By Patrick Hedlund
The deficit-plagued New York City Housing Authority has 30 million square feet of development rights in Manhattan, a report by Borough President Scott Stringer has revealed. Through a combination of open space and air rights both inside and adjacent to its existing affordable housing projects, NYCHA currently holds enough development potential for 30 1-million-square-foot skyscrapers or, for those scoring at home, the equivalent of 11 Empire State Buildings worth billions of dollars.
NYCHA needs new revenues to support the buildings that house thousands of residents in Manhattan and around the city, Stringer said in a press statement. But selling off development space in hot neighborhoods without a plan and no real public review is not the answer. As a city we need a comprehensive program for how to deal with the asset represented by unused NYCHA development rights a program that will support the Authoritys operations and also increase the supply of affordable housing for New Yorkers.
Many of NYCHAs pre-1961 complexes have large amounts of unused development rights because its buildings were designed with low and moderate heights, and because the complexes parking lots and playground spaces sit on superblocks that break the street grid. In general, zoning after 1961, although varied from site to site, allows for much taller structures or more buildings than what currently exist.
NYCHA controls nearly 54,000 units in 103 developments in this borough. The authoritys annual budget is $3.5 billion; its preliminary operating budget for fiscal year 08 reflects a $195.3 million deficit.
Some of that available NYCHA square footage lies on the now-desirable Lower East Side, with many housing projects interspersed among increasingly upscale high-rises in the area. L.E.S. tenant activist Anna Sawaryn sees the announcement as part of a ploy by city government. She cited NYCHA complexes in Chelsea, where affordable housing tied to the Hudson Yards rezoning has been proposed even though it lies outside the rail yard area.
The city is already using unused space in some public housing developments to make deals for off-site affordable units from other major upzonings, she said in a letter to Mixed Use. The resulting deals do not result in a net increase in affordable housing as they use the regular tricks, including setting the percentage of area median income artificially high, limiting the number of affordable units and then sending huge amounts of so-called inclusionary zoning bulk increases back to the upzoned areas.
Sawaryn added, Its a perfect scam for someone like Stringer.
New dirt on High Line
Things have gotten dirty over at the High Line. The former elevated railway-cum-park, whose first phase is expected to open later this year, recently saw soil delivered to a portion of the stretch at W. 19th St. that will feature various plantings sprout from beneath the walkway.
Pictures of the subsoil were posted on the Friends of the High Lines official High Line Blog last week. This coarser, clay-like dirt will serve as a base for the topsoil in which plants will eventually grow, according to a blog posting by Katie Lorah, F.H.L. media and project manager.
The images of soil piled on top of the train tracks show just how far the project has moved along in its transformation to a functional ecosystem with a diversity of foliage, from grass to trees and perennials.
F.H.L. marked the progress with a party last week for the launch of its High Line design book, in which celebrants gathered where the construction is going on right over their heads, Lorah told Mixed Use. Its actually starting to look like the designs in the book.
Elizabeth Solomon, former historic preservation consultant for the Pratt Center for Community Development, has been appointed director of preservation and research at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
She replaces Melissa Baldock, who left G.V.S.H.P. two months ago to join the Municipal Art Society as its Kress Fellow for Historic Preservation and Public Policy.
Solomon was also a program manager at Open House New York, a nonprofit agency that runs educational programs celebrating the citys built environment, including the annual Open House weekend that explores the architecture in all five boroughs.
Prior to that, Solomon worked at the citys Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation and The Architects Newspaper. Solomon, who was raised in Glens Falls, N.Y., has a masters degree in historic preservation from Pratt and a B.A. in communications from New York University.
She was also one of the leaders in the recent Preserving Local Retail conference at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery, co-sponsored by G.V.S.H.P., which focused on the idea of using zoning to limit the number so-called formula chain stores in the East Village.
Hot Hudson Square
Another strong month of leasing activity in Hudson Square has Downtown commercial real estate looking up.
June singings totaling 120,000 square feet of office space in the submarket part of CB Richard Ellis Midtown South study area, including Chelsea, Union Square, Noho/Soho and Tribeca, among others led to above-average leasing activity for the area.
A lease of more than 80,000 square feet by Cardinal Real Estate at 200 Varick St. helped the upsurge, with Hudson Square/Tribeca accounting for just under a third of the areas 380,000 total square feet leased, double the submarkets average. Only Park Ave. South/Madison Square submarket fared better in the overall study area, according to CBRE.
A new retail property on W. 14th St. in the Meatpacking District has hit the market offering up to 4,500 square feet of ground-floor space and a heavy-hitting brokerage team repping the property.
The space, at 344-346 W. 14th St. just east of Ninth Ave. which is being pitched by Faith Hope Consolos team at Prudential Douglas Elliman with a cool $375-per-square-foot asking price can be taken as whole or rented to separate tenants, and includes 2,100 square feet on the lower levels and the option of 4,500 square feet on the second levels.
That whole block is redeveloping now, Consolo told Mixed Use of the stretch, which is better known for the luxury retailers west of Ninth Ave. dotting 14th St. She said European high-fashion retailers have already shown interest during the few weeks the properties have been on the market, with offers already streaming in.
Unlike some retailers on the block who have expressed distaste for the new Apple Store at the corner of Ninth Ave. for bringing too much traffic to the tony area, Consolo sees Apple as an anchor.
It cant all just be fashion, she said. I think its a nice change.