Preservation Issues

Planning, Preservation and Community Participation Panel Discussion


-From Left: Gale Brewer, Alex Garvin, Frank Fish, Carl Weisbrod, and Peg Breen


-From Right: Peg Breen, Carl Weisbrod, and Frank Fish

February 17, 2017

The Conservancy held the first panel in a three-part series on “Planning, Preservation and Community Participation” at the Mechanics and Tradesmen’s Library. It was a lively discussion on “supertalls,” density, neighborhood planning, public realm improvements and other hot button issues.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, former City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, Yale Professor and former City Planning Commissioner Alex Garvin and Frank Fish, founding partner BFJ Planners debated whether the City actually plans or relies on zoning, the merits of supertall buildings and why residential neighborhoods need special protection. Conservancy President Peg Breen moderated the discussion.

Weisbrod and Garvin reminded the audience that New York is a vertical city and that supertall buildings are the next step in that lineage. Brewer and Fish countered that while there may be a place for very tall buildings in the City, they did not belong in residential areas.

Fish noted that many other cities have height limits and site plan review, which looks at design, height and bulk in determining whether a proposed development fits a neighborhood. He also noted that some groups are looking at setting height limits and requiring special permits, which would trigger public review, if proposed buildings wanted to exceed them.

Brewer said she felt “pre-planning”—informing the neighborhood before plans are made or buildings proposed—was proving useful.

“This is always contentious,” Weisbrod said, adding that many people resist change. Brewer countered that neighborhoods who had spent time and effort on community planning were frustrated because the City often ignored them.

The panelists did agree that the recent Midtown East steering committee, chaired by Brewer and Councilmember Dan Garodnick, was successful in bringing together divergent groups and achieving consensus on a number of planning issues in that area.

The conversation will continue in panels scheduled for April 6 and June 15. The aim is to come away with practical suggestions for ways residents can have a greater say in how the City and their neighborhoods evolve.

Listen to the AUDIO ONLY portion of the panel discussion below.

Panel Discussion from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.