Hudson Park, Yonkers, NY
Jeff LeJava, Land Use Law Center
The City of Yonkers struggled for years to jump-start its downtown and adjacent industrial waterfront on the Hudson River, an area that is served by four commuter train stations less than a half hour trip from Mid-Town Manhattan. This effort included a number of amendments to its waterfront urban renewal plan during the past two decades along with other activities. However, with the establishment of a public/private partnership, the private market began to respond in the early part of this decade.
Hudson Park is a dramatic TOD example that resulted from these efforts. Immediately adjacent to the Yonkers Metro-North Railroad/Amtrak station on the Hudson Line, the initial phase of project was the first multi-family residential development in downtown Yonkers in 30 years. The designated redeveloper, Collins Enterprises LLC, completed Hudson Park’s first phase in 2003, which included 266 apartments with building amenities, and 15,500 square feet of professional offices, retail and restaurant space. Collins finished the second phase with an additional 294 apartments in 2008. With direct access to Grand Central Terminal in 28 minutes via express train, Hudson Park has achieved a 96 percent occupancy rate by attracting “echo boomers,” those born between 1982 and 1995, who can find few comparable products in Manhattan. The project’s third phase will commence in 2013 with the construction of another building containing 220 apartments. Upon completion, Hudson Park will top out at 780 rental apartments and command rents averaging $2.50 per square foot.
In addition to immediate access to the Yonkers train station through carefully designed walkways and entrances that provide security to residents, underlying this project are other critical amenities. These include public pedestrian access to a renovated Hudson River waterfront, office and retail space, a 9-11 Memorial Park, street furniture, public art, and restaurants such as the world class X2O.
The most recent amenity to the neighborhood is the daylighted Saw Mill River. Cascading through a new urban park immediately to the east of Hudson Park, the river ducks under the train station and re-emerges as it enters the Hudson River. This project, led by the Saw Mill River Coalition, its parent organization, Groundwork Hudson Valley, and Scenic Hudson opened up a portion of the river in downtown Yonkers that had been buried by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1920s for sanitation purposes. The park includes pedestrian walkways, benches, and an interpretive exhibit concerning the American eel, a species that will greatly benefit from this urban river restoration.
The project is the result of a private/public partnership that demonstrates how transit station area planning and creative zoning, environmental review, and site plan approval can work to provide needed housing in an aging but revitalizing downtown. The partners include the redeveloper, Collins Enterprises, the City of Yonkers, Metro-North Railroad, Westchester County, private equity and debt investors, the New York Brownfield Tax Credit Program, and environmental organizations such as Scenic Hudson. For its part, the City of Yonkers invested $150 million in downtown capital infrastructure improvements while Metro-North restored the adjacent Yonkers station and tracks at a cost of $43 million.
In support of the development, the City used numerous zoning and land use techniques. It adopted a highly detailed master plan for the waterfront area that contained certain specifications regarding the types of development the city wanted on available vacant land in the area. An innovative zoning technique – called the Master Plan Zone – was enacted that provided as-of-right status for developments that conform to the design standards contained in the master plan. The Zone waives compliance with New York State’s onerous environmental review requirements for such projects, since the impacts of development contemplated by the master plan had already been studied and mitigation provided. Additionally, the City reduced the parking requirements for the project by 50 percent compared to that required by traditional urban zoning, saving the redeveloper $25,000 in development costs for each parking space not constructed.
TOD In New York City
Kevin Dwarka, Ph.D.
Describing New York City as a “transit-oriented development” may sound a bit understated or even redundant to urban planners accustomed to implementing TOD concepts in less urban environments. With its high population densities, walkable neighborhoods, mixed land uses, and a vast transit network, the City is the most transit-oriented city in America. According to 2010 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 56 percent of New York City workers take transit to work and 56 percent of New York City households do not own an automobile. Few other cities in the United States come even close to approximating this level of freedom from automobile dependency.
And yet, much of NYC is actually not transit-oriented. Like all cities, the level of transit utilization varies widely by neighborhood and is correlated with the accessibility of the transit network, density of housing, and levels of car-ownership. For example, 59 percent of Manhattan workers take transit to work. This high level of transit utilization is not surprising given that the borough supports 37,106 housing units per square mile, 94 percent of Manhattan residents live within a half mile radius of a subway entrance, and 78 percent of Manhattan households do not own a car. In Staten Island, however, only 29 percent of the population commutes by transit. This comparatively lower level of transit use is due at least in part to the absence of a subway network in Staten Island and the borough’s lower housing density of 3,037 housing units per square mile. In Staten Island, only 18 percent of the borough’s households do not own an automobile.
These variations suggest that applying TOD principles to New York City could help increase transit utilization levels in some of the more auto-oriented parts of the City. With the City’s population expected to increase by 750,000 residents by 2030, many City agencies are focused on better linking land use regulations with transit infrastructure investment. Over the past ten years, for example, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has pursued an ambitious program to rezone much of New York City with an emphasis on channeling new development to parts of the City best served by transit. PlaNYC, the City’s sustainability framework, aspires to locate 95 percent of new housing opportunities within a half mile of a subway station. Meanwhile, mega-development projects like Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s west side and Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn aim to intensify development around new and existing transit infrastructure. Summarized below are updates on these various efforts to make NYC even more transit-oriented than it already is.
I. Mega Development Projects
The Hudson Yards planning area encompasses a 360-acre, largely industrial area that includes the rail yard but also extends to West 28th Street on the south, West 43rd Street on the north, Eighth Avenue on the east, and the Hudson River on the west. Long targeted by planners as an important opportunity for expanding the Midtown Central Business District (CBD) the Lindsey administration announced an ambitious redevelopment plan in 1969. This plan languished but was recharged in the mid-1990s by various proposals for a new stadium on top of the Hudson rail yards (for the Yankees and then later for the Jets), NYC’s bid for the 2012 Olympics, and the perceived need for more commercial office space in Manhattan.
In 2001, DCP completed the Far West Midtown Development Framework. Concurrently, planners for the 2012 Olympics bid prepared their own plan. Both plans, one technical and the other visionary, called for a significant increase in commercial office space that would be made possible through the westward extension of the Number 7 subway line to 11th Avenue and 34th Street. Both plans also envisioned an expanded Javits Center and a new stadium, two components that fell by the wayside along with the City’s ill-fated Olympics bid. However, the broader redevelopment concept and many of its accompanying urban design components remain intact. The subway extension, backed by the City’s sale of three billion dollars in bonds, is under construction, expected to open for revenue service in mid-2014, and be completed by 2015.
DCP rezoned the area in two stages. Most of the area, including the east side of the yards, was rezoned in 2005, while the west side of the yards where the stadium would have been built was rezoned in 2009. As a result, the planning area can accommodate an additional 28 million square feet of commercial office and hotel space and about 17,000 housing units, all located within walking distance of a rail station. The current plan also retains a concept for a 20 acre network of open space, consisting of a pedestrian bridge between 42nd Street and 39th Street; a linear north-south park between 39th and 33rd street along a new landscaped boulevard between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues; and a six-acre public park between 33rd and 30th Street.
So far, the housing market on the west side is fairly robust with about 7 million square feet of new residential towers and hotels already built or nearing completion. Dozens of new housing projects are in the pipeline and should be completed over the next several years. The first phase of the Hudson Yards Boulevard Park is currently under construction between 33rd and 36th streets, and a 46-story, 1.7 million square foot commercial office building anchored by Coach, Inc. will rise at the corner of 10th Avenue and 30th Street. Time will tell how the Number 7 Subway Extension, the Highline extension to 34th Street, and the planned relocation of Penn Station to the Farley Post Office may stimulate new transit-oriented development, including commercial office space.
Atlantic Yards is a 4.9 billion dollar mixed-use project planned for a 22-acre area around Atlantic Terminal, an intermodal transit hub in the vicinity of Downtown Brooklyn. Nine subway lines, the Long Island Rail Road, and a dozen bus lines serve the project area directly. One of the largest redevelopment projects ever constructed outside of Manhattan, the project is sponsored by Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and managed by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a quasi-public state entity with redevelopment authority. FCRC’s plan includes 16 high rise towers that will provide 6,430 of housing units (including 2,200 affordable units), a hotel, office and retail space, and eight acres of landscaped open space. However, the centerpiece of the project is the Barclays Center, an arena that will accommodate 18,000 spectators for entertainment events and basketball games. Set to open on September 28, 2012, the arena will serve as the new home of the former New Jersey Nets, a professional basketball team that an ownership group led by FCRC CEO Bruce Ratner purchased in 2004.
Atlantic Yards has been controversial among local politicians and area residents since its announcement nine years ago. Adversaries have filed law suits challenging ESDC’s declaration that the site is blighted, the use of eminent domain to enable land assembly, and the sufficiency of the environmental impact analysis. These suits, in tandem with the most recent economic recession, created significant project delays and raised questions about the fate of the housing plan. FCRC has not commenced construction of any housing units.
Though Atlantic Yards continues to provoke debate regarding its scale and the viability of its housing plan, the soon-to-be-opened arena is undoubtedly transit-oriented in several ways. First, the arena features a new subway entrance set within a pedestrianized plaza directly in front of the arena. The entrance will enable access to all nine subway lines at the Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center subway station. Second, the arena features a relatively small number of on-site parking spaces, only 541 spaces reduced from an initially proposed 1,100 spaces. Less than 30 percent of attendees at weekday events will arrive by automobile. Lastly, the arena will open with a bicycle parking facility that will accommodate 400 bicycles. If FCRC does succeed in completing the project’s residential program, it will result in one of the largest concentrations of new transit-oriented, affordable housing in the City. FCRC’s plan also requires decking over the rail-yards behind the arena, an action that would facilitate development and promote pedestrian accessibility from the surrounding residential areas to Atlantic Terminal. Sam Schwartz, the project’s traffic engineer, states that “[t]he Atlantic Yards site is the epitome of transit-oriented development. If we are going to reduce our carbon footprint, then we need to look at developing more sites like this one.”
II. Rezoning New York City
Since 2002, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) has implemented 116 rezonings with hopes of channeling new development into areas well-served by transit. These rezoning initiatives affect 40 percent of New York City and cover 10,500 blocks. DCP consultant Sandy Hornick notes that “DCP’s approach to zoning is explicitly about promoting transit-oriented development. We have tried to steer new development to places that are either already transit-supportive or to places like Hudson Yards where new transit services can be provided.” Not all parts of the City were upzoned. DCP downzoned some areas to reduce development in primarily auto-oriented areas and to protect the low-density character of certain neighborhoods.
Downtown Brooklyn, New York’s City third largest CBD after Midtown-Manhattan and Lower Manhattan, provides one of the best examples of using zoning to achieve TOD. Comprised of a commercial core ringed by residential neighborhoods, the densely built downtown is well-served by transit connections to Manhattan, as well as Brooklyn’s outer neighborhoods. The transit network includes seven subway stops, 13 subway lines, and more than a dozen bus routes. The Long Island Rail Road Station at Atlantic Terminal is also nearby. These services make Downtown Brooklyn an ideal place to intensify development without requiring a corresponding expansion of road infrastructure and parking capacity. In 2004, the New York City Council adopted DCP’s rezoning proposals for Downtown Brooklyn. The new zoning, spanning 60 blocks, increased the allowable density for both residential and commercial uses while also permitting the expansion of academic facilities.
Eight years later, the zoning has not generated a significant increase in commercial office space yet; however, construction of upscale apartment towers and hotels has occurred, changing Downtown Brooklyn’s commercial center to more of a 24-hour neighborhood. In this context of continuing development activity, DCP recently proposed new zoning changes to address overbuilding of parking facilities that are often left underutilized, especially during evenings. These changes would reduce the minimum amount of parking required for new developments, entirely eliminate minimum parking requirements for affordable housing projects, and promote parking facility sharing among residents and visitors. Currently under review, the proposed parking regulations are popular with private developers seeking to reduce their construction costs and maximize opportunities for building leasable space.
St. George Ferry Terminal
Another TOD rezoning occurred around the St. George Ferry Terminal at the northeastern tip of Staten Island. Serving 21 million annual passengers and renovated in 2005, the terminal also functions as the northern terminus of the Staten Island Railway and serves several bus routes. In 2008, DCP upzoned a 12-block area around the St. George Ferry Terminal, downzoned some areas, and allowed for the conversion of office buildings into residential uses. The regulations permit two kinds of tall towers that may be built as high as 20 stories. Developers may build some towers at a maximum width of 40 feet, while towers on the waterfront may be built at a width of 80 feet. These width regulations were designed to ensure that existing St. George residents have continued visual access to the waterfront and Manhattan skyline.
So far, this rezoning has not generated significant development activity, but City efforts to promote TOD in the terminal area are continuing. In 2011, DCP and the City’s Economic Development Corporation released the report, North Shore 2030: Improving and Reconnecting the North Shore’s Unique and Historic Assets, which provides land use and investment recommendations that include designation of the terminal area as a key development opportunity. Subsequent to the report’s release, the City issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to redevelop two city-owned parcels near the St. George Ferry Terminal.
Also on the horizon is a new proposal to rezone East Midtown Manhattan in the area around Grand Central Station. The upzoning would take advantage of the area’s already rich transit service and capitalize on new transit capacity from the Second Avenue Subway completion and the extension of Long Island Rail Road to East Midtown. The upzoning also would facilitate improvements to existing subway facilities that could provide increased throughput. The 78 block area spans Fifth and Second Avenues on the west and east, and East 57th and East 39th on the north and south. While the area is already densely built and highly transit dependent, the average office building age is 70 years old. To ensure that Midtown Manhattan meets the need for more modern and large floor plate office space, the rezoning would allow taller office buildings on certain sites. Developers could qualify for density bonuses by either purchasing transferable development rights from underbuilt areas under a landmark designation or by contributing to a special fund designated for area improvements.
Changes to Residential Capacity
These various rezoning efforts aim to accommodate projected population growth through transit-oriented housing, but a study conducted by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy questions the degree to which these rezonings will add sufficient residential capacity to New York City. The study confirmed that 73 percent of the lots upzoned between 2002 and 2007 are located within a half mile of a rail station. The study also revealed that 59 percent of the downzoned lots actually were located in areas within a half mile of transit. The Furman Center concluded that the rezonings will result in a citywide increase in residential capacity of 1.7 percent, translating into almost 100 million square feet of space that could accommodate as many as 200,000 new residents. As mentioned above, NYC’s population is expected to grow by another 750,000 persons by 2030, suggesting that the City must explore a wider variety of development tools beyond rezoning to ensure sufficient residential capacity.
DCP consultant Sandy Hornick notes, however, that many downzonings in places like Park Slope in Brooklyn and Bellerose in Queens were actually “paper downzonings” because the affected blocks likely will not provide substantial new housing for a host of reasons beyond the downzoning. Emphasizing the importance of neighborhood preservation even in areas with strong transit access, Hornick observes “[w]e can accommodate TOD sensibly without destroying the character of existing neighborhoods. We have built more TOD than anywhere in the US.”
III. Sustainable Community Planning
Sustainable community planning also contributes to TOD efforts in NYC. As discussed in David Kooris’ article, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a 3.5 million dollar Sustainable Communities Planning Grant to the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium. Fiscally managed by the Regional Planning Association, the consortium allocated a portion of the grant to several projects in New York City, including station area planning for the Bronx and Brooklyn discussed below. The grant also funds a climate resilience study overseen by DCP that will identify strategies to minimize damage and disruption from coastal flooding and storm surge.
The Bronx Metro-North Corridor study being conducted under the grant evaluates land use and transportation opportunities near several Metro-North Stations. The study’s four key goals are to (1) foster transit-oriented development around the rail stations, (2) promote the construction of mixed-income housing, (3) identify opportunities for better linking Bronx residents to regional job opportunities, and (4) enhance station access. The project is expected to last three years and will entail an annual town hall meeting. The first town hall meeting occurred in January 2012 after which DCP hosted an interactive walking tour. DCP used the town hall meeting and walking tour to better identify community needs and evaluate the performance of the existing land uses and transportation system.
The Sustainable East New York study entails a comprehensive planning initiative for the areas of Broadway Junction, East New York, and Cypress Hills in Brooklyn. DCP is managing the planning study; however, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, a key actor in this effort, launched the Verde Initiative, a holistic community development effort, to address unemployment and asthma in the neighborhood. Key project goals for the study include (1) preparing recommendations for land use and zoning changes that will facilitate transit-oriented development and the production of affordable housing; (2) identifying opportunities for improvements to transportation access and intermodal connections; and (3) promoting energy efficiency for new and existing buildings.
IV. The Next Step for TOD Planning in NYC
The three types of TOD initiatives in NYC mentioned above capitalize on the City’s dense urban fabric and extensive transit system to stimulate new development. However, each approach also brings to surface a larger set of challenges to achieving New York City’s sustainability goals. For example, the mega-development projects at Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards will reshape underdeveloped parts of the city dramatically, but the boldness of these plans also necessitates careful attention to impacts on existing and surrounding communities. Rezoning similarly requires balancing between accommodating new population growth and respecting community desires. Finally, sustainable community planning in East New York and the Bronx offers hope for greener neighborhoods, but tying these efforts to regional sustainability strategies will require increased financial resources and more interagency coordination.