Why South Villagers Should Oppose the City’s Rezoning Plans

The City’s rezoning proposals ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and dcp-presentation-iconMandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) are making their way through the public review process. If approved, each would profoundly impact our neighborhoods and our city, increasing the size and amount of allowable development.  And while both have received overwhelming disapproval from community boards and Borough Presidents, the Mayor insists they will ultimately be approved.  The City Council has final say over these proposals’ fate, but their position remains to be seen.

It’s therefore critical that New Yorkers get involved with the process.  But South Villagers have a particular stake in ensuring these rezoning plans are not adopted.

Why?  Because we have been fighting to get much of the South Village rezoned with height limits to prevent inappropriate, out-of-scale new development.  If ZQA passes, those height limits we are seeking would be weakened.

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Why Affordable Housing Advocates Should Oppose the City’s Rezoning Plans

The City’s rezoning proposals ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and dcp-presentation-iconMandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) are making their way through the public review process. If approved, each would profoundly impact our neighborhoods and our city, increasing the size and amount of allowable development.  And while both have received overwhelming disapproval from community boards and Borough Presidents, the Mayor insists they will ultimately be approved.  The City Council has final say over these proposals’ fate, but their position remains to be seen.

It’s therefore critical that New Yorkers get involved with the process.  But affordable housing advocates have a particular stake in ensuring these rezoning plans are not adopted.

Why?  Because these proposals would arguably do little or nothing for the cause of affordability, and might actually do more harm than good.

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Why East Villagers Should Oppose the City’s Rezoning Plans

dcp-presentation-iconThe City’s rezoning proposals ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) are making their way through the public review process. If approved, each would profoundly impact our neighborhoods and our city, increasing the size and amount of allowable development.  And while have received overwhelming disapproval from community boards and Borough Presidents, the Mayor insists they will ultimately be approved.  The City Council has final say over these proposals’ fate, but their position remains to be seen.

It’s therefore critical that New Yorkers get involved with the process.  But East Villagers have a particular stake in ensuring these rezoning plans are not adopted.

Why?  The East Village would see the largest increases in height for allowable new development of any part of the city, with no real public benefits in return.  Worse, the height limits this proposal would gut were ones which a whole range of community groups, affordable housing advocates, elected officials, and many others worked hard to achieve, and compromised significantly to put into effect.

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Landmarks50: Van Tassell & Kearney Auction Mart

Van Tassell & Kearney Auction Mart, Date Unknown

Unsure of what to get that special someone for the holidays? How about a horse? A hundred years ago you could have gone down to 126-128 East 13th Street and bid on one of the magnificent equines available via auction by Van Tassell & Kearny who occupied the building for more than fifty years. Built in 1903-04 and designed by architects Jardine, Kent & Jardine, this unique structure is one of the last remaining buildings in New York City that was erected for staging horse auctions.  Following a six year campaign by GVSHP, it was made a New York City Landmark on May 15, 2012, , and it is part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the City’s Landmarks Law.

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Barbara Shaum, 1929-2015

Barbara01In June, 2015 GVSHP was proud to award Barbara Shaum a Village Award. We are very sad to share the news that she passed away in September. Her longtime friend Eleanor Magid and her granddaughter Amity Paye shared a beautiful obituary they wrote with us:

Barbara Shaum, New York’s doyenne of custom-made sandals, died at her home in New York City on September 17, 2015. She was 86.

Ms. Shaum’s mastery of a fine and disappearing craft was based on lively ideas. As a Depression era child growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the Allegheny foothills, the daughter of two lawyers, she witnessed hard times from the safety of her back porch. She was mesmerized by stories of lost work, financial insecurity, uprooting, forced migration, struggle, humor, and hope. At an early age she began trying to understand her own inherited, comfortable role in the world and to look for another path.

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Landmarks50: Saint Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church

Saint Mark's-in-the-Bowery Church, 19th Century

Saint Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church, 19th Century

We continue the Landmarks50 celebration by taking a deeper look at Saint Marks-in-the-Bowery Church at 131 East 10th Street. This landmark represents construction over a considerable period of time. The main body of the church – with fieldstone walls and trimmed round arched windows – is of the late Georgian style. It is also the oldest part of the church, constructed in 1777 by John McComb. The steeple, added in 1828 by Martin Euclid Thomas and Ithiel Towne, is pure Greek Revival, and the cast-iron porch reflects the Italianate tradition of the mid-Nineteenth century. As the designation report states, “What is most remarkable, in the case of this church, is the fact that elements of such diverse periods should harmonize so well, achieving a singularly attractive whole.”

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GVSHP South Village Oral History: Andrew and Romana Raffetto

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is excited to share our oral history collection with the public, and hope they will shed more light on what makes Greenwich Village and the East Village such unique and vibrant areas.  Each of these histories highlights the experiences and insights of long-time residents, usually active in the arts, culture, preservation, business, or civic life of the neighborhood.  Last month we launched new collections focusing on the East and South Villages, and have been highlighting some of the featured individuals on Off the Grid; these posts can be read here.

Romana Raffetto and Andrew Raffetto, in front of the fresh pasta menu at Raffetto’s. February 5, 2014. Photograph by Liza Zapol.

Romana Raffetto and Andrew Raffetto, in front of the fresh pasta menu
at Raffetto’s. February 5, 2014. Photograph by Liza Zapol.

Today marks the 53rd birthday of Andrew Raffetto, one of the current owners and operators of Raffetto’s, located right here in Greenwich Village.  Andrew is the grandson of Marcello Raffetto, who opened M. Raffetto & Bros. in the heart of Greenwich Village in 1906.  Rafetto’s started as a producer of fresh and dried pasta noodles, gaining popularity, and becoming the place in the Village to obtain fresh pasta, along with homemade sauces and prepared meals. Recently, Andrew and his mother Ramona gave an oral history as part of the GVSHP Oral History Collection focused on the South Village.  In it, Andrew and Romana discuss the Raffetto family’s journey to New York City from Italy, the founding of the store and its rise in popularity, and how the Village has changed in their over 100 years of operation.  Read the rest of this entry »

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City’s Rezoning Plans Won’t Improve Affordability or Quality

Want to help?  Attend the City Council public hearings at City Hall on Tuesday February 9 or Wednesday February 10 starting at 9:30 am, and send letters to city officials in opposition here (letters can also be used as sample testimony; testimony must be no more than four minutes, but 20 copies of written testimony of any length can be submitted).  More information on how to testify, track when you will be called to speak etc. can be found here and here.

Op-Ed as seen in:

ZQA GG

Read the original piece here.

City’s Rezoning Plans Won’t Improve Affordability or Quality

BY ANDREW BERMAN, Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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The Mayor’s ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and ‘Mandatory Inclusionary Housing’ citywide rezoning initiatives, released jointly this fall, are finishing the first stage of public review at the city’s 59 community boards. They’re receiving a resounding thumbs down, by a 7-to-1 and 3-to-1 margin respectively. Why are measures aimed at increasing affordability and quality in new construction getting such a cold shoulder?

Perhaps because they would do little or none of either, and possibly more harm than good.

The central tenet of ZQA is that if you increase the allowable height of new buildings, quality and affordability will improve.

For purely market-rate buildings, to which many of the proposed height limit increases would apply, this premise is almost laughable. The City’s main contention is too many new buildings have 10- or 11-foot-tall ground floors instead of a more generous 13.5 feet, and new buildings should set back from the street to make room for planters in front. Neither is a concern I have heard a single New Yorker raise about new construction, but to achieve this, the City is willing to give developers an additional 5-20 feet in height for new buildings.

Never mind that many new buildings already have 13-foot-high ground floors, and sometimes more modestly-scaled ground floors are actually preferable. Or that setback buildings with planters make no sense on the large commercial streets where the new rules would often apply. And developers would get the extra height ZQA offers whether or not they set their building back and provide the planters anyway.

Such folly aside, the city’s argument for raising height limits for ‘affordable housing’ is more insidious. ZQA pq1

In certain zoning districts, market-rate developments are now encouraged but not required to set aside 20 percent of units as affordable housing by offering additional market rate square footage if they do. There are height limits for these and all other new developments, to ensure that they fit in with their surroundings.

But the City claims the height limits prevent developers from including the affordable units, leaving no way to cram in all the extra space for the affordable and additional market-rate units, at least not without cramped, substandard spaces.

However, the facts don’t bear this out.

 

About 50 percent of the new developments in such zoning districts in our area, Greenwich Village and the East Village, include the affordable units and the generous dimensions the City says we want in new developments. At the same time, we’ve seen many developers who had ample room to add the affordable units within the current height limits, but simply chose not to. The height limits were not an impediment; within this voluntary program, these developers simply decided it wasn’t worth their while.

Nevertheless, the Mayor is proposing to lift the height limits for such developments by 25 feet or more, or up to 31 percent, though there is little or no evidence that it will result in a single additional unit of affordable housing being built. What it will do is increase out-of-scale construction in residential neighborhoods, and eliminate hard-fought-for height limits which were often delicate compromises that took years to craft and achieve.

While ZQA would do little or nothing to help affordability, making the current voluntary affordable housing program mandatory clearly would.

Many people think Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), the companion to ZQA, will do that. But under the Mayor’s plan, it won’t.

MIH would require that new residential developments include 25-30% affordable units. But under the Mayor’s plan, MIH would only be applied in areas where rezonings also allow a large increase in the allowable size of market-rate housing development.

But many areas of the city will probably never see MIH because such large increases in the allowable size of development, especially market-rate development, are just not tenable. This will likely include many of the more affluent parts of the city with the strongest real estate markets, which are most lacking in affordable housing, and where the city’s own studies say new housing is most likely to be produced.

So why limit MIH only to areas where you’re substantially increasing the size of development allowable?

The Mayor claims he’s doing this because if the program is too onerous, developers just won’t build at zqa pq2all.

But this argument does not seem credible. In strong real estate markets of the city, developers are opting into the affordable program about half the time, which shows they are willing to build under these conditions (and the other 50 percent probably would if required to). And clearly developers are making money when doing so, meeting the legal requirement for allowing a “reasonable return” which zoning must meet.

By contrast, linking MIH to large-scale increases in the allowable amount of market-rate development might undermine the supposed goal of increasing affordability, to say nothing of maintaining neighborhood character and livable communities.

Cases in point: the Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront and West Chelsea/Hudson Yards. These are the two areas of the city which have seen the largest production of affordable housing in recent years, through programs similar but not identical to MIH.

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Community groups and elected officials rallied along with GVSHP against the proposed zoning changes at City Hall earlier this year.

But the price for the affordable housing in those neighborhoods was the tsunami of large-scale, market-rate housing to which it was attached. This resulted from zoning changes significantly increasing the amount of market-rate housing which could be built, which the city says would also be a prerequisite for using MIH.

The result: two of the most rapidly gentrifying, unaffordable neighborhoods in New York, with a scale and sense of place more like Hong Kong or Miami than New York. While the percentage of affordable housing under MIH might be slightly different (in those cases 27-28 percent was promised, as compared to MIH’s commitment of 25-30 percent), the net effect would be pretty similar.

So why would the Mayor so aggressively pursue ZQA, which has little or no likelihood of increasing affordability, and choose to significantly diminish the effectiveness of MIH, which would?

It seems the Mayor is intent upon staying on the good side of the real estate industry, and thus far he has succeeded. As has been widely reported, industry players have been his biggest financial backers, and generous to the “Campaign for One New York,” the nonprofit fund which supports the Mayor’s ‘affordable housing’ and other initiatives. The Mayor seems to be trying to make his plans as palatable to big real estate as possible, regardless of how it affects the outcomes.

A further example: right now we are pushing the Mayor to rezone a 12-block area of Greenwich Village that allows 300-foot-tall towers, and guarantees they will be 100 percent luxury housing, hotels, or dorms. We want reasonable height limits for new development while keeping the allowable square footage the same, elimination of incentives for dorms and hotels, and incentives (or requirements, if the City agreed) for including affordable housing.

The administration’s response: an adamant no. Mayor de Blasio wants to keep the existing luxury tower-only zoning.

ZQA and MIH as proposed may please the Mayor’s real estate backers, but won’t accomplish their purported goals of increasing affordability and quality. Community Boards and groups across the city appear to be getting that. It remains to be seen if the City Council and others that will decide these measures’ fate will as well.

Want to help?  Attend the City Council public hearings at City Hall on Tuesday February 9 or Wednesday February 10 starting at 9:30 am, and send letters to city officials in opposition here (letters can also be used as sample testimony; testimony must be no more than four minutes, but 20 copies of written testimony of any length can be submitted).  More information on how to testify, track when you will be called to speak etc. can be found here and here.

More information on the rezoning plans can be found here.

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Landmarks of New York: First Houses

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First Houses today

On December 3, 1935, First Houses were dedicated and opened, the first housing project undertaken by the then-recently established New York City Housing Authority and the first publicly-funded low-income housing project in the nation. The groundbreaking development was made a New York City landmark on November 12, 1974.

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Landmarks 50: Merchant’s House Museum

photo source: wikipedia

photo source: wikipedia

All this year we have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the New York City landmarks law, and today we focus on one of the very first buildings to be granted landmark designation. At the first meeting of the new Landmarks Preservation Commission, on September 21,1965, the Old Merchant’s House – now known as the Merchant’s House Museum – was considered for landmark designation, and was officially designated a landmark on October 14, 1965, New York City’s first individually designated landmark, and one of only 117 interior and exterior landmarks in New York City (there are more than 33,000 properties which are individually landmarked or located within historic districts in New York City).

The Merchant’s House Museum, at 29 East 4th Street (between Lafayette Street and Bowery), is the home of the late Seabury Tredwell and his family. The home was completed in 1832, and occupied by the family until 1933, when Gertrude Tredwell died there at the age of 93. Unlike many other historic homes, the Merchant’s House Museum is furnished with the original belongings of the Tredwell family.

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