Maloney Applauds Community’s 197-a Plan Before City Planning Commission Hearing

Sep 29, 2006
Press Release
New York, NY: On Wednesday, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) submitted testimony at a hearing held by the City Planning Commission regarding the197-a plan prepared by Community Board 6 and the East Side Rezoning Alliance. The plan is a comprehensive long-range vision for the east Midtown community that addresses many of the area’s specific infrastructure and planning needs, including those pertaining to the development of the former Con Edison Waterside site, construction of the Second Avenue Subway and the creation of a waterfront esplanade along the East River.

“CB6 members and other community leaders have developed a sound, comprehensive proposal that I hope will guide land-use decisions in our community for decades to come,” said Congresswoman Maloney.

In her testimony, Maloney addresses the issue of affordable housing:
 
“The 197-a plan brings attention to the dire need for affordable housing in this area. In particular, the development of the Con Edison Waterside properties in the area presents a unique opportunity to create affordable housing in a neighborhood that has an extreme demand for low and moderate income residences.  The proposed sale of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village is likely to accelerate the loss of affordable housing. There is a strong likelihood that many moderate income families currently living in the area will lose their homes, and will be unable to find comparable affordable housing in the community.

On the issue of overcrowding of schools in the area, Rep. Maloney says:

“I commend this plan for recognizing the enormous  need for additional elementary schools in this district. In particular, I am concerned by the impact that thousands of new residents from the proposed Con Edison Waterside Properties, many with young children, will have on the already overburdened Community School District 2 (District 2) schools.” 
 
Congresswoman Maloney also comments on the community’s need for waterfront access and open space:

“The 197-a plan clearly articulates the community’s hope that the City will use New York’s splendid shoreline in a way that benefits the public, such as by creating an esplanade similar to the immensely popular one that now runs along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side. With the second lowest ratio of open space per capita in Manhattan, this neighborhood desperately needs public park space with greenery and waterfront access.

The full text of Congresswoman Maloney’s testimony is below:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the 197-a plan for the eastern half of Manhattan Community District 6 proposed by Community Board 6 (CB6) and the East Side Rezoning Alliance (ESRA).  As you know, this area is located in the 14th Congressional district, which I represent. For the past twenty years, in both the City Council and United States Congress, I have worked closely with community leaders, developers, elected officials and city agencies to ensure that the East Side of Manhattan be planned, shaped, and developed with attention to the community’s needs and according to appropriate planning principles. With the United Nations, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the former Con Edison Waterside properties, the Manhattan VA Hospital and many other significant landmarks, facilities and properties located in this district, this area faces extremely diverse and large-scale infrastructure challenges. I welcome the opportunity to comment on CB6 and ESRA’s 197-a plan. Their initiative is a sound and comprehensive vision for this area and addresses many of the specific infrastructure and planning needs of this community. One of the most significant development issues this plan addresses is that of the development of the properties at the former Con Edison Waterside site. As you know, the redevelopment of this area will be the most significant change to the East Side in years. This should be viewed as an extraordinary opportunity to create valuable infrastructure and waterfront access in an area that has been cut off from the public for generations. 

 Land Use and Zoning

The 197-a should be amended to recognize the United Nation’s recent decision to remain in its present location, the Secretariat. The 197-a plan repeatedly refers to the UN’s expansion onto Robert Moses Park. To the cheers of the community and its local elected officials, the United Nations’s expansion plan appears to be off the table and the UN has no immediate plans to build a new facility on Robert Moses Park. While there was widespread recognition that the Secretariat required substantial renovation, it was hoped that this could be accomplished without sacrificing an existing park. The UN has apparently found a way to do just that. Accordingly, it makes no sense for the 197-a to tacitly accept a clearly flawed expansion plan.

The 197-a plan’s recommendations for the development of the Con Edison Waterside properties reflect the need for sound urban design principles that are in accordance with the history and character of the surrounding predominantly residential neighborhood. I support the notion that 39th and 40th streets should be re-mapped so that the street grid will be restored and so that the surrounding community will have greater access to the waterfront. 

 Schools

I commend this plan for recognizing the enormous  need for additional elementary schools in this district. In particular, I am concerned by the impact that thousands of new residents from the proposed Con Edison Waterside Properties, many with young children, will have on the already overburdened Community School District 2 (District 2) schools.  With residential development on the site, there will be undoubtedly be an influx of a significant number of students to local schools that are already stretched to the breaking point, with enrollments of more than 14,000 students. In fact, the school located nearest the development, P.S.116, is well over capacity. Furthermore, P.S.59, the school which is immediately north of the Con Edison site, is at 114% of its capacity. According to the New York City Board of Education, the number of students that live in the catchment zone of the proposed development is steadily rising each year. In 2005,  there were 94 Kindergarten students and 59 fifth grade students at P.S. 59. With almost twice as many kindergarten students as fifth grade students, P.S.59 is bracing for increasing crowding as it is.

Without a new school, the introduction of as many as 6,000 new apartments to the neighborhood will be a nearly impossible burden for the area’s public schools.   In virtually every recent large scale development project in New York City, including both Queens West with P.S. 78 and Battery Park City with Stuyvesant High School and P.S. 89, there have been schools added or expanded to accommodate an increase in students. The re-zoning of the Hudson Yards site on the West Side of Manhattan calls for  P.S.51 to be expanded to adapt to the possible increase in students. Clearly, there is a strong precedent for the creation of schools as part of a large development project. Moreover, since land is scarce, it is virtually impossible for the Department of Education to build new schools in Manhattan below 96th street, except as part of new development. If we do not take advantage of the potential offered by this site, we will lose a perfect opportunity to create much-needed relief for our overcrowded school infrastructure.
 
 Affordable Housing

The 197-a plan also brings attention to the dire need for affordable housing in this area.
In particular, the development of the Con Edison Waterside  properties in the area presents a unique opportunity to create affordable housing in a neighborhood that has an extreme demand for low and moderate income residences. In 2000, there were 6,525 households within Community District 6 in poverty, and only a limited amount of affordable low-income housing in the area.  In addition, it is getting harder and harder for moderate income families and residents to find affordable places to live in the East Midtown community.  Of the roughly 65,000 rental households in the district, over 11,000 households pay more than half of their income for rent. A recent New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey revealed that in 2005 half of renters in New York City spent 31.2 percent of their income on rent. The study also found that 28.8 percent of New York City renters spent more than half their income on rent in 2005 and in 2002, about 25.5 percent gave more than half their earnings to a landlord (The New York Times, “Affordable Apartments a New Luxury,” Alan Feuer, February 11, 2006). When you look at Community District 6, roughly 24% of renters are spending more than 40% of their income for rent, according to the 2000 Census.

 The proposed sale of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village is likely to accelerate the loss of affordable housing. There is a strong likelihood that many moderate income families currently living in the area will lose their homes, and will be unable to find comparable affordable housing in the community.

 With the availability of affordable housing dwindling at an alarming rate, it would be poor city planning not to take advantage of the opportunity to develop additional affordable housing at the Con Ed Waterside site. 

 Waterfront and Open Space 
 
 Esplanade

The 197-a plan clearly articulates the community’s hope that the City will use New York’s splendid shoreline in a way that benefits the public, such as by creating an esplanade similar to the immensely popular one that now runs along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side. With the second lowest ratio of open space per capita in Manhattan, this neighborhood desperately needs public park space with greenery and waterfront access.

The proposal is consistent with the City’s commitment to creating a greenway around all of Manhattan and suggests a way to create access to the waterfront for areas that currently have no waterfront access whatsoever.  With the redevelopment of the Con Edison site along the East River, there is an incredible opportunity to create waterfront access.  Finally, the 197-a plan wisely suggests  that the Outerboard Detour Roadway (ODR), a temporary structure which runs from 54th Street to 63rd street along the FDR Drive, could become part of the esplanade, once the construction on the FDR is completed in the fall.

 Parks

This plan clearly articulates the demand for open public space in this district. The existing small amount of public open space is simply insufficient to the community’s needs. Furthermore, many of these spaces are in substandard condition or largely unaccessible to the public.  There are only 31.48 acres of open space in this community and this total includes 8.14 acres in United Nations Park, which is largely unaccessible to the public, and 10.64 acres of residential open plaza space. Put more starkly, the area within  ½ mile of the Con Edison site has .46 acres of open space per 1000 residents. Citywide, there is an average of 3.5 acres per 1000 residents. Clearly, there is a critical need for additional park and open space in this community.

Please note, the 197-a plan’s map of open space in the district should be amended to include the Bellevue Sobriety Garden, a beautiful oasis of greenery on Bellevue’s campus. This area is gardened by patients but is accessible to the public.
 
Finally, the plan encourages “open space mitigation” for a new United Nations structure that was proposed for Robert Moses Park. As stated above, this development plan has been shelved and hopefully will never be revived. It should be noted that a promise of an esplanade to be built in the future would never have been acceptable mitigation for the loss of open park space. Alienating park land makes no sense in this densely urban area. The promise that an esplanade would eventually be constructed leaves many uncertainties.
 
 Urban Design and Preservation

I am in agreement with the 197-a plan’s recommendations to maintain existing street wall character and residential character of the neighborhoods. All streets should be able to lead to a public waterfront greenway (please see comments on waterfront access above).  With respect to the maintenance of residential character, this area is largely residential and should remain that way. I endorse the plan’s vision of the proposed development of the Con Edison Waterside properties as sound and respectful of the community’s wishes for this area. While there is the general expectation that the new development will be taller and denser than the manufacturing that preceded it, it should not become a fortress along the water.  Clearly, this space should include publicly accessible open space and access to the waterfront (Please see above comments).  I am hopeful that the city will adopt a policy encourage the historically residential character of these neighborhoods to remain constant for generations to come.

I commend the plan’s goal of preserving Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and a New York City landmark.  MetLife built the two complexes nearly 60 years ago as affordable housing for returning World War II veterans, in a public-private initiative in which MetLife received tax and eminent domain benefits from the city. This visionary venture today houses the backbone of New York City’s society: its firefighters, police officers, nurses, teachers and community activists. Over two thirds of the 11,200 apartments are still affordable middle class housing. At the present time, MetLife is selling the complexes, causing much concern amongst its residents as to the future of their affordable housing.  Landmarking the area would ensure that the existing buildings cannot be demolished, displacing current residents and making room for luxury developments. It is imperative that we not only preserve the affordable housing in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, but also recognize the importance of their historical value to New York City.

The 197-a plan should be amended in this section with respect to landmarking the Con Edison Waterside Generating Stations 1 and 2. To my regret, both of these structures have been razed since the plan was drafted. Also, the 197-a should be amended to reflect the United Nation’s decision to remain in the Secretariat (Please see above comments).

 Streets and Transportation
 
I am pleased that the 197-a plan calls for the re-mapping of the streets at the Con Edison Waterside Properties, east of First Avenue. By remapping these streets, pedestrians will gain greater access to the waterfront. This would also eliminate the “megablocks” that are currently possible in the area.

The197-a plan addresses the implementation of security and traffic calming measures in the district. I am particularly concerned by the number of deaths that have occurred at intersections in this district. This summer, a woman was killed at the intersection of East 57th street and First Avenue by a BM1 Express Bus.  Between 1995 and 2001, there were 27 pedestrian injuries at this particular intersection.

Another intersection which is acutely dangerous is intersection of 20th Street and First Avenue, along the border of Stuyvesant Town. I understand that there have been a number of deaths of senior citizens at this intersection because the lights are of short duration and it is very difficult for elderly people to cross in time. I am hopeful that with the 197-a plan’s recommendations, the city will adopt traffic-calming measures that will protect pedestrian safety. 

I commend the 197-a plan for endorsing the Second Avenue Subway and the stations that will be located in Community District 6. The Second Avenue Subway will provide a much needed relief to riders on the already overcrowded Lexington Avenue subway line, known for being one of the most crowded subways in the nation. I am pleased to report that in April of this year, the Federal Transportation Authority gave approval for this project to go into Final Design. Construction is due to start in 2007. Not only will the subway alleviate the overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, but it will bring jobs to the economy and attract more businesses to areas on the East Side. While this area will not directly benefit until Phase III is completed, the fully built Second Avenue Subway is on target to become a reality.

The 197-a plan recommends the elimination of the heliport at 34th Street. I am extremely concerned by the noise and safety issues that surround helicopters in New York City. With more than150,000 takeoffs and landings each year, New York City’s heliports have a major impact on the quality of life. Helicopters add noise pollution and danger. The din the helicopters create over the city only adds to the cacophony of noises that already plague residents. In 2000, I passed a bill in Congress that would provide for a Federal Aviation Administration study to develop and implement plans to reduce risks to the public health and welfare caused by helicopter operations. I urge the city to address helicopter noise and safety issues in the future policy endeavors concerning the development and safety of the East Side of Manhattan.

In conclusion, I believe that the city of New York should take every opportunity to promote and enact sound community based-planning not only in Community District 6, but in the City as a whole. The 197-a plan submitted by Manhattan Community Board 6 and ESRA not only considers the historical importance of the nature of this neighborhood, but also looks to the future to create much needed infrastructure improvements and developments to achieve community planning goals. It is my hope that in twenty years, the East Side of Manhattan will have a greenway along the East River, a Second Avenue Subway, more park land and open space, access to the waterfront for the entire community, additional elementary and upper schools, an increased amount of affordable housing and much more community based infrastructure.  Accordingly, I urge you to implement the recommendations outlined in this plan and ensure that this neighborhood continues to flourish for decades to come.