Featured Author

Margaux Jaffa Vice President VOA Architecture, PLLC

Margaux Jaffa
Last week Brian McFarland, a Principal of VOA New York’s office, led a panel discussion on zoning and development. This popular topic is widely discussed in the press as politicians, city and government officials and leaders in the real estate community debate the current policy and what changes would benefit the city. The zoning debate can perhaps be reduced to three pivotal topics, the need for and policy advocacy for affordable housing, increased flexibility in zoning, and the sudden explosion of supertall residential towers in Manhattan.

[expand title=”Click here to read more about The Zoning and Development Client Panel…”] Affordable Housing The cornerstone of the DeBlasio administration, affordable housing is a topic that is permeating most mutli-family residential development opportunities and land use debates. The mayor’s agenda has sent monumental waves through the real estate community as developers and city officials try and reach agreements on how many affordable housing units should be required in new development and what types on incentives the developers will receive to offset construction costs and land prices. David Schwartz, Principal at the Slate Property Group, speaking on behalf of the development community, feels strongly that the market is ripe for a policy overhaul. Most importantly, all panelists agreed that the sooner the debate is settled and policy is set, the better for certainty in the market. Flexibility Recently, there have been examples of how relaxing the zoning in certain areas, along the High Line for example, has transformed a neighborhood for the better. New residential buildings have sprouted up all around the famous elevated park, spurred new retail activity, and re-energized this once an industrial wasteland. Questioning whether the current regulatory trend is towards the more restrictive and discretionary, McFarland read a portion of the proposed East Midtown zoning that required subjective judgment of buildings under development. In the current political climate there are multiple city agencies whose approvals are required in order to green light a project. “Time is what kills development. We closely evaluate how many agencies need to approve a project before we move forward” said David Schwartz. “The quality of architecture being built now in areas with new development will build the future of New York City”, countered Raju Mann, Director of Land Use at the New York City Council – seemingly in defense of public oversight. Admitting there must be limits on regulation, Mark Silberman, of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, expressed disappointment over the quality of architecture in some recent developments and his desire for improving it through the right balance of flexibility in regulations and public oversight. Supertall The subject of considerable public scrutiny, the supertall residences being developed near Central Park in Midtown have all benefited from the lack of zoning restrictions in that district and the ability to transfer development rights from landmarked or zoning height restricted properties. While some, like the Moma tower, have benefited from zoning variances and favorable landmarks reviews, others, like One57, have been developed as-of-right. Liberalizing policies regulation the transfer of development rights in other areas, like East Midtown would enable development in a land scarce and overpriced area, creating new Class A commercial building stock, and internationally significant towers that and keep New York City competitive with leading European and Asian cities. While some members of community boards detest their new tall neighbors, most people like the new face of the skyline. “One of NYC’s values is its tall buildings, said Schwartz. And, Eldad Gothelf, Chief Land Use & development specialist at Herrick Feinstein, added as one of the panel closing remarks, “These midtown buildings don’t bother me at all, let there be height!”[/expand]