May 2017
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Archive for May, 2017

Important Win for Transparency in Zoning Variances

MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Council colleagues after bill signing

Yesterday afternoon, MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein joined City Council Members Ben Kallos and Donovan Richards, and Council colleagues as Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a series of reforms to the Board of Standards and Appeals zoning variance process.

MAS has long advocated for efficiency and transparency in land use, and many of these reforms were based upon our recommendations. In 1976 and 2004, MAS released landmark studies identifying abuse and misuse of the variance process, which allows property owners to bypass zoning regulations in certain hardship situations. We showed that clusters of these individual variances have effectively resulted in the rezoning of certain communities, without taking into account the cumulative impacts on light and air, traffic, parking, school capacity, and other city services.

This piecemeal approach has given the Board of Standards and Appeals authority, but not the responsibility, that is intended for the City Planning Commission. Indeed, it has left neighborhoods without a means to manage the wholesale change taking place around them.

We applaud Mayor de Blasio and the City Council-Council Member Kallos, in particular-for enacting these sensible pieces of legislation.

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President’s Letter, May 2017

President of The Municipal Art Society of New York Elizabeth Goldstein

Elizabeth Goldstein

New York has always been a city where tourists flock and business folks love to travel. But in recent years, the sense of arrival has been lacking – to say the least. Things got a little bit better as JFK got a landscape upgrade and Newark Airport got a reliable monorail link to NJ Transit. Arriving at Grand Central is truly amazing but Penn Station, well, not so much! These days, using Penn is worse than the experience of a small city bus station, albeit with 600,000 passengers a day.

I know because as I was traveling from California many times a year, Newark has always been my airport of preference. Transferring through Penn and I would try to get my suitcase up those steep stairways from those scary, narrow platforms into the hordes of commuters trying to get to their seats FIRST, and find an entrance to the subway that is not at all suited to that suitcase, never mind an escalator or god forbid an actual taxi stand. I am exhausted just writing this down!

Anyway, the spirit of the old Penn Station seems to be shaking its fist at all those who don’t think we have a serious problem. From train derailments to stampedes and tasers, we are hearing terrible but predictable news. The irony of it all is that despite the urgent need to move forward with a consensus vision for Penn Station, we are very far from even a back-to-basics plan. Although Moynihan Station will create a grand entry for Amtrak and help ease some of its needs, the vast majority of the traffic through Penn Station is being served by the Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit. Thus relieving congestion demands a rethinking of the bulk of the station between 7th and 8th Avenues.

The Governor’s most recent announcement to create a Penn Station task force is encouraging. However, we must not lose sight of the idea that each of these incremental changes must ultimately end in achieving a great, efficient, and reliable station for the long haul with the sense of arrival that befits New York City.

One of the critical steps to that end is the completion of Gateway, the multi-billion dollar project to build new tunnels under the Hudson River and much of the rail infrastructure beyond it in New Jersey.

Meanwhile President Donald Trump has defunded the New Starts Program that contained key grants to the Gateway project. It is now a bargaining chip for the Administration’s new infrastructure proposal. And we get it! There is political hay to be made in trading what New York already had for compromises that Trump needs in order to get his plan passed. But the stark, cold reality is that a game is being played at the expense of 600,000 commuters a day. That is not okay. Neither they, nor we, should stand for it.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
President
The Municipal Art Society of New York


MAS Comments to Department of City Planning on Two Bridges Development

Full title: MAS Comments on Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development, Manhattan Community Board 3, CEQR No. 17DCP148M, Manhattan, NY

Background

The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), acting on behalf of the City Planning Commission (CPC), has issued a Draft Scope of Work for Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DSOW) for a proposed development of three new mixed-use buildings within the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. The project has three applicants-each seeking separate minor modifications to the existing LSRD site plan and zoning calculations. These actions would result in the overall development of over 2.5 million gross square feet (gsf) of residential space, including 2,775 dwelling units (DUs), 200 of which will be senior housing, and up to 694 affordable DUs, 17,028 gsf of community facilities, and 10,888 gsf of retail.

Position

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has grave concerns about the proposed development from both a planning and environmental perspective.

From a planning standpoint, we find the magnitude of the proposed development extremely disproportionate with the surrounding area and lacking in foresight. With over 2.5 million gsf of residential space, nearly 3,000 dwelling units, and almost 6,000 new residents in a low-income area, the development provides only 25 percent affordable dwelling units, approximately 11,000 sf of retail space, and 103 parking spaces.

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Letter: MAS and Fellow Advocates Call for Expedited Action on Penn Station

Dear Secretary Chao and Mr. Moorman:

We urge you to expedite the Gateway project and long-term improvements at Penn Station to help address overcrowding and safety issues. We are concerned that Amtrak’s plans to repair tracks at the station this summer, while a good first step, do not go far enough to address longer term problems with Penn Station.

The past few months have demonstrated the basic inability of Penn Station to handle the demands now placed on it on a daily basis. A series of delays, cancellations and even derailments have repeatedly affected commuters’ ability to get to work, school, daycare pick-ups and doctors’ appointments. The service disruptions have led to severe overcrowding, causing injury and unhealthy conditions. On May 3, sewage was leaking from the ceiling of the station. One month earlier, a derailment caused delays on over 1,170 trains. On April 15, sixteen people were injured in a stampede when a police officer’s taser was mistaken for a gunshot. Footage of the stampede foreshadows a far worse disaster.

The events this spring have made it clear to all what many commuters and our organizations have known for years: Penn Station is an unacceptable safety hazard. Possible improvements include better access to Penn Station from the street, bringing more light and air into the station, and improved operations for tracks leading to the station.

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Monument of the Month: WWI Bronx Victory Memorial

World War One Bronx Victory Memorial, statue of soldier with gun

The World War I Bronx Victory Memorial, 1925, was executed by Jerome Connor, sculptor, and Arthur George Waldreaon, architect.

Thirty years ago, The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) launched the Adopt-A-Monument program in collaboration with the NYC Public Design Commission and the NYC Parks Department, to secure private funding for the rescue of public art in danger of deterioration. To date, MAS’s Adopt programs have raised nearly $4 million dollars to conserve fifty-one works of art in all five boroughs. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the program, we are highlighting one restoration per month in 2017.

As we all prepare to mark Memorial Day this weekend, MAS encourages you to include a visit to one of New York’s many monuments devoted to our city’s fallen soldiers. One monument of particular importance to MAS is the Bronx Victory Memorial in Pelham Bay Park, dedicated to the 947 soldiers from the Bronx  who gave their lives serving in World War I. MAS has the honor and privilege of maintaining this poignant piece of public art through the Adopt-A-Monument program, thanks to the generosity of the Grand Marnier Foundation.

The World War I Bronx Victory Memorial, 1925, executed by Jerome Connor, sculptor, and Arthur George Waldreaon, architect, serves as a deeply moving tribute to those who died in the service of their country in “the war to end all wars.” The noble bronze statue on a granite pedestal at Mosholu Parkway and Marion Avenue in the Bronx is one of 107 World War I monuments in New York City parks that hold a reservoir of public memory, sorrow, and victory. The monument is also one of the original twenty in the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument program. MAS has cared for this poignant artwork, cleaning and waxing it every year since its restoration and rededication on May 26, 1988.

Photos of the World War One Bronx Victory Memorial before its restoration

Photos of the World War I Bronx Victory Memorial before its restoration.

Set within a bed of trees on a 17- foot- high circular inscribed stone base, a wounded soldier lies prostrate with his helmet torn from his head. His comrade, standing guard over him is readied with a bayonet. An eagle appears at the foot of the image as if proclaiming the clarion call of war. Connor’s naturalistic style was decried by the Bronx Artist’s Guild for its weak modeling. However, the public responded enthusiastically to the expressive work of art as a symbol crystallizing American sentiments. Seven years after the Armistice ending World War I was signed, thousands of people assembled on Mosholu Parkway to witness the dramatic unveiling of the two life-size doughboys in a somber ceremony of patriotism and pathos.

By 1987, the statue bore scars of corrosion from its position near a heavily trafficked highway. The delicate layer of the original foundry patination had worn away to a matte opaque black appearance. The figurative elements most exposed to rainwater, such as the rifle and wounded soldier’s head and shoulder, showed the greatest evidence of deterioration. Additionally, the base had been painted over to mask graffiti and needed to be restored.

The conservators Linda Merk-Gould and Cameron Wilson, cleaned the heroic size figures, removing all of the years of corrosion. Then, using a propane torch to heat the bronze in the traditional hot wax technique, they applied a petroleum-based wax mixture to the bronze. Lastly, a layer of cold wax was applied over the surface before the piece was buffed with soft clothes. The granite base was cleaned and returned to its natural state so that the World War I Bronx Victory statue today still expresses the meaning of the act memorialized.