Eric Adams says yes to city property development – if only the council could agree

A day after developers scrapped plans for an ambitious Harlem real estate project rather than face defeat on city council, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed sweeping changes to the city’s zoning rules aimed at spurring more housing and jobs – changes that will require careful council approval.

In remarks Wednesday morning to the Association for a Better New York, a network of city actors, Adams touted a “yes city,” where local officials and voters will embrace development rather than fight it.

“We want New Yorkers to stay here, put down roots and start families. We want to continue to welcome immigrants and young people looking for opportunities,” Adams said. “We are looking to change the rules and allow a wider range of housing types and sizes to accommodate all kinds of households across the city.”

The mayor’s office summarized three concepts for amendments to the city’s zoning code, which sets the ground rules for real estate development. One would be intended to stimulate economic growth, another to encourage more housing, and the last to facilitate “carbon neutral” public works such as energy storage.

Adams also spoke of broader reforms to encourage needed development, from electric car charging stations to converting empty office space into housing, or helping a restaurant expand without going through bureaucratic zoning changes.

His proposal would further remove the last vestiges of New York’s restrictive “cabaret law,” which restricts dancing to certain permitted nightlife venues.

“Think of the owner of a tapas bar who has live music on the weekends and wants to reserve a small space for dancing, but finds that according to city rules it is not allowed. We’re going to turn that no into a yes and let people dance,” Adams said.

“Zero Carbon”

Notably absent from Adams’ “City of Yes” email announcement was his key partner in approving any upcoming zoning changes: City Council President Adrienne Adams. Revisions to the code must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which gives the council a deciding vote.

Speaker Adrienne Adams speaks at City Hall about the Council’s proposed budget, April 25, 2022.

On Wednesday, Adams said she was unaware of the proposed zoning changes, but supported creating more housing — if it can be done in a way that is embraced by the public.

“Anything that is going to benefit positively and amicably the increase in housing in this city, we will definitely take a look at it and work with the mayor to make it happen,” she told THE CITY during the interview. an unrelated bill signing.

Only one council member, Manhattan Democrat Keith Powers, signed Adams’ proposal on Wednesday, making a statement that joked about the cabaret law’s hoped-for demise: “It’s a big dance, dance, resolution. ”

Adams mentioned other Council members during his speech, including Crystal Hudson and Chi Osse of Brooklyn, who represent a strip of Atlantic Avenue the mayor hopes to change.

A spokesperson for the speaker said Council had approved land use decisions that created around 1,122 affordable apartments out of 1,839 new units built.

Public engagement on the proposals will begin immediately, Planning Commission Chairman Daniel Garodnick told THE CITY, with economic modifications starting ULURP by mid-2023 and housing modification starting in beginning of 2024. The zero carbon plan will begin in early 2023, with a smooth transition path expected.

“We think we have a lot of support early on, and there are members who have pushed through similar initiatives, and we think they’ll be popular,” Garodnick told THE CITY. “We will do our job to secure his approval.”

A new life for offices

Mayor Adams’ concepts are aimed at helping New York City recover from the pandemic, which has killed more than 40,000 people across the five boroughs.

The city’s population plummeted during COVID and likely continued to decline, according to census and other data. The main driver of population loss has been the movement of people to other states, with contributions from COVID deaths and fewer immigrants.

Market-priced apartment rents, especially in transit-rich neighborhoods, have soared, with reports of crowded open houses and bidding wars.

Still, Manhattan’s commercial and business districts have struggled, with office occupancy below 40%, according to Kastle Systems. A longer-term decline in demand for office space could create an opportunity to create more housing, Adams pointed out in his remarks – and found a welcome reception.

“We have to find ways to reuse and adapt,” said Mitch Korbey, a land use and zoning attorney at Herrick, Feinstein, who watched the speech.

“The idea that buildings can have a second and a third life, isn’t that a good thing? »

Midtown Manhattan office buildings, June 1, 2022.

The mayor’s embrace of a “yes in my backyard” approach is the hallmark of some advocates who have called for more rezoning and the construction of more housing across the city, including in more neighborhoods. rich like SoHo and NoHo in Manhattan.

“We’re really excited about this plan, we’re really excited about the mayor embracing the ‘yes in my backyard’ language that has been a keystone of our organization,” said Logan Phares, Open Group Policy Director. New York. , which is pushing for more housing across the city. The term is a game about “not in my backyard”, or NIMBY, an epithet long meant for opponents of development.

“We’re really happy to see the administration making this a priority and coming up with some really great ideas in terms of first steps on the broader, citywide approach we need to address this crisis.”

Development defeated

Less clear is Eric Adams’ journey through a city council that has long shown a willingness to derail real estate projects – even one that promised to deliver 50% affordable housing, as happened this week with the One45 megadevelopment in Harlem.

On Tuesday, the team behind One45 dropped its rezoning request before it was deliberated by the council’s zoning subcommittee or the full council, Patch first reported. Ward council member Kristen Richardson Jordan has long opposed the plan, which had also been recommended for disapproval by Community Board 10.

The One45 development project site along Lenox Avenue in Harlem was vacant on June 1, 2022.

It is customary for local council members to dictate what happens in their districts and for other members to follow their co-worker’s lead, which has prompted many developers over the years to withdraw their projects in hopes of to try again, rather than being rejected.

Among the rezonings shot down due to objections from local members were an expansion of the manufacturing and lifestyle complex at Industry City in Brooklyn and a mixed-use housing development replacing the former Long Island College Hospital in the same borough – which now consists entirely of luxury condos.

One45 developer Bruce Teitelbaum told THE CITY last month that he plans to add more affordable housing to the 363ft towers. He and his partners eventually offered to make half of the 915 apartments affordable, according to Patch. Teitelbaum declined to comment to THE CITY about the withdrawal of the ULURP project this week.

A spokesperson for the speaker said developers lacked the necessary city-backed funding to secure 50% affordable housing – offering 35% affordable housing in the proposal.

Depending on existing zoning, self-storage or market-priced condos could appear on the site, a source familiar with the plans told Patch.

Richardson Jordan wrote Monday that developers should consider “contextualized housing” for Harlem. The proposed One45 was mostly made up of studios and one-bedroom apartments – and the area needed more places for families, she wrote. She also raised concerns about community engagement, future traffic and overcrowded subways.

“The demand for housing is too high for a free and open market,” she wrote. “People will be displaced before housing becomes affordable enough. Approval of projects like these will make the housing crisis worse.

She did not respond to a message from THE CITY.

Garodnick told THE CITY that the proposed citywide changes could make it easier to build more housing.

“The mayor said it well when he said we need housing everywhere to cope with the moment,” he said. “These proposals are going to be city-wide and sweeping and not subject to member discretion.”

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