RPA: Pied-à-terre tax, zoning changes could add thousands of homes to city

New report calls for massive interconnected transit system

Rendering of Penn Station (credit: Practice for Architecture and Urbanism)
Rendering of Penn Station (credit: Practice for Architecture and Urbanism)

The Regional Planning Association is calling on the city to make changes to zoning regulations that could add thousands of housing units and to support massive transportation projects that would better connect New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

The RPA on Wednesday released its four regional plan, a nearly 400-page report that was last released in 1996. The report states that 500,000 homes could be added to the region without even constructing new buildings. One suggestion the RPA offers up is tweaking the city’s zoning rules to allow for single-family homes to easily convert to two-family homes and to legalize accessory dwelling units (such as basements). The report estimates that up to 100,000 units would be added to the city through these changes.

The RPA also backs the idea of a pied-à-terre tax, an idea that’s repeatedly been floated over the last few years. The report notes that more than 60,000 homes are either second-homes or short-term rentals in the city. The property tax would apply to homes that are not a primary residence. The report also recommends revising certain government subsidies for housing, like 421a, by requiring developers to bid on such perks. Making developers compete for tax exemptions and other subsidies would allow the city to “funnel money to the most deserving projects.”

The report recommends extending Gateway to Sunnyside Yards, an adjustment that would add $4 billion to the project’s estimated $24 billion price tag. The RPA suggests that a new station at Third Avenue and 31st Street — that would give New Jersey residents quicker access to Midtown East — could help generate revenue for Gateway if a new real estate development is built near the station. The extension would coincide with the creation of what the RPA dubs the Trans-Regional Express (T-Rex), which would connect the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit through a series of new projects.

The idea of making Penn Station a through-running station isn’t new. Earlier this year, ReThink Studio unveiled a plan that would create a transit hub in Sunnyside. As part of the RPA’s plan, Madison Square Garden, whose permit for the space is up for renewal in 2023, would have to relocate. Removing the sports arena and theater would allow natural light into Penn. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a task force to determine who should operate Penn, but no plans for a major overhaul of the station are yet on the table.

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The report also calls on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to squeeze more revenue out of its real estate holdings, like One World Trade Center.

“The Port Authority should determine how to redeploy its real estate holdings in a way that maximizes their long-term value, and therefore the entity’s financing capacity while minimizing the effort to manage them,” the report states.

The report suggests this could be done through creating joint ventures, handing them off to real estate investment trusts or by divesting them through an initial public offering.

The report calls for more transparency and community engagement early on in the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). The RPA argues that there isn’t a clear timeline for the public to weigh in on a proposal before it’s certified by the City Planning Commission. After a plan is certified, it’s an uphill battle for community members to make changes to it.

Some City Council legislation is already trying to reform this process. The City Council approved a bill that will allow certain zoning-change requests — namely, those sponsored by the mayor, the borough president or the majority of the land use committee — to skip the lengthy pre-application process. The measure has been billed as a potentially powerful tool for politicians in that it will allow their zoning applications to move through the approval process at a faster clip than others.