September 2017
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MAS Testimony on CreateNYC

Full Title: MAS Testimony to the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Re: Oversight of the Comprehensive Cultural Plan (CreateNYC).

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) congratulates the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) on producing a comprehensive cultural plan that reflects an extensive community engagement process. MAS was pleased to contribute to this process, informing community stakeholders about opportunities to participate in the drafting of the plan through our 2017 Livable Neighborhoods Program workshop series.

Because of our focus on New York City’s built environment, MAS particularly applauds the strategies that DCLA has identified to address issues of affordability, neighborhood character, and arts and culture in public space.

Affordability

The cultural plan makes a stated commitment to implementing processes that will increase local participation in the planning, design, and programming of current and future City-owned properties designated for cultural use. We urge the City to look at the 22% of properties under their management which are classified as having no current use (according to MAS’s 2016 Public Assets report) for this purpose. Many of these properties are located in neighborhoods the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP, March 2017) identifies as falling below the New York City average in terms of cultural assets and other social wellbeing indicators.

The plan also commits to increasing the development of appropriate, affordable, accessible housing and work spaces. MAS is supportive of the plan’s intention of exploring the potential of new long-term affordability models that combat displacement, especially community land trusts and rent-to-own options.

Neighborhood Character

The cultural plan will endeavor to support neighborhood-based efforts to identify, catalogue and protect locally significant cultural assets. Initiatives like Place Matters, a collaboration between MAS and City Lore, and neighborhood creative and cultural asset mapping capacity building work, conducted by MAS in partnership with the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, provide good examples.

MAS is also supportive of DCLA’s commitment within this issue area to increase coordination with DCP, HPD, and EDC to proactively engage local artists as well as arts and cultural organizations in neighborhood planning and rezoning processes.

Arts and Culture in Public Space

MAS is in favor of the continued expansion and diversification of the Percent for Art program to provide for the maintenance of completed projects on City-owned property. We encourage DCLA to also consider the model of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Percent for Art Program, the oldest in the country, which includes an option for the provision of space for artists and arts organizations in fulfillment of their one percent requirement.

The cultural plan also pledges to facilitate more artist-led projects in collaboration with City agencies. MAS has a history of fostering cross-sector collaborative projects, such as the effort to restore Barry Faulkner’s mural series in Washington Irving High School with the New York City.

DOE, the Public Design Commission, conservators, and the school’s faculty and students. We have experienced first-hand the multiple benefits of these types of collaborations and would welcome the opportunity to be a resource for the City as they continue in this work.

Conclusion

MAS looks forward to more details on the implementation of the plan beyond year one, particularly relating to the three issue areas highlighted above. In addition, we are eager to learn about opportunities for public participation in the development of the key indicators, benchmarks and milestones that the DCLA will use to measure progress toward its goals.

While the stakeholder engagement that took place throughout the drafting process was laudable, many New York City residents have yet to hear about the plan and its implications for their neighborhoods. Therefore ongoing engagement will be critical to the plan’s success, as well as DCLA’s ability to fulfill its mandate of addressing the distribution of cultural activities and the resulting impact on social and economic health and welfare in the city.

MAS Comments On Appeals By Sky House Condominium

Full Title: MAS Comments to the Board of Standards and Appeals, Application No. 2016-4327-A, Appeal By Sky House Condominium regarding permit issued for 15 East 30th Street, NY, NY

Position

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) is in support of the appeal made by Sky House Condominium (Condominium) regarding a building permit issued by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) on October 11, 2016. The permit authorizes construction of a fifty-one story residential building on 15 East 30th Street in Manhattan.

MAS believes that DOB’s determination regarding the compliance of the proposed Tower with the New York City Zoning Resolution (ZR) is incorrect. MAS recommends that the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) rule that the ZR has been inadequately interpreted and the building permit is invalid.

Structural voids and mechanical floors

As part of the building permit in question, the developers requested to construct five mechanical floors comprising over 150 feet in height, which would result in an approximate 23% of the total tower’s volume dedicated for accessory mechanicals (see figure 1 and 2). The ZR is clear in that enclosed spaces should count as floor area, with the exception of certain uses, including mechanical space. However, the applicants describe these areas as a “structural void”, which incidentally hold limited amounts of mechanical equipment that is not proportional to the size of the space. MAS questions what type of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment demand such a staggering amount of volume?

Illustration showing the mechanical floors of the Sky House Condominium in New York City

Figure 1: Perspective of proposed development at 15 East 30th Street highlighting structural voids

The practice of using “structural voids” into the design of a building in order to boost height is a relatively new phenomenon in New York City. Many new towers disguise these voids as accessory building mechanicals, and incorporate them solely to increase heights, views and prices. Several developments currently under construction have exploited this misrepresentation of the ZR, perhaps most notably is 217 57th Street (also known as Nordstrom tower) where 350 feet of its height is devoted to structural void.

DOB’s interpretation of the exemptions for contributing Floor Area under section 12-10 of the ZR is resulting in structural voids being used without any regulatory limit. Such practice is severely undermining the 12 FAR limit on residential buildings mandated by state law. Without proper examination that all such space is necessary for the building mechanicals, DOB is indeed misrepresenting the ZR and making policy on behalf of lawmakers. The BSA must strictly evaluate the primary use of these spaces and whenever necessary overrule these inappropriate building permits.

Illustration showing the difference in building height between the current and proposed use of mechanical floors in the Sky House Condominium in New York City

Figure 2: Elevations comparing normal use of mechanical space against proposed development

And finally, the issue of regulating the use of structural voids in building applications is not a new one. A 1999 report issued by DCP, which included recommendations on how the Zoning Resolution could be reformed to better regulate bulk, identified deductions of mechanical space from zoning floor area by developers as a contributing factor to out-of-scale development.

We recommend BSA take the lead in examining this issue and coordinate with the City Planning Commission (CPC) to determine appropriate heights for mechanical floors in building permit applications.

MAS Comments on Inwood Rezoning Proposal

Full Title: MAS Comments on the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement for the Inwood Rezoning Proposal, CEQR No. 17DME007M, Manhattan, NY.

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) herein provides comments and recommendations to be incorporated into the Final Scope of Work and evaluated in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Inwood Rezoning Proposal.

The Inwood neighborhood features bountiful open space, historic resources, a diverse population, and a robust stock of housing with a wide range of prices. The Inwood Rezoning must protect and enhance the neighborhood to be successful.

MAS is generally encouraged by the Inwood NYC Action Plan that frames the Proposal, especially with regard to recommendations for affordable housing at the Inwood Library site, outreach to local residents to support tenants’ rights, planned infrastructure investments, and grant programs to support neighborhood businesses. However, we are concerned about indirect residential displacement, retail gentrification, and impacts on historic and cultural resources that could have long-lasting effects on the Inwood neighborhood. These issues are discussed herein and must be addressed comprehensively in the DEIS.

Background

The rezoning affects a 59-block, 227-acre area in the Inwood neighborhood, in Manhattan Community District 12. By the 2032 build year, the proposal would result in an incremental increase of 4,348 dwelling units including 1,325 or 1,563 affordable units, depending on which Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) option is selected. All told, the proposal would bring in an addition 12,087 new residents to the area.

In terms of land use, the proposal would result in an incremental increase of 1.1 million square feet (sf) of commercial space, almost half-million sf of community facility space, and 50,000 sf of light industrial space.

MAS Recommendations and Comments

Reasonable Worst Case Development Scenario (RWCDS)

MAS finds the Reasonable Worst Case Development Scenario (RWCDS) included in the Draft Scope of Work (DSOW) does not accurately represent the most conservative development projection under the zoning proposal because it does not take into account rent-stabilized and underbuilt residential buildings. This could affect the accuracy of the evaluations in the DEIS, particularly socioeconomic conditions. Therefore, we recommend that the RWCDS include applicable rent-stabilized and underbuilt units in rezoning project area.

Undercounting Direct Displacement – According to the Department of City Planning’s (DCP) MapPLUTO database, the rezoning area includes 33 multi-family residential buildings. We are concerned that by increasing density, the rezoning would put additional redevelopment pressure on these sites, which could lead to potential indirect displacement of low-income residents. We expect the DEIS to evaluate the potential for this to occur.

Undercounting Indirect Displacement – Despite the limitations placed on the height and bulk of new buildings, MAS is also concerned that the development of market-rate buildings, adjacent to and near a large number of buildings containing rent-stabilized units may increase the pressure to redevelop multifamily dwellings outside the soft sites, which also could lead to indirect residential displacement.

There may also be additional challenges for the many nearby properties that contain rent stabilized units. Our research shows that there are 316 buildings with rent-stabilized units in the project area registered with the DHCR, and an additional 15 are likely to have rent-stabilized units that are not registered. 1 Although many of these buildings are not considered underbuilt, and owners might not have the incentive to demolish and redevelop them, they may be inclined to deregulate stabilized units or even illegally convert them into market-rate.

Because the DSOW does not include the evaluation of the potential impacts from illegal conversions of rent-stabilized to market-rate units, the DEIS socioeconomic conditions analysis needs to take into account the potential for illegal conversions and loss of rent-stabilized units.

Public Policy

Waterfront Access Plan and Waterfront Revitalization Plan Assessment – MAS commends the city for recognizing that the inclusion of a Waterfront Access Plan (WAP) is sorely-needed given the lack of connectivity from the rezoning area to the Harlem River and public spaces along the waterfront. With respect to the WAP, in addition to improving the physical streetscape that connects the river to the rest of the neighborhood, the DEIS must identify and evaluate specific view corridors to ensure that visual and physical links to waterfront are created and protected.

The rezoning area adjacent to the Harlem River is within the 100-year floodplain. Therefore, the DEIS must identify and evaluate specific strategies and measures for resiliency and flood mitigation as part of the WAP. Therefore, we expect the DEIS will include detailed drawings and descriptions of the resiliency design measures to be implemented under the plan including, but not limited to, existing and proposed buildings along the riverfront, infrastructure improvements to the riverfront area, view corridors connecting the waterfront to the rest of the neighborhood, and access points to the river.

Socioeconomic Conditions

Indirect Residential Displacement – Given the high number of new residents (12,087) anticipated under the proposal, the rezoning has the potential to drastically change the socioeconomic conditions of the Inwood community. Therefore, the DEIS socioeconomic analysis must identify and evaluate an income band under the MIH program that accurately represents the socioeconomic conditions of the neighborhood and best protects low-income residents from indirect displacement. Without the evaluation of a specific MIH income band, the DEIS evaluation will be incomplete.

According to U.S Census (2011/2015 American Community Survey data) 29 percent of the households in Community District 12 have an income that is less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is $24,500 for a three-person household. The deepest affordability option under MIH would require that 20 percent of the residential floor area be affordable to households earning 40 percent of AMI ($32,640 for a three-person household).

Another option under MIH provides dwelling units affordable at 60 percent of AMI ($49,000 for a three-person household) which is above the neighborhood’s median household income of $41,700. Based on these options, MAS recommends that the deepest level of affordability be evaluated to ensure that affordable housing is within reach for the greatest number of residents. We also recommend that other deeper levels of affordability are explored and evaluated in the Alternatives Analysis. For example, an option that includes 100 percent affordable units at the library site.

Direct Business Displacement – The project is expected to directly displace more than 100 employees. However, no detail is given as to which types of businesses or employees are expected to be displaced. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) data, approximately 100 jobs in industrial sectors such as warehousing and waste management are located on projected or potential development sites east of 10th Avenue. The data also shows that another 50 manufacturing jobs are in businesses along Dyckman Street, west of Broadway, where the proposal would rezone manufacturing uses to mixed uses.

Because the Proposal is likely to displace and possibly eliminate these jobs as well, MAS expects the DEIS to evaluate the impacts the Proposal would have on these businesses and their employees.

Indirect Business Displacement – Most of the proposed and potential development sites in the rezoning area are commercial uses and will be rezoned as mixed use. The addition of a large influx of residents with incomes well above the neighborhood average raises substantial concerns of retail gentrification as these residents are likely to demand goods and services from retailers that are not currently present in the neighborhood. As such, MAS is concerned that local businesses will be pushed out of the neighborhood.

Therefore, MAS strongly recommends that the DEIS examine the potential influence that commercial redevelopment and new retail demand will have on the survival of local businesses.

Shadows

The Proposal has the potential to result in significant shadow impacts on Isham Park, Inwood Hill Park, and Monsignor Kett Playground. As such, the DEIS must identify specific mitigation measures that eliminate or reduce these impacts to the greatest extent practicable. We also expect that the DEIS shadow analysis will indicate specifically which buildings would create the incremental shadows effecting all open space and historic resources.

Historic and Cultural Resources

The Inwood Rezoning Area contains several cultural and historic resources that could be impacted directly or indirectly by new development facilitated by the Proposal. The Dyckman Farmhouse and Museum, which is both a National Historic and individual New York City landmark, is located at Broadway and West 204th Street, directly within the Commercial “U” sub-district for which an upzoning is proposed. The Dyckman Farmhouse and Museum must be protected from the impacts of shadows and construction from nearby developments.

In addition, the Environmental Assessment Statement references the New York Public Library as a potential development site for affordable housing, pre-kindergarten classrooms, and a modern library. While MAS supports the construction of such neighborhood assets, we expect the DEIS to evaluate the impacts of the library closure on the neighborhood and provide specific information on the expected timeline for the library construction and the proposed temporary library.

Alternatives Evaluation

The DSOW lists only two alternatives (No-Action and the Proposed Action) to be evaluated in the DEIS. To provide a wide range of potential development options, MAS recommends that the DEIS evaluate an alternative in which the 4 rezoning only takes place east of 10th Avenue and the impacts are primarily constrained to business displacement in the Sherman Creek area.

Additional Recommendations

To increase transparency and facilitate more robust public oversight, MAS recommends that DCP make public all its mapping and GIS data related to the Proposal. This includes shapefiles for the project and study areas, potential and projected sites, and other pertinent files. Making this data accessible will encourage more informed recommendations by the public.

Conclusion

We strongly urge the DEIS to include our recommendations. Given the current socioeconomics of the area and huge influx of new residents and workers expected under the Proposal, we want to ensure that all potential opportunities for preserving existing housing and creating new affordable housing have been explored and that the neighborhood’s character will be maintained.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on this critically important proposal.

Notes

  1. Henrick, Chris, 2014, Am I Rent Stabilized? Graduate Thesis Studio, Parsons MFA Design and Tech, (last accessed June 9, 2017)

MAS Testimony to Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding 111 Noble Street

Full Title: MAS Testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding the Certificate of Appropriateness for 111 Noble Street, Block 2566, Lot 74.

Originally constructed in 1855, 111 Noble Street is a two-story wood frame house located within the Greenpoint Historic District. Although it underwent a series of changes throughout the 20th century, the alterations primarily consist of superficial modifications to its façade and front porch. Original window and door openings remain, and no visible additions have been constructed.

The proposed demolition is premised on an interpretation of the building as a non-contributing property within the Greenpoint Historic District, as well as concerns about its structural integrity and lack of potential for rehabilitation. However, there is no such contributing or non-contributing assignation in the 1982 Greenpoint Historic District Designation report contrary to the owner’s assertion. Additionally, the basic form of the building is apparent, and it remains a viable candidate for restoration. Look no further than 105 Noble Street for an example of a vinyl-shrouded ugly duckling, transformed into a beautiful clapboard swan.

The MAS Preservation Committee recognizes that 111 Noble Street, in its current form, is certainly limited in its representation of the character of the Greenpoint Historic District. However, its demolition would establish a concerning precedent regarding the future of a large number of similarly altered buildings. There are several wood-frame structures within the district that exist in a similar state of repair and which have also experienced alterations to their façades and siding, including several on Noble Street alone. Allowing the demolition of 111 Noble Street would risk establishing a standard wherein any number of designated buildings in disrepair could be viewed as potential redevelopment sites, and could result in the loss of many more historic buildings within the district and beyond.

Finally, any alterations to 111 Noble Street should be contextual if not restorative. Although the proposed building makes use of simple materials and respects the cornice line of the adjacent building, it has no relationship to the surrounding block or district.

Thus we respectfully ask the Landmarks Preservation Commission to work with the applicant to find a preservation solution for 111 Noble Street.

President’s Letter, August 2017

President of The Municipal Art Society of New York Elizabeth Goldstein

Elizabeth Goldstein

The summer season doesn’t officially end for another month, but the functional, post-vacation, pre-school summer comes to a close this week. This summer has felt “hotter” than any summer in recent memory. The issues that have arisen all over the United States echo here in New York City.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the events in Charlottesville and Houston. The crisis in Houston continues to unfold and the reverberations of Charlottesville seem to go from very bad to worse each day. It has felt like this distant tempest and turmoil are happening here, they are so immediate and pressing.

Hurricane Harvey is a vivid reminder that New York City is not immune to the devastating impacts of natural disaster. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering in Houston and the other areas hit so hard by Harvey.

Almost five years after Superstorm Sandy the city is modestly better prepared but the reality is that many people are still living in harm’s way. If we are going to be better equipped to handle the impacts that climate change will bring, its super storms and storm surge, sea level rise and intensified heat island, then where we live and how we live needs to evolve. It is scary and unpleasant to confront this reality as we are enjoying stunning late summer weather. But all we need to do is turn to the pictures of Houston, to know that complacency is not an option.

The ramifications of Charlottesville are being strongly felt everywhere, and here in New York City is no exception. Here there has been a flurry of debate about what public sculptures should remain and what should be modified or removed entirely. These issues are complicated and have already engendered strong feelings and words.

There is no question that a deep, thoughtful discussion about what role public art, especially representational sculpture, and monuments should serve, is vital. The Mayor has chosen a wise course by proposing a task force to review all public monuments. Hopefully, it will be made up of experts and normal citizens alike. The task force will have many tools at its disposal while it considers the issues at hand. To date, the conversation has tended to pit removal against preservation, but reinterpretation and new signage present valuable opportunities.

A thoughtful dialogue that seeks many points of view, and balances those views with our values as a city that embraces its diversity, prides itself on tolerance, and seeks to understand the perspective of history, will make the conclusions ones that make the city stronger.

So, as summer slides into fall there is no question, we have our collective work cut out for us. I have no doubt New Yorkers will rise to the occasion.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
President
The Municipal Art Society of New York