Preservation Issues

Focus on “Supertalls” at Planning and Preservation Panel Discussion

June 15, 2017

The third and final panel on “Planning, Preservation and Community Participation,” elicited calls for earlier community notification of proposed developments, recognition that different areas of the City have different opinions about development, an expansion of citizen “rights,” such as a right to sunlight and a call to look at the broad impacts of “supertalls,” not just the aesthetics of any one building.

More than 90 people filled the Mechanics and Tradesmen’s Library June 15 to hear architect and critic Michael Sorkin, former City Council Land Use Director Gail Benjamin, former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster and architect and Community Board 6 member Terrence O’Neal.

O’Neal suggested the possibility of a moratorium on new “supertalls” till residents and community boards had the opportunity to discuss greater input with City Planning. He also called for community boards throughout the City to develop common approaches to reviewing developments. But O’Neal did not call for eliminating “as of right” development. Instead, he said it encouraged developers to build in the City, bringing new designs and a greater tax base which helped everyone.

Both Lancaster and Benjamin said they thought possible modifications of “as of right” were more practical. Lancaster said automatic public review if a building wanted to pass a certain height was one avenue. Benjamin thought looking at density might be another approach.

Sorkin said the issue of “supertalls” surpassed aesthetics. “What are they doing to income inequality, affordable housing, and density,“ he suggested, “and why shouldn’t citizen rights, like the right to sunlight, be protected by law.”

When an audience member asked about the power of the Real Estate Board of New York, REBNY, both Benjamin and O’Neal suggested speaking with various REBNY members and starting a dialogue.

All the panelists agreed that while achieving modifications to the current zoning would be difficult, it was important for people to show that voters care deeply about public input and to press for changes.

The goal of the panels was to develop practical suggestions to improve the land use and zoning process. The Conservancy is weighing several of the ideas developed by all three panels and will be working with colleague groups on an agenda and campaign.

Planning, Preservation and Community Participation Panel Discussion # 3 from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.