New York City’s 50-year-old zoning resolution is thousands of pages long, but the biggest headache for developers today doesn’t involve wading through the regulations.
Rising tension over how to interpret — and implement — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature housing act, known as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, is pitting interests from City Hall, the city council and its constituents against one another. That unrest is causing anxiety for developers and stalling projects.
“With that level of uncertainty, whether or not you’re able to move forward (with a project) is really problematic,” Real Estate Board of New York president John Banks said at a recent New York Bar Association panel discussion on zoning rules.
According to Banks, the problems emerge when new policies lack clear parameters and precedent. Case in point: Acuity Capital Partners’ proposed residential project at 42 West 18th Street in Flatiron. The City Planning Commission approved the developer’s plan to build 62 condos, and did not require Acuity to make 25 to 30 percent of its units affordable (as would be required under MIH). The commission agreed with Acuity’s position that it was not asking for more square footage, just more flexibility around the shape and size of buildings on the site.
But that’s not how Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer saw it. Brewer said Acuity would have to meet requirements under the new MIH rule. Though the city council can’t force the developer to comply with MIH rules, it can refuse Acuity’s application on the height and bulk of the building, effectively putting the project on ice.
Michael Slattery, vice president of REBNY, testified at a zoning subcommittee meeting that Brewer was “misinterpreting” the zoning resolution, which he said “directly contradicts the documented intent of the MIH program.”
Despite big talk of being a game-changing policy, MIH and its sister legislation, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, hasn’t been an early success for de Blasio or the developers.
In Inwood, community activists spooked by the potential of gentrification convinced Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez to effectively kill Washington Square Partners and Acadia Realty Trust’s proposed 355-unit residential project, which included a significant affordable housing component.
And some of the same forces are in effect in Sunnyside, Queens where Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has vowed to knock down Phipps Houses’ 209-unit planned affordable housing development.
“People say they want affordable housing, but they don’t want it in their community,” quipped Banks.