Changing the Face of NYC: The Mega Development Roundup

Chris Anderson Aug 31, 2007

NYUDevRoundupby Chris Anderson
Illustrations by Rusty Zimmerman

New York City is in the mood to expand. While the recent death of Jane Jacobs and the rehabilitation of Robert Moses may signal the passing of the “livable city” zeitgeist, the real impact of the city’s newly assertive development policies will be felt by ordinary New Yorkers in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Here’s a look at three mega-development projects and the issues involved.

Atlantic Yards
Possibly no development battle has been more bitter than the fight over the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The centerpiece of the project, according to supporters, will be the Barclays Center, which will serve as the new home of the NBA ’s New Jersey Nets. Along with the basketball arena, the Atlantic Yards development includes retail and commercial space and 6,430 units of mixed income residential housing.

Controversies: By far the most controversial aspect of the Atlantic Yards project is the expected use of eminent domain to clear remaining residential holdouts out of Prospect Heights. An additional major criticism is the size of the project. At 6,430 units holding a New York City average of two people per unit, the resulting population increase would make the area around Atlantic Yards the most densely populated census tract in North America. Project supporters, which include the nominally left-leaning community group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), contend that project opponents are little more than a middle-class clique of NIMB Ys (Not In My Backyard).

Current Status:
Despite pending lawsuits by community groups opposed to the project, sitework in anticipation of construction started in February. In June, additional controversy erupted over the emergence of information about what has become known as the “421 carve-out,” a specially tailored “sweetheart deal” passed by the New York State Legislature designed to shave $175 million off Ratner’s development costs.
NYU Expansion
New York University (NYU) recently announced plans to expand by more than a third in the next 25 years, adding an additional six million square feet in service of an extra 5,500 students, prompting concern about the continued growth of the already sprawling campus.According to architect Leo Blackman, a member of the Manhattan borough president’s NYU task force quoted by The Villager, “NYU has de facto taken over Union Square, because it’s built so many dorms around Union Square … There’s not an empty bench in Union Square — it’s sort of been absorbed by NYU. They’ve borrowed Washington Square for centuries.” It is currently unclear how much of the growth will occur in the West Village and how much will take place elsewhere in the City.

Controversy: NYU only announced its plans a month ago and little organized public opposition has yet to emerge to the latest round of anticipated growth. Recent expansion plans, however, have met with neighborhood opposition. NYU is now one of New York City’s biggest landowners. In 2001, NYU caused controversy with its construction of a large dormitory on 2nd St. and Bowery. In 2000, NYU built a 14th St. dormitory on the site of the old Palladium Club, once home to gigs by artists as diverse as Tito Puente and the Clash. Most recently, a 26-story dormitory on 12th St. was erected in the face of major community opposition.

Current Status:
Plans are in the early stages. Last week the school held an open house for village residents to offer their opinions on NYU’s expansion plans.
Hudson Rail Yard
The city’s original plan — to ground the redevelopment of Manhattan’s West Side in the construction of a football stadium for the New York Jets — flamed out in the summer of 2005 when state funding support was blocked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Since then, plans to develop the land occupied by the Hudson Rail Yards have continued. In mid-July, an agreement on the parameters of a massive new development was reached.

According to Crains, “The enormous project will be 20 percent larger than Rockefeller Center, [and] will require developers to include affordable housing, parks, a cultural center and space on which a school could be built.” Controversy: The original plan for the West Side Stadium generated enormous outrage from residents in the area, especially against the city’s attempt to link construction of the stadium with New York’s 2012 Olympics bid. More recent controversy has swirled around the price for the land, which is owned by the perennially cash-strapped MTA . As development plans become more clear, the well-organized Hells Kitchen community is likely to play a major role in the redevelopment.

Current Status: On July 27, the city reached a deal to purchase the eastern half of the rail yards from the MTA for $200 million dollars. An agreement was also reached to re-zone the western portion of the yard, although negotiations over the price of the sale continue. Earlier in July, the city offered to pay $500 million for the entire rail yard — even though the property has an appraised value of $1.5 billion.

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