A zoning plan that the city says is designed to encourage development of affordable housing and apartments for seniors is raising alarms among some preservationists, who say it could undo zoning rules that protect the character of the neighborhood.
Two Community Board committees will be discussing the plan (and another city affordable housing proposal) on Wednesday, October 21, starting at 7 pm at 250 West 87th Street, 2nd Floor.
The city says that the proposed zoning rules are designed to encourage developers to build more affordable housing, and give them incentives to create attractive buildings for seniors. For many buildings, the rules would allow two to four additional stories if the builder adds affordable housing. It would also change rules that city planners say create the wrong incentives for developers — developers have an incentive under current rules to create short lobby floors that are too short for retail outlets, for instance.
In a document looking specifically at the Upper West Side, the city gives the following explanation.
“In many instances, changing regulations and building practices have made it difficult to fit floor area already permitted today within existing building envelopes. Current regulations limit design flexibility and can result in buildings that lack the variation and texture of older apartment buildings. The proposal also provides minor increases in height to encourage housing production and increase design flexibility.”
But local preservationist group Landmarks West says these changes will have a much bigger impact than a minor tweak.
“Mayor de Blasio wants to increase height limits in some cases by 20-30%. Under this proposal, swaths of landmarked mid-block brownstones (including 88th Street, above) within our West End Historic districts could rise twenty feet — two full stories taller. Skylines along Central Park West and Riverside Drive could rise forty feet.”
The group says developers are the main beneficiaries. Landmarks West also pointed to a report created for an East side nonprofit that looks critically at the zoning changes.
“Make no mistake – the Mayor’s plan is a massive give-away to developers who have been trying to ‘unlock’ the Upper West Side by overturning our neighborhood’s hard-won zoning and historic district protections for decades. The result will be higher, bulkier, out-of-character new buildings. And, because this is part of a citywide zoning plan, there has been no careful study or disclosure of the impacts these new buildings would have. What is clear is that our neighborhood will bear the burden of new development, with no guarantee that anyone – except big-money real-estate interests – will benefit.”
Landmark West’s entire presentation is here.
A spokesman for the city planning department pushed back against charges that this would affect the neighborhood’s historic profile.
“The Landmarks Preservation Commission is responsible for reviewing and approving any new construction or major alterations in historic districts, such as those throughout Community District 7. While the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal applies citywide, no additional height or other changes would be permitted without the LPC’s input and approval. The proposal does not alter the LPC review process nor does it weaken the rules in place to protect historic districts. Any project that would seek to implement changes under ZQA would have to go through a full public review process under the LPC, which includes feedback from the affected community boards and its elected officials.
In CD7, several major corridors, notably Broadway, are already mapped for the Inclusionary Housing program, where potential development opportunities exist. Among the factors that prevent affordable housing creation in these areas is the fact that bonus floor area frequently cannot be fit within a desirable building configuration. Under the proposal, buildings that provide Inclusionary Housing or affordable senior housing would be eligible for a modest amount of additional height –two to four floors in CD7 – to fit the additional floor area allowed. These increases are only available for buildings that include these types of affordable housing.
o This proposal will help make sure that buildings seeking to provide affordable housing will have the space to accommodate that housing, rather than passing on it due to zoning constraints. This will help residents, particularly the City’s growing senior population, by creating additional options for them to remain in their communities.
– To better the quality of our buildings, ZQA would also change rules that lead to flat, dull apartment buildings, to accommodate and encourage façade articulation, courtyards, and other elements that provide visual variety and create a better pedestrian experience. Amongst these changes is a provision to provide five feet of additional height for buildings that provide improved ground floors for retail or residential use.
– In the highest-density districts in CD7, five additional feet would be permitted to a better designed building, not only on the outside, but the inside as well. It will create a higher floor to floor height within buildings, with a cap on the number of stories to prevent a developer from trying to squeeze additional stories into the building envelope. (Only in R8 zoning districts along narrow streets in CB7, where taller non-contextual buildings are already permitted today, would be eligible for greater increases to ensure a workable contextual building envelope.)
– Please note that in all districts where additional height is proposed, we will limit the number of stories – for the first time ever in zoning. No market rate development will be allowed an additional square foot of density. Furthermore, the additional height will only be allowed when the ground floor provides at least 13’ floor to ceiling height. None of these changes will alter market forces or result in a property being made substantially more valuable than it is today. Tearing down an existing building would not be made lucrative by this proposal.