said. "Here they are giving with one hand and taking with the other," he added.

Zoning attorney Sybil Pollet, of Pollet & Pollet, whose clients are financial institutions, gave some comments on the plan based on brief review.

Financial institutions are always concerned when there is a reduction in density height or a requirement that developers contribute a portion of the development community for parkland. This is because these requirement may reduce the financial feasibility of the project.

The proposed revisions do not contain provisions for vesting protection, she said, other than provided for in the zoning resolution. "What this means is that a developer has to have a building permit in order to have vested rights in his property," she explained.

If an owner does not have a building permit and a bank loan has been made based on the prior zoning, Pollet said there could be a major impact on the financial feasibility on the project and the loan. "I hope there will be an opportunity to discuss this," she added.

Kowaloff said the city is not acknowledging the real estate forces as much as it should. "The city might rezone something even though no builder in his right mind would come in and build housing," he said.

Kowaloff said a number of developers have already been told if they want to do a project and receive residential rezoning, they must provide access to the waterfront for the public. "It raises security issues," he noted.

Stern, a former city planning official who worked on the Gateway Park and Sheepshead Bay projects while with the city, now develops low and moderate income housing in Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and Far Rockaway. One of the things the city would be providing is equal opportunity to enjoy the waterfront, he explained. "It's a shame that New Yorkers have had such restricted use to the waterfront."

Donald H. Tack, vice president of Don Alan Realty Associates, said around Long Island City, most of the property in Long Island City is already the subject of development deals, such as for Hunter's Point. "Everybody in the area who is outside the zone will benefit," he added.

The city his identified Pot Cove - which Alan said is a "pretty area that has been neglected for years" - as an important area for new development. "The neighborhood is a rough area," Alan noted. "Anything the city would do would be helpful. "
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Title Annotation:analysis of New York, New York waterfront revitalization plan
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Aug 19, 1992
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