Housing and classrooms vs. Noho zoning gridlock

BY ERIC KOBER | If New York City is to mitigate its housing shortage, local land-use regulation needs to take advantage of the early 20th-century investment in subway transit, by allowing new housing at high densities in transit-rich areas.

Simultaneously, the city needs to support the expansion of its higher-education institutions to ensure that its future labor force is equipped with the skills and education required to maintain the city’s position at the center of one of the nation’s most productive metropolitan areas.

Massive developments like 181 Mercer St., currently being constructed, above, have stayed west of Broadway due to “zoning gridlock,” the author argues.

The Noho neighborhood in Manhattan is a striking example of a failure to update land-use policy in furtherance of these priorities. The location is one of the best for transit in Manhattan, with four subway lines (B, D, F and M) serving the Broadway-Lafayette station on Houston St., another subway line (the 6) serving the connected Bleecker St. station and the Astor Place station on Lafayette St., and the R and W serving the Eighth St. station on Broadway.

The neighborhood bustles with pedestrians heading to or from home, school or work.

Noho is a primarily residential neighborhood but not a dense one.

A second interesting aspect of Noho is that New York University largely stays west of Broadway. This major university has a limited presence in Noho, though it would seem to be an ideal area for the university to expand while limiting conflicts with the dense residential neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and the East Village / Lower East Side.

The area’s peculiar zoning, combined with historic district controls, effectively keeps out many of the land uses that would, on economic rationales alone, wish to locate there, and creates incentives for other uses.

On the whole, the zoning keeps Noho underdeveloped relative to the theoretical zoning it has, and the transit infrastructure that makes it so accessible. More sensible zoning would lead to investments that would benefit both the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

Noho contains several individual city landmarks and is almost entirely within three historic districts. Noho’s architectural heritage is an important asset to the neighborhood and for the city as a whole. But this heritage need not be an impediment to the redevelopment of sites that do not contribute to the neighborhood’s historic character.

Kober is a retired New York City planner and currently a visiting scholar at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. He was a senior research scholar at the Wagner School’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management from January through August 2018. From 1986 to 2017, he was director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. The above piece is a report Kober wrote last year that has been posted on the Rudin Center’s Web site. 

 

 

23 Responses to Housing and classrooms vs. Noho zoning gridlock

  1. it should be noted that Mr. Kober, on the NYU payroll, resides in Kew Garden, Queens, a planned garden community with its own park, private walking trail and a horse-riding trail, But he opines on someone else's neighborhood as an NYU stalking horse.
    If Mr. Kolby wishes NYU to expand, why doesn't this "city planner" suggest Kew Gardens instead?

  2. NYU OUT OF THE VILLAGE NOW

    Great ideas Mr. Kober–for Kew Gardens perhaps? It’s time to spread the wealth around and make a multi-nodal city!

    It’s also time for NYU to get out of the Village–and destroy and overbuild some other neighborhood. Maybe it could share its original campus in the Bronx, restore a brownfield somewhere, or find some lovely abandoned industrial site?

  3. thank u Sean Sweeney.

    ur comments speak volumes re the possible motives of this developer’s dream planner.

    did mr kolby just wake up after a long nap?

    NYU – with help of local pols – has taken over and changed both sides of lower B’way community for the worse not the better.

    it has turned a vibrant unique NYC community into a college campus with its own busline.

    in the process, it has taken much more from long time residents and businesses than it has ever given.

    for the sake of all involved mr kolby, please direct NYU’s development ‘jones’ to another corner of the city where it could do some good.

  4. This article seeks to make a case for ever-expansion, but the question becomes where does it stop? Soho and Noho are low-density areas well fed by the transportation services mentioned. Does that mean we should promote growth for growth's sake and give up low density? I'm certain that the number of people who already use the transportation this author chooses to claim as "a striking example of a failure to update land-use policy in furtherance of these priorities [that priority being growth as a sought-after community good??]" far exceeds what the subway builders of the 1800s had in mind as maximum ridership.

  5. As a retired city planner I am amazed at Mr Kober missed one of the cardinal rules in Planning 101 that being:Planning is inclusive of zoning as a tool in effectuationg planning but zoning alone is not planning. His concentration on low density zoning as the catalyst for NYU & it’s vast expansion under its 2031 plan totally ignores the existing framework that The Village,Soho, Noho & adjoining

    Neighborhoods are an established residential community that is being overtaken by NYUs disregard community preservation. The

    City has an agency named Dept of Housing Preservation & Development where “ preservation has been ignored. We have been governed close to 15 years by 2 mayors who’s roots are Boston that have promoted extensive upzonings in density at the expense of neighborhood preservation never realizing that NEW YORK CITY IS A COLLECTION OF NEIGHBORHOODS.

    Despite John Sexton the father of NYU’s 2031expansion plan

    He ignored the impact of its singular institutional buildings & dorms on the residential character of the Village’

  6. As a retired city planner I am amazed at Mr Kober missed one of the cardinal rules in Planning 101 that being:Planning is inclusive of zoning as a tool in effectuationg planning but zoning alone is not planning. His concentration on low density zoning as the catalyst for NYU & it’s vast expansion under its 2031 plan totally ignores the existing framework that The Village,Soho, Noho & adjoining
    Neighborhoods are an established residential community that is being overtaken by NYUs disregard community preservation. The
    City has an agency named Dept of Housing Preservation & Development where “ preservation has been ignored. We have been governed close to 15 years by 2 mayors who’s roots are Boston that have promoted extensive upzonings in density at the expense of neighborhood preservation never realizing that NEW YORK CITY IS A COLLECTION OF NEIGHBORHOODS.
    Despite John Sexton the father of NYU’s 2031expansion plan
    He ignored the impact of its singular institutional buildings & dorms on the residential character of the Village’

  7. In addition to my comment above, I find it curious that this article, written a year ago, is being “planted” now at the very moment that Noho/Soho rezoning (that appears to be big-business-centric) is being fostered by City Councilmember Margaret Chin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the Department of City Planning. A coincidence?

    • Totally agree! Lincoln, what's with the year old article here. On whose behalf are you trying to manufacture outrage???

      • NYU's Mitchell Moss sent it to me! Apparently this is how some quote-unquote "stakeholders" are seeing the situation. Not sure if "stakeholder" is the right word here.

        • No, "stakeholder" is not the right word unless Kober is speaking on behalf of NYU, and if that's so, maybe you should be transparent that, and especially about Mr. Moss's participation. Clearly, there is more here than readers are being told.
          Not sure why you didn't request a current letter, a simple enough request. Unless Mr. Kober is having second thoughts about his involvement with Mr. Moss.
          Seriously, their side already has the money and the politicians, so they don't need the media, too. Please god, tell us you did get Mr. Kober's approval before publishing his words.
          Seems it would have been appropriate to let the writer know that you don't publish last year's news. Maybe "new"s is not the right word here.

          • Yes, I was in contact with Mr. Kober. I did ask him if he wanted to write a longer piece, he said he would think about that. In the meantime, we thought it would be interesting to "put it out there" regarding this position, and generate some discussion, which it seems to be doing. Obviously, it's not an endorsement of this position. But that's what opinion pages are for — to present the views on the issues.

          • Present who's views on the issue? Don't we deserve to be able to consider the source? With great "put it out there", comes great responsibility. Not mentioning the involvement of NYU's Mitchell Moss from the start is a disservice to The Villager readers. Context is everything, and in this you've failed a very good publication today. We still appreciate all you do, but it makes us wonder where else you've skirted journalistic ethics. I'm sure you don't want that and neither do we.

          • Apparently Mr. Kober is aware of the Rudin Center’s posting of his article at their website. He may not be aware of The Villager having disseminated it further. But, even of greater note (and frightening) is the title of another of Mr. Kober’s publications for Rudin: "Housing the Next Million New Yorkers Near Transit." Dare we to think that he hopes to put them all in Soho/Noho/the Village? See Mr. Kober’s postings on LinkedIn.

  8. Thanks for the photo. Gosh, that's one ugly building! I dare anyone to say that they want to live next door to that. No one will. Yikes!

    But I still don't get the "housing shortage" scheme. What are you trying to build your way out of? How many units would have to be built before everyone who wants to live in Manhattan lives in Manhattan? Would we be done building then? That will never happen. What supply point are we trying to get to? There is no good answer to the housing shortage, only bad ones.

    There will never be enough units to meet demand until something happens to make people move out. As long as crime is this low, and there's no big terrorist attack, we can't build our way out of this demand. So just stop it. Stop trying to build more units at the sake of our great architectural history.

    Soho/Noho are some of the most successful neighborhoods in Manhattan. People want to live and work there because it's not over built. Why kill that for the sake of addressing a problem that cannot be solved? Until this guy can tell us how many new units we'd need to build before everyone who wants to lives here does, and he can't, then he should focus on his own neighborhood and leave us alone. I promise to reciprocate in kind.

  9. Not sure what "ethics" are being skirted. Just thought it was interesting to add to the debate and show what some others are thinking about the issue. The hope was to spark some discussion about the rezoning issue, and yes, by association, NYU's take on it, though, admittedly, Kober is not an official spokesperson for the university. Again, this is an op-ed piece, an opinion piece. You're right, though, it's of interest to readers to know that it was pitched to us by Mitchell Moss, a well-known faculty member at NYU on urban planning issues. Was that intentionally concealed? No. We thought Kober's piece stood on its own as a think piece that would provoke some discussion on the issue, as it has.

    • I post again my earlier observation that this article, a year old, is published at just that moment when the joint neighborhoods are up in arms about proposed rezoning. Surely, The Villager is aware of the citizenry’s concern for this matter, both pro and con. It is questionable that the article’s positivity be ignored in the face of its antithetical bearing on what is _actually_ going on. These opposing positions surely must be known at the paper and should not have gone uncommented.

  10. This "rezoning" process is allegedly at its "beginning." If anyone on this thread is interested in writing a talking point on the issue, we are happy to consider it for publication.

  11. Don't shoot the messenger.

  12. It would be great if NYU would build next in Noho instead of knocking down the last remaining supermarket in the Village

    • How about if they buy buildings in NoHo and repurpose them for education instead of building new ones?

      I'm still aghast that they tore down Provincetown Playhouse when it could have been such a great recruiting tool. Seriously, what acting student wouldn't pay through their nose to tell fans and agents they that performed on the same stage as so many great now-legends? What a missed opportunity!

      While I'd love to save the supermarket and the beautiful flowers & greenery all around it, but history shows that NYU does not do the right thing. It's sad that I can't tell anyone I graduated from there. ugh.

      • For those of us that shop at that supermarket and for all of the elderly on limited incomes in the surrounding co-ops who rely on that supermarket, saving the supermarket is a bit more than an aspirational wish to save the flowers and greenery

  13. The real estate people already know what the outcome is going to be, so who's in their pocket: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sohonoho-panel-after

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