Monday, September 27, 2010

Upcoming Land Use and Zoning Programs at The Museum of the City of New York

CIVITAS is pleased to announce three upcoming programs at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). MCNY has continuously offered engaging forums that address New York City’s ever-growing and developing neighborhoods. Such educational programs directly address CIVITAS’ efforts towards rezoning and building-height regulation to maintain the quality of livable neighborhoods on the Upper East Side and in East Harlem. In 2008 CIVITAS had the pleasure of honoring MCNY and director Susan Henshaw Jones with the August Heckscher Award for Community Service.

Because of our ongoing relationship, MCNY is offering friends of CIVITAS a discounted admission to upcoming programs at the museum. Please register to or 917-492-3395 and mention CIVITAS to pay $6, the regular price for museum members.

6:30 p.m.
The Lindsay administration activated and extended the Wagner-era landmarks law, using a variety of strategies to protect historic buildings and districts, including Grand Central Terminal, the South Street Seaport, and the Theater District. How important was the tool of air rights transfers in this program, and how did air rights factor into the pivotal Penn Central Co. vs. New York City Supreme Court decision? How well have air rights held up as a preservation tool? These and other questions will be considered by former City Planning Commission Chairman Donald Elliott; Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Leonard Koerner; Frank Sciame of F.J. Sciame Construction; and former Office of Lower Manhattan Development Director Richard Weinstein. The conversation will be moderated by former Landmarks Commission Chair and former President of the Municipal Art Society, Kent Barwick, with closing remarks by Robert Tierney, Chair, Landmarks Preservation Commission. Co-sponsored by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Historic Districts Council, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the South Street Seaport Museum. Presented in conjunction with America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York. Reception to follow. Reservations required.

6:30 p.m.
Residents of these two diverse, vibrant neighborhoods have long dealt with the pressures of gentrification and have struggled for affordability. Their story is told in two recent documentaries. Join the filmmakers for a screening and discussion of The Lower East Side: An Endangered Place by Robert Weber and Whose Barrio? by Edward Morales and Laura Rivera, with opening remarks by The Honorable Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council, District 8. Co-sponsored by the office of New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and East Harlem Preservation. This program is presented as part of the ongoing series The Urban Forum: New York Neighborhoods, Preservation and Development. Reservations required.

5:30 p.m.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan died in 2003, the Economist described him as "a philosopher-politician diplomat who two centuries earlier would not have been out of place among the Founding Fathers." Steven Weisman, Editorial Director and Public Policy Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, has culled the papers of this gifted author and voluminous correspondent to create a vivid portrait of the Senator's life in Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (Public Affairs Books, 2010). Mr. Weisman will moderate a panel with Peter W. Galbraith, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control; Stephen Hess, Senior Fellow Emeritus in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution; Richard Ravitch, Lieutenant Governor of New York; and The Honorable Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator for New York. Reception to follow. Co-sponsored by the American Irish Historical Society, the Glucksman Ireland House at New York University and The Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Reservations Required.

Museum of the City of New York,
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
For more information visit

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Electronics Recycling Day

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Church of the Heavenly Rest (90th Street and Fifth Avenue)

Items accepted include: cell phones, computers, laptops, copiers, fax machines, iPods and PDAs, modems, monitors, keyboards, computer mice, printers, stereo and radio equipment, telephones and telephone equipment, televisions, typewriters, speakers, digital cameras, VCRs, DVD players.

Special thanks to Carnegie Hill Neighbors for sponsoring this event.
CIVITAS is a proud supporter with our neighborhood partners:
The Brick Presbyterian Church, Church of the Heavenly Rest, Carnegie Hill/Yorkville CSA, Grass-roots

For more information, visit the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s website: or call 212-477-4022

Thursday, September 2, 2010

CIVITAS in the New York Times

CIVITAS received coverage in Wednesday's New York Times on our work on the Second Avenue Subway ancillary buildings.
Read about it at:

August 31, 2010

Above Ground, a 2nd Ave. Subway Plan Attracts Critics

The Second Avenue subway, finally under construction on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is of course a vast underground project. The $4.45 billion first phase, now scheduled to be completed in 2018, will extend from 96th Street to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

But the project will also include construction above ground — not just station entrances but also a half-dozen boxy buildings on corners along Second Avenue that the transit agency acquired through condemnation. These so-called ancillary buildings, ranging in height from five to eight stories, will house ventilation equipment. They are also intended to disperse smoke and allow for evacuation from subway tunnels in the event of an emergency.

To the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, the proposed buildings, designed by DMJM+Harris and Arup, part of the team that designed the Jet Blue Terminal at Kennedy International Airport, are “handsome in proportion and detail, while simple and straightforward in design.”

But to some real estate specialists, the structures represent a missed opportunity or an unwelcome industrial intrusion into a residential neighborhood, or both. Richard Bass, the chief planning and development specialist for Herrick, Feinstein, a law firm based in Midtown Manhattan, said that at three of the sites — on 97th Street, 72nd Street and 69th Street — the M.T.A. could have worked with private developers to incorporate the ancillary buildings into residential towers.

Mr. Bass represented a co-op on 69th Street in negotiations with the M.T.A. over the adjacent ancillary building. He is not involved in a lawsuit the co-op filed against the Federal Transit Administration and the M.T.A.

On each of the corners cited by Mr. Bass, the developers could have sought development rights, known as air rights, from smaller adjacent residential buildings, Mr. Bass said. He said taller apartment buildings would have been more in character with a residential neighborhood and would have helped fill a need for moderately priced housing. In addition, the M.T.A. could have had the developers share in the cost of the subway structures, Mr. Bass said.

“It seems that the M.T.A. missed an opportunity to play in the real estate game in a way that would have been a win-win-win,” Mr. Bass said. “This could have provided the M.T.A. with a more cost-effective facility, a more urbanistically appropriate structure for the surrounding community, and an opportunity to create more housing in partnership with developers.”

Citing the pending lawsuit filed by the 69th Street co-op, M.T.A. officials were unwilling to be interviewed. But they did agree to answer written questions by e-mail. They said they would not release cost estimates for the ancillary buildings until they had hired the contractors. Nor would they say how much they had paid for the building sites.

Kevin Ortiz, an M.T.A. spokesman, said by e-mail that the agency had worked with developers on both the 97th Street site, where the Century Lumber Corporation once stood, and on 72nd Street, the longtime home of Falk Drug and Surgical Supplies. Plans for 72nd Street, where the site measures 75 feet by 75 feet, were scuttled because “in order for a development to work, additional property would have had to be acquired, which we couldn’t justify as a transportation use,” he said.

On 97th Street, “M.T.A. Real Estate worked very long and hard to make it work, but in the end the developer lost interest,” he said.

In a subsequent e-mail, Aaron Donovan, another M.T.A. spokesman, said the developers that the agency had consulted owned the sites. Mr. Donovan said the agency had not issued requests for proposals from developers “because we didn’t own the properties,” which were acquired through eminent domain.

According to the M.T.A., only the 97th Street site, which measures 100 feet by 125 feet, is large enough to accommodate a residential development. The M.T.A. also would not say why it did not consult a second developer for that site.

Several developers, architects and engineers took issue with the M.T.A. and said the agency should have sought to work with private developers. “It does sound like a missed opportunity,” said Douglas Durst, who developed the Bank of America building at One Bryant Park. The 69th Street site, at 50 feet by 80 feet, “is a little tight,” he said, “but the others are the perfect size for residential.”

Some real estate specialists said the transit agency could have found a model in an agreement struck in connection with the extension of the No. 7 subway line on the far West Side of Manhattan.

On a large site at 26th Street and 11th Avenue owned by the Moinian Group, the M.T.A. plans to build a seven-story ancillary structure for that line. The building was designed so Moinian Group could eventually build a residential tower that would incorporate the M.T.A. building, said Oskar Brecher, director of development for Moinian.

“It was a very complicated process that required a great deal of time,” Mr. Brecher said. “The midwife was the Hudson Yards Development Corporation,” he added, referring to the city agency overseeing the development of the area.

Around the country, public officials have worked with the private sector to encourage development along new mass transit lines to increase ridership. Of course, no one thinks the Second Avenue subway will lack riders.

But transit-oriented developments can also be used to defray construction costs. Julia Vitullo-Martin, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Regional Plan Association, said the M.T.A. typically had not engaged in strategic thinking when it came to its real estate. “The M.T.A. does not think of its real estate as either an investment opportunity or a development opportunity,” she said.

For Civitas, a civic group representing the Upper East Side and East Harlem, the critical issue is how the buildings, to be made of terra cotta tile, glass and granite, will affect street life along Second Avenue. The local community board has yet to take a formal position on the ancillary buildings.

“Certainly, the design of these structures could be improved,” said Hunter Armstrong, the executive director. “Having large blank industrial buildings inserted into a lively streetscape will diminish the activity and appeal of Second Avenue,” he said. Civitas persuaded the M.T.A. to include retail spaces in two of the sites — 360 square feet at 69th Street and 240 square feet at 72nd Street.

Mr. Ortiz said the M.T.A. chose this style so that the public would recognize the buildings as industrial. He said the structures were not intended to be “starchitecture” but would be “respectful of their immediate surroundings.” The building materials “need to be robust,” he said, “as they will receive only very minimal maintenance attention.”

The M.T.A. did not always intend to make the buildings look industrial. In the final environmental impact statement, completed in 2004, it said they “could be designed to appear like a neighborhood row house in height, scale, materials and colors.”

The M.T.A.’s decision to build industrial rather than brownstonelike buildings was cited in a federal lawsuit filed in January against the Federal Transit Administration and the M.T.A. by a cooperative apartment building, 233 East 69th Street. Residents say that, as now conceived, the auxiliary building would be so close to their building that 32 windows facing east would be blocked. They also contend that the building “would be totally out of harmony” with the neighborhood.

At a conference on April 14, the M.T.A. argued that its building would blend in with the surroundings, but Judge William H. Pauley III of Federal District Court in Manhattan disagreed. “You’re asking me to suspend my common sense,” he said.

The M.T.A. had no comment on the lawsuit, which is still in its early stages.