September 2017
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Post-Sandy, What Have We Learned?

Throughout New York City, Hurricane Sandy dramatically transformed the landscape and destroyed neighborhoods.  Its impact on the way that we think about our city has yet to be determined, but two projects that were proposed before the storm may serve as useful weathervanes.

The first project is a proposal to develop approximately 700 units of housing along the Gowanus Canal, a plan that has been under discussion for many years.  The development falls in a Zone A evacuation area and Councilmember Brad Lander – the councilperson for that district – has asked the developer to reconsider plans for development of the site.  The developer, the Lightstone Group, has argued that the development has carefully considered its proximity to the Gowanus and has been designed accordingly.

The second project is a proposal to build the world’s largest Ferris wheel on the St. George waterfront on the north shore of Staten Island.  The New York Wheel will be adjacent to the Staten Island ferry terminal and the Yankees minor league baseball stadium. Portions of the development site are situated within mandatory evacuation zones.  Although built by a private entity, the development has garnered the support of the City’s Economic Development Corporation.

The wheel will be joined by a 340,000-square-foot outlet mall and a 130,000-square-foot hotel.  The public hearing on the Ferris wheel project, which took place after the hurricane, drew many residents who were concerned about the timing of the project and raised questions about the merits of the proposal in light of what Sandy taught us about developing our waterfront.

Given the scarcity of land in New York City and the legitimate economic benefits of some redevelopment projects, we will continue to see these tensions unfold on other sites.  Both of these projects require public review.  How will the relevant city agencies and developers respond?  Are we thinking about development differently after Sandy?  If not, why aren’t we?  The answer to these questions may begin to give us a clearer sense of what we have learned and what the long-term impact of Sandy might be on our city.