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MAS Calls for Sustainable Development in Hunter’s Point

hunters point pepsi cola sign waterfront

In its letter to the New York City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee earlier this week, MAS described Hunter’s Point South Queens as an exciting opportunity to put the sustainable neighborhood planning principles laid out by the Mayor in his PlaNYC2030 into practice.

Representing a precious waterfront area and unique development opportunity for Queens and the city as a whole, MAS believes that any project plans for this area must adhere to transit oriented and sustainable development principles and must preserve significant parts of this waterfront area as park space for active uses that provides access to the water.

October 23, 2008

Dear Honorable Council Member:

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) respectfully submits this letter to express its views on the Hunter’s Point South project. The MAS sees Hunter’s Point South Queens as an exciting opportunity to put into practice sustainable neighborhood planning principles, therefore, the MAS would like to submit into the record our views on the proposed development.

This stretch of land represents a precious waterfront area and unique development opportunity for Queens and the city as a whole. MAS believes that any project plans for this area must adhere to transit oriented and sustainable development principles and must preserve significant parts of this waterfront area as park space for active uses that provides access to the water.

The city under Mayor Bloomberg’s guidance has taken great strides toward implementing a sustainability agenda; PlaNYC 2030 lays out valuable principles to guide planning for sustainability. In using these as a guide, we believe there are a number of ways to improve the project’s sustainability.

Waterfront Park and Open Space – Queens is starved for open space and more specifically for parks that foster active, recreational uses. PlaNYC 2030 firmly states that “when opportunities arise to create new parks, we should continue to seize them.” The peninsula at Hunter’s Point South offers just such an opportunity for a severely underserved area. It is not enough to laud the incremental improvement in open space ratio (as defined in the Hunter’s Point South FEIS) that the proposed project may represent. According to this FEIS the ratio would still fall below the norms established by NYCDCP.

MAS believes we should seize the opportunity here to invest in further and more significant park expansion in Queens, focusing on active open space to encourage healthful living. We propose that the lower third of the peninsula, rather than being built out, should be redesigned as a great amenity to the area and the city, a city park. The winning design for the Olympic village proposed such a bold gesture, a 43 acre park as part of a development conceived of as a “living machine.”

hunters point south aerial planning map

Hunter’s Point south FEIS

The vision was to create an example of sustainable development for the city that would integrate social, environmental and economic sustainability through an urban design rooted in technological innovations and responsive to the local ecological as well as built and social environments. It may behoove us to revisit these sound and inspiring proposals not as a feasible alternative plan for this moment but as a point of departure to re-envision Hunter’s Point South in our current moment and context. In the mean time, if environmentally appropriate, an interim park and open space might be developed fairly immediately to give Queens’ residents access to the Waterfront. This would provide the area with a recognizable and valuable amenity during the several years it will take for development.

rendering hunters point south morphosis 2004

Morphosis winning proposal May 26, 2004

Transportation and Transit-oriented Development – The City in PlaNYC 2030 also delineates a transit oriented development framework that calls for directing growth toward areas with strong transit access, to increase transit options, and to develop underused areas to knit neighborhoods together. The Hunter’s Point South proposal currently places the high density development farthest from the main public transit stations. This site arrangement fails to capitalize on the existing mass transit infrastructure, violating a key principle of transit-oriented development. Furthermore, without targeted investment in mass transit infrastructure the project in its current density will place pressure on the existing system. The MAS is encouraged by the proposal to maintain the ferry landing at the site. Yet, as the City contemplates the use of water-borne transportation, which the MAS supports, then we urge the City to investigate means to subsidize such a transportation network. MAS hopes the EDC and the New York City Council will reevaluate and reconsider the current plans in order to plan more comprehensively for the area and to more closely align it with transit-oriented development principles; it should also contemplate future uses of the rail yards close to the site as these might be more suitable to high density development.

Housing – PlaNYC 2030 also explicitly links the development of new housing to transit-oriented development and affordability. We acknowledge that the development is being proposed as a middle-income housing development. Given that site A is city-owned, however, we should ensure that housing developed here is affordable to a broader spectrum of Queens residents. The local Council Member Gioia, Community Board 2 as well as community-based civic organizations, such as Queens Coalition for Affordable Housing, the Pratt Center, Catholic Charities, Queens Congregations United for Action, and Asian-Americans for Equality, have raised major concerns about the definition of affordability applied in this project, which projects approximately 5,000 units of housing to be constructed. The income criteria as community civic groups have pointed out exclude the majority of Queens residents. MAS supports a more inclusive, and more effectively income-tiered approach that takes into consideration local median incomes.

In conclusion; given the current economic climate it may very well be that no development will occur on this unique site for several years. This reality should give us pause as we contemplate the future of Hunter’s Point South. MAS believes that the city should seize the opportunity at Hunter’s Point South to create a model development on an underutilized but prime, city-owned waterfront site, one firmly rooted in sustainable neighborhood development principles. But for this to occur any development must more specifically plan for an urban design that capitalizes on the natural opportunity for waterfront open space this site provides, and that builds on and improves access to public modes of transportation and creates a site design that shifts density toward transit hubs. While this planning progresses, we can almost immediately make available to the public a great amenity in the form of a waterfront park that encourages active interaction with the water and active play and sports. Finally, for any plan to create a truly sustainable neighborhood, communities must be actively engaged in the planning process so that the plan reflects local priorities and encourages not only physical but also economic as well as social integration with the surrounding neighborhoods.

Sincerely

Susanna Schaller
Senior Planner, MAS