New waterfront rules may impede development

By Adam Pincus | March 03, 2009 07:05PM

Proposed changes to the New York City waterfront zoning regulations have led some development experts to fret that its level of detail and added regulations will be of little assistance — if any — to the city’s anemic level of building battered by the current recession.

Most of the new regulations laid out in a 117-page Department of City Planning document change the way developers can build public space along the waterfront, with specific descriptions on how pathways, benches and plants should be arranged, as well as how much space should surround a building for aesthetic or safety reasons.

Critics say the new regulations, as presented, would in some cases reduce the footprint of buildings and add highly specific details that will make development more difficult.

The proposal will be discussed at a hearing of the City Planning Commission tomorrow morning.

Jerilyn Perine, former commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development and currently executive director at the research group Citizens Housing and Planning Council, said the new proposal is an important improvement over the current rules. However, its highly technical nature will be a burden to developers who must design public space in order to develop along the waterfront.

The revisions create a situation where private developers, who receive no bonuses for their public space development, have, “an overabundance of prescriptive requirements,” Perine said in an e-mail. “The result could sadly be little development and a continued lack of public access to the waterfront.”

The new waterfront text amendment was drafted by City Planning to simplify and update the design regulations first passed in 1993 that regulate development and access along the city’s entire coastal regions.

In general, the proposal applies to new commercial and residential construction within medium- and high-density zoning districts. In lower density residential and manufacturing districts, it will apply to commercial and community facility developments. Many of the proposal’s elements have been included in earlier developments, such as the Ikea store on the Brooklyn waterfront in Red Hook.

Some rules mandate social seating at a certain angle, and a certain amount of shading at certain times of the year.

Marcie Kesner, planning and development specialist with law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, said she had mixed feelings about the proposal.

“It is great the city has taken a look at this again. A lot of the changes will be helpful, but some may be overly detailed,” she said.

After the hearing tomorrow, the proposal goes to a vote by City Planning which is expected for April, then the City Council has 50 days to consider the proposal, an agency spokesperson said.

Some architects, such as Stan Eckstut, principal with Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, who developed the master plan for Battery Park City, praised the new rules, and did not find the details troubling.

“Buildings are only a means to make great public spaces,” he said.

Perine from Citizens Housing and Planning Council said the complexity was part of a trend to increase government oversight that would be a burden on the city.

“There is this increasing specificity to zoning regulations which creates more and more challenges for the development community, which also creates more challenges” for enforcing those regulations, she said.

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