New York officials weigh in on real estate and land-use issues
Commissioner, New York State Department of Economic Development
Q: How successful has the state been in selling off unused real estate?
KA: The Cuomo administration has taken a proactive role in leveraging vacant and underutilized state-owned properties into jobs and economic development assets that reflect the priorities of local communities. Our goal is to maximize the use of space, minimize costs and achieve significant savings for taxpayers. For example, the Arthur Kill Prison, a recently closed prison, will be leveraged into commercial development, likely retail, with an RFP to be issued in the coming weeks.
Q: What major real estate projects is Empire State Development involved with outside of New York City?
KA: We are looking at our assets on a statewide level to identify and develop unproductive properties that can be used to promote economic development that meet the needs of the local community. Working with local elected officials, as well as community and business leaders, we are identifying office buildings, decommissioned armories, correctional facilities and vacant land that will help us stimulate private investment. For example, we are working with our subsidiary the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to oversee the transformation of prime downtown
Buffalo waterfront sites into vibrant mixed-use destination locations.
Q: What role does real estate development play in the governor’s regional economic-development councils?
KA: Each regional council has identified transformative real estate projects, both state-owned and private sites, which will result in the creation of jobs and the leveraging of private investment for economic growth. Real estate development is just one of many core industries the councils are using to advance their strategic plans for economic growth and job creation.
Q: Is the state doing enough to encourage affordable housing?
KA: Working collaboratively with Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner Darryl Towns and the leadership of the regional councils, the state has overseen the financing and construction of almost 10,000 units of affordable housing. This represented tens of millions of dollars in state investment, which leveraged even more in private investment.
Chairman, New York City Council Land Use Committee
Q: What is your top priority as chair of the Land Use Committee with a year and half left in office? What are you working on now?
LC: My top priority is to increase the ability of the committee to complete all reviews of projects brought before us stimulating economic development and job creation in the city through the use of smart and sustainable development.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your chairmanship on the Land Use Committee?
LC: I am proud of my co-chairs and all my colleagues who are working hard at coming to agreements on difficult negotiations, allowing votes to be taken on every project presented to us.
Q: Zoning changes have helped transform the city’s waterfront. Are these changes sustainable, in terms of the costs of maintaining the many new parks and green spaces?
LC: The increased access to the waterfront will help provide incentives which will stimulate local business, attract entrepreneurs and encourage job growth. Additionally, it will further enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers, who will utilize the waterfront or just enjoy the views.
Q: Is there enough affordable housing in the city? Is the city doing enough to encourage more development of affordable housing?
LC: No, the city has not done nearly enough to encourage affordable housing. Despite the market crunch, the city must do more to lobby Albany and Washington to increase subsidies for affordable-housing development and to increase funding for the preservation of the existing affordable-housing stock.
Q: Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times suggested earlier this year that Madison Square Garden should be moved to make way for a rebuilt Penn Station. Is that a viable idea?
LC: I have not reviewed this in detail, but we need to have both better transportation and a larger entertainment facility in New York City.
Chairman, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Q: What is your top priority with a year and a half left for the administration?
RT: We are on track to process a record 12,000 permit applications for changes to landmarked buildings across the city. We’ve been able to manage this increase through a new program we initiated last year that’s allowed us to expedite about 30 percent of the applications we receive. We are constantly exploring ways to improve our efficiency of operations and customer service, which is why my top priorities include rolling out new rules that will allow more work to be approved by our staff rather than by the full commission, and launching a new Web application that will allow property owners to file their permit applications online and find out more information than ever before on our website.
Q: What are you proudest of in your tenure?
RT: Since my appointment we have designated 35 historic districts and historic-district extensions across the city. Of these districts, 21 are outside of Manhattan, and the vast majority of them were initiated by the residents and community leaders who live in them. No other commission has designated as many districts outside of Manhattan as ours.
Q: Under your leadership New York City has designated more districts “historic” than in any other mayoral administration.
RT: It’s a combination of additional staff (we’ve increased our staff from 43 to 60), strong support from the public, high demand, and the superb quality of the streetscapes and buildings. One of the most difficult parts of my job is telling a group we won’t be moving forward with a historic district in their neighborhood.
Q: What’s your favorite building in the city?
RT: The Woolworth Building. This is the building that announced to the world that New York had arrived. It’s completely faced in terra cotta and designed in the neo-Gothic style, which is not all that common in New York City. It was the world’s tallest building from 1913 to 1929, and it’s permanently transformed the city’s skyline at the beginning of the 20th century.
Manhattan Borough President
Q: What are your thoughts on the NYU expansion plan?
SS: I am pleased that the City Planning Commission voted to ratify important aspects of my agreement with NYU on the 2031 Core Campus plan, [including] removing the dormitory on top of the school on Bleecker Street… I am disappointed the commission did not ratify NYU’s commitment to eliminate a portion of the “zipper building” to protect light and air for neighboring residential buildings, nor did it remove one story of university uses below the proposed public school to assist in reducing density-related impacts. This makes no sense, especially in light of fact that NYU agreed to these changes. I expect the City Council to correct these mistakes.
Q: What land-use issue do you consider your top priority?
SS: Seeing the West Harlem rezoning finally reach completion. I first proposed rezoning West Harlem as a means to protect the neighborhood in light of Columbia University’s proposed expansion in Manhattanville. City Planning committed to the study, and after four years of community-based planning the rezoning has finally been certified.
Q: Zoning changes have helped transform the city’s waterfront. Are these changes sustainable?
SS: Every zoning change must be evaluated on its own merits, and when open space is promised its ongoing maintenance must be considered. However, open spaces on the waterfront can present unique challenges. The current financial challenges facing Hudson River Park should serve as an important case study. When we created the Hudson River Park nearly 15 years ago, I do not believe we had a full understanding of the long-term costs. Pier piles are deteriorating, bulkheads are crumbling and structures are rapidly reaching their expected life spans. The needed infrastructure investments have led to a series of difficult conversations that I am still hopeful will reach a satisfactory resolution. However, I do not believe you can let these challenges serve as impediments for creating and expanding our waterfront parks. For several years now I have proposed the creation of an infrastructure bank to fund worthy projects and the public-private partnerships such a bank could foster.
Tags: Albany, Andrew Cuomo, Arthur Kill Prison, Buffalo, City Planning Commission, Columbia University, Darryl Towns, Empire State Development, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner, Hudson River Park, Ken Adams, Land Use Committee, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Leroy Comrie, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, Manhattanville, Michael Bloomberg, New York, New York City, New York City Council, nyu, Penn Station, Robert Tierney, Scott Stringer, Washington, West Harlem Rezoning, Willets Point, Woolworth Building
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