New York Could Build More Housing by Moving Land Use Powers Up the Political Ladder

Comments (21)
  1. anne davis says:

    It’s my experience that this happens already. The locals may show up and fight rezoning and overdevelopment but in the end it’s the developers that win out. And Bloomberg changed zoning restrictions so real estate could come in and put totally inappropriate, huge buildings up. Those buildings are not even designed to incorporate the feel of the neighborhoods – just big ass ugly structures. And nobody who makes less that 6 figures a year can afford to live in them anyway.

    Putting “higher ups” in charge of planning, rezoning and IMO destroying neighborhoods they know nothing about and don’t understand the functions in such neighborhoods (taking out businesses that we rely on everyday) is a bad idea. Hence the local opposition.

  2. Cary Lemkowitz says:

    The tradition of community involvement in New York City stems from a time when the system Mr. Levy is proposing was, indeed, the law of the land. Decision making was centralized—in the hands of one man—Robert Moses. It was his plan to raze Brooklyn Heights to build the BQE that first gave rise to heroic opposition from community groups. Imagine if Moses had been left completely unchecked. If historical preservation groups had gotten traction earlier, they might have saved our magnificent Pennsylvania Sation, and we would not be facing the disaster that bears that name today. Everyone wants the development process in NYC to be more efficient, but be skeptical of people preaching against democratic solutions.

  3. Great article. I agree. But we’re obviously a long way from anything like this happening. I think a big increase in development would be good for NYC, but at the same time I don’t think more banks, T-Mobiles, and Starbucks, which seem to follow most new development, are good for NYC, only for corporations and landlords (maybe). For that reason I feel that new development should be located more heavily on the non-commercial side streets, which is the exact opposite of what mostly happens. If this is difficult politically, I would love to see more commercial zoned into some side streets to take the pressure off the main thoroughfares.
    What do you think?

  4. David says:

    Development be moved to Tokyo and Ontario that covered with comparisons, housing-building-moving can postpone if activists listen the right reasons.

  5. stan chaz says:

    What are cities for? WHO are cities for? Do we really believe in democracy?
    A city is not some technocrat’s, or bureaucrat’s or developer’s plaything.
    The life and blood of a city are the communities that make it up,
    and the people that create and inhabit them.
    It’s bad enough that gentrification all too often tears apart both communities and human lives.
    But you advocate for even LESS democracy!
    You advocate for even LESS input
    —from the very communities that make up the heart & soul of our cities.
    You advocate for even LESS control
    —from the very people by & for whom the city exists.
    No way, Jose.
    If we can’t exercise meaningful control over the very core of our lives, where we live,
    then democracy and freedom has no real meaning.
    For it’s not “housing growth” versus the so-called “special interests” of community control.
    Instead, It’s vibrant, living communities versus their potential destruction by so-called “developers” .
    It’s people versus unchecked greed.
    All too often you use the acronym YIMBY to cover a multitude of sins with a glib & callous phrase.
    I say: go find another place to deface & destroy instead of my back yard,
    instead of my home, my roots, my community, my dreams, my life, my city.

  6. Sure. Developers should line their pockets at anyone else’s expense. That’s all that matters, really. Environmental externalities? What’s that? Aging, insufficient capacity infrastructure? Who cares. Crowded transit and gridlock? That doesn’t matter to developers. Displacement of current residents? Developers don’t live there so they don’t care. Contextual development? Not in their playbook. Profit. Developer profit. That’s what matters. Greed. How can we give a small number of people more power to do more harm to more people and get paid for doing it? How do you all sleep at night? Can’t you find a more productive way to feed your families? Don’t you see there is already a glut coming? No, I didn’t think so.

  7. Katherine O'Sullivan says:

    Inwood’s Sherman Plaza’s “50% affordable housing” development is misrepresented. The proposed development was only going to be assured the MIH mandated levels of affordability – either 20% or 30% of MAI, which is not affordable to many Inwood residents. There was no way to ensure that the other promised “affordable” housing would come. More important the spot up-zoning, that was sought, would have set a dangerous precedent for Inwoods’ soft sites. There was nothing to stop the developer from flipping the site once the up-zoning happened and the value of the land tripled. Any new owner would not be obliged to honor any prior promises made and would have been able to build to the maximum allowed by the rezoning.

    As mentioned above; WHO are cities for?

  8. staten islander says:

    NYC’s land use laws are not perfect but I’d rather stay with a system in which zoning changes are first requested by the communities affected. If more neighborhoods prefer downzonings to upzonings then so be it. We still live in a democracy.

    NYC’s infrastructure has it’s limits. Look at western Queens for example. How on earth are all those new residents going to squeeze onto the already massively packed subways? And is anyone even paying attention to the stresses that all these new apartment complexes will put on our aged water/sewer infrastructure? Those neighborhoods might be in for a shock when they wake up one morning and their water pressure is dangerously low.

    I live on S.I. and supported the massive downzonings of 2005-2006. Our limited road/water/sewer infrastructure was built over 60 years ago and was not designed for much growth. Not enough new schools either.

    Listen to NYC’s neighborhoods first.

  9. TOM says:

    Amen to that.

    Don’t let the fascist ‘experts’ rule the day(“I’m from Washington and I’m here to help you.”)

    BTW: Manhattan residents went to Boro Prez Robert Wagner Jr.(later Mayor) in 1945 to complain about centralized NYC agencies doing whatever, where ever and whenever their “improvements” without letting locals know the why of their “improvements”. It wasn’t necessarily Robert Moses causing the friction(no doubt he was in there somewhere, most NYC agencies did what he wanted because he was their boss and not the mayor).

  10. TOM says:

    Just make out that check, just one check, to whomever the Mayor or his minion instructs you to do. It’s all for his progressive causes, you can’t fault that, can you?

  11. Frank says:

    This is a repulsive authoritarian tract.

    It is sadly reflective of the ignorance, hostility to culture, lack of understanding of jurisprudence,, glorification of money and management incompetence which threaten to destroy our country at present.

    It deserves a place on the trash pile of history right down there with early 20ceugenics theorizing.

    Whoever this crank is: go familiarize yourself with the notion of the Common Law, as well as with the US Constitution, and get educated on the notions of good urbanism and preservation, before daring to further expostulate.

  12. TOM says:

    You have to define “affordable” and “luxury” at the start of these articles. To me “affordable” is what I pay now or less. “Luxury” means doorman, a bath tub and high ceilings. This is not what’s on offer in today’s market.

  13. mosesisdead says:

    You’re on the right track – it’s certainly absurd to let local fiefdoms destroy development in the city at their whims. THIS IS WHY HOUSING COSTS ARE SO HIGH AND RISING. There are myriad locations throughout the city that can support more housing development but our moronic process, designed to create graft at each level of approval, makes it ornery and only worth it for a certain type of developer (the kind you probably oppose for good reason). Seattle has solved this problem more or less, look to them for inspiration. The local community has input on design and neighborhood-appropriateness but doesn’t have the ability to completely shut down density or other initiatives because they don’t like it. This creates nicer buildings, prevents sore-thumb/out of place development, and improves things. With the level of engagement on development issues in NYC this would go MUCH BETTER here than it does there, even. The end result is housing costs are down and this actually stops the primary complaint of those who don’t want to be pushed out of their neighborhoods due to cost. As for infrastructure – NYC has actually been spending billions on sewer upgrades for over a decade, just because the news doesn’t report on it much doesn’t mean that’s not being addressed. Further, these ARE ADDRESSABLE PROBLEMS. Not enough schools? We open new ones every year. Not enough transit? Build more subways, quickly! Streets a mess? Fix them. This is a huge city and we’re capable of fixing these matters – your complaints are all designed to shield your desire to keep yours exactly how it is, forever, and that attitude is the antithesis of what has made NYC into what it is today. If you want a static , low-density “community” then maybe you should move to one, because New York City isn’t it. As for the “affordable housing” morons, you are wasting the concessions from developers. Instead of getting huge percentages of apartments reserved for broke people (in reality, wealthy people with low incomes frequently take these units) get them to invest in infrastructure. Look at 1 Vanderbilt – the city is being IMPROVED in a substantial way thanks to that project because the good sense was present to demand it. If you’ve got people making tons of money on development and you tell them they have to redo the sidewalks, landscape, and chip in to build a new park in the neighborhood, they’re going to do it. If you have wide swaths of underutilized areas that could be massively improved and built-up with a new subway line then you should build that subway line and use some of the proceeds of that new development to pay for it. CAN EFFING DO. The whiny laments of small-minded, self-serving rubes is growing very tiresome and we should stop pretending they have even the slightest idea of what they are talking about.

  14. iloveny says:

    Your last statement could also apply to you.

  15. Gregory says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with this opinion. While I respect that it is voiced on a site promoting development (just look at the advertising dollars spent by developers to showcase their new developments), moving power up the political ladder would only create a further separation between the ultra-luxury and the ultra-poor. The evidence of this can be seen in political disappointments such as the Rivington House scandal which allowed a deed to be lifted so that a nursing could be turned into market rate housing. The community board of this neighborhood was never even made aware of this controversial process because it happened in secret. Another example, of negative land use is the LICH scandal that took away an aging hospital, but a hospital in a borough where they are fleeting. The community board and local community voiced their opposition to this redevelopment, as the local public schools are already overcrowded and in the end, the mayor chose to pick the developer he wanted, instead of the one who actually bid the highest and would have preserved the largest amount of housing. As a result, the developer scrapped all affordable apartments and is only building luxury market rate housing.

    The people in the neighborhood may not know all the details of how zoning works, but they understand the constraints of a neighborhood and how housing is multi-pronged; there are environmental impacts, infrastructure needs, and things as simple as grocery stores and schools that should come attached to development. This is a more accurate depiction of the needs of a community than allowing foreign capital to fuel development, where many times it’s only about sell-out amount than anything else.

  16. Klaus K. says:

    Build a new subway quickly? Fix streets quickly? What absurd and silly comments. This guy can’t possibly live in NYC or know anytining about the political culture of the city and state much less their finances .

  17. Inwood resident says:

    Zoning is complicated, and hard to turn into soundbites. The mention of the Inwood project that Rodriguez rejected is an example – it was not actually 50% affordable (that was city spin), it was misrepresented as being 15 stories when the zoning change would have empowered a significantly taller building (the public was being confused as to the difference between a zoning map change and a possible proposed building), it was far too aggressive in terms of proposed density (more than 200% that of any other lot within a mile), and it would have set a difficult precedent by breaking the remarkably uniform zoning in the area (threatening many other sites).

    That said, I would agree that the process is flawed. The process can also be manipulated to make community approval seem to have been given where no such approval, never mind input, actually took place (see: current battle over Inwood Library). It’s an easy topic to handle badly, which is primarily what the city has been doing in recent efforts.

  18. Susan says:

    Bravo Frank! Couldn’t agree more. Who writes such undemocratic, authoritarian pablum? No doubt a RebNY lackey. Perhaps a Robert Moses follower? Robert Moses who found the millions of people he displaced and upended a minor, unimportant nuisance who had to get out of his way as he razed their neighborhoods. Well citizens think a lot more of themselves now perhaps than they did then. They are organized, intelligent, monied and hire lawyers. And they will fight for their zoning rights and their neighborhoods against predatory developers and lobbyists who view them as Moses did, as unimportant nuisances. They will also vote people who express and collude with such transparent nonsense out of office.

  19. SUSAN Nial says:

    Wow! Democracy is the ultimate form of racism according to this “author”. It seems he would like to see Congress, this Congress, deal with development issues. Wouldn’t that be just great for human kind.
    On vacation in Europe at the moment where strict controls on
    development and a robust level of control over the modification or
    demolition of historic properties, many of which are centuries old,
    has resulted vibrant and beautiful cities in which to live and work.
    But hey who cares about quality of life when developers can make

    YIMBY in New York City has been captured by REBNY, in my opinion.

  20. Mark says:

    Yimby in publishing this article seems to think there is only one type of value-monetary. Human or moral values are of no consequence. The common good? Not even an afterthought. “Greed is good”. Democracy is dead or at least unnecessary. These are very revealing articles which speak to the mindset of the publishers of Yimby. A vision which is bought and paid for.

  21. GL says:


    These community boards are ridiculous. Housing is one of, if not the most pressing issue facing the city. These boards are basically saying, we want to enjoy all the benefits of living in New York, but we do not want to participate in helping the city address its housing crisis by allowing new construction in our neighborhood. That’s just not an acceptable answer.

    The hypocrisy from these people who clamor about community is incredible, what about the needs of the city as a whole, which is also a community? Who are they to artificially limit the supply the housing, thereby artificially inflating rent for every single person who pays rent in this city? Who are they to deny dozens of construction workers jobs building these buildings? Who are they to deny people permanent jobs working in these buildings once completed? Who are they to deny the city more property tax revenue? These people don’t care about community, they care about the opposite. Themselves. That’s it.

    The community board input process has been abused, flat out. No one would have a problem if these boards acknowledged the cities desperate need for more housing, and welcomed new housing in their communities, if the city refurbished local parks, built a school, hired more cops, etc. But to just say no, isn’t acceptable. It’s time to take away this privilege the city has granted them, until they prove they can be adults, and face the reality of the housing crisis here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *