Elected officials urge action against ‘Billionaires’ Row’ towers, super-tall buildings

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Joining forces with advocacy groups, several city lawmakers are urging the City Planning Department to take action on the “superscrapers” sprouting up in Midtown Manhattan.

In a July 23rd letter obtained by Crain’s New York Business, seven elected officials penned their concerns for the rising towers in residential areas to Carl Weisbrod, the head of city planning. While the Council would make any final approvals regarding re-zoning laws, the CPD could advance a plans to update a district or neighborhood.

“We write to voice our concern about the impacts of as-of-right super-tall buildings in the 57th Street corridor below Central Park and its environs,” read the letter while requesting for the City Planning Departments’ “assistance in mitigating the proliferation of these buildings.”

Authors of the letter included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — who provides an advisory opinion for all land proposals — along with City Council members Dan Garodnick, Corey Johnson and Mark Levine. Writers encouraged the CPD to consider some of the suggestions pushed by Community Board 5, including a long-term height cap and requirements of an in-depth study on how a building’s shadow could impact local parks.

Both Garodnick and Johnson’s districts encompass the district where the the majority of the buildings in questions rise — the seven super-tall, super-luxurious towers within a six-block radius just south of Central Park dubbed “Billionaires’ Row.” While the towers in question legally purchased air rights, many of their constituents oppose their height, arguing that they diminish sunlight and substantially lower foot traffic.

The towers have become so controversial that community groups have held press conferences and protests to plead with the city to spur action. In May, Community Board 5, which which spans the edge of Central Park near Columbus Circle all the way south to Union Square, attempted to impose a moratorium on towers over 600 feet. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the protest brought the support of several city council members. According to Councilman Mark Levin, who previously spoke with the New York Business Journal, the subject is an increasing concern for the City Council, as he predicted more action from his colleges in the near future.

Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/newyork/news/2015/07/29/elected-officials-urge-action-against-billionaires.html

Battle over Pier 6 luxe and affordable housing heats up

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It’s a fight for the right to stick both high-rise luxury and affordable housing smack at the front entrance to Brooklyn’s hottest park.

Both opponents and supporters of a controversial plan to build 339 units of new homes by Pier 6 at the southern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park are expected to pack St. Francis College Thursday night beginning at 6 p.m. for what is expected to be a highly contentious public hearing.

At stake is whether the Empire State Development Corp. should modify a project plan it approved in 2006 and green light the Blasio administration to move forward with planned 29-story and 15-story towers by the tony Brooklyn Heights waterfront.

The project was modified to include 117 units of affordable housing for low- to middle-income families as part of Mayor de Blasio’s plans to raise the city’s affordable housing stock.

During the meeting, reps for the city-run Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. are expected to unveil an independent study it commissioned. Sources said it will back the quasi-government agency’s claim that the 85-acre waterfront park will be in the red in 10 years – and no longer able to pay for its own maintenance – if the Pier 6 development doesn’t move forward.

The report was prepared by Barbara Denham, a renowned economist who once worked for the city’s Economic Development Corp. two decades ago during the Giuliani administration.

“The biggest reason why the Pier 6 development should go forward is to make sure the park remains open and is maintained at the same high level it is today,” David Lowin, BBPC’s vice president of real estate, told The Post.

However, Judi Francis, a longtime borough activist who has led the fight to keep housing out of the park, claims the city’s logic is flawed – especially from a business perspective.

“If they really believe it’s going to take 10 years to run out of money, then why not wait nine years and re-evaluate everything because anyone who know anything about Brooklyn real estate will tell you that the property will only get more valuable,” she said.

Maintaining the piers at the waterfront park is quite expensive, and rents and other fees collected through the new housing are expected to generate a lump sum of $116 million for the park’s operations, plus another $2.5 million annually, records show.

Francis and other opponents – which include the powerful Brooklyn Heights Association and condo owners residing a block away at the swanky One Brooklyn Bridge Park complex – are quietly hoping de Blasio’s recent bad blood with Gov. Cuomo might cause ESDC to hold off on supporting the new development. However, a state source said “it is highly unlikely” that any friction between Cuomo and de Blasio will play any role in ESDC’s decision.

Modal TriggerRegina Myer leads the battle to develop Pier 6 by Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Regina Myer leads the battle to develop Pier 6 by Brooklyn Bridge Park.Photo: Michael Sofronski

ESDC and the city under former Mayor Bloomberg had long promised to only build housing at Pier 6 as a last resort — provided the park wasn’t generating enough revenues through other residential and commercial development to pay for its maintenance.

The proposed amendment to the project plan, opponents say, wipes away a nine-year agreement that required the city to demonstrate it needs additional revenues to pay the park’s bills before it can break ground on new housing inside the green space.

Opponents also say the green space is already self-sustaining thanks to 440 luxury condos already up at One Brooklyn Bridge Park – not to mention the more than 150 other condo units, a 200-room hotel and tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space already in the construction pipeline on the park’s north end in DUMBO.

Modal Trigger
Photo: Getty Images

However, city officials and their supporters claim the amendment is needed so that affordable housing can now be part of a park project plan once vilified by opponents for allegedly catering to the rich.

“We think adding affordable housing makes the project more responsive to the needs of the city and the community,” said Lowin.

Opponents also say the new housing would overwhelm Brooklyn Heights and adjacent Cobble Hill, which are already in line to be banged with a series of other nearby large construction projects.

They include repairs to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and a planned conversion of former Long Island College Hospital into more than 800 units of condos.

BBPC last month awarded the Pier 6 project – which also includes ground-floor retail space and a 75-seat pre-kindergarten school — to developer Robert Levine, weeks after Levine donated $10,000 to the mayor’s fundraising committee. Levine is also the developer of One Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Source: http://nypost.com/2015/07/30/battle-begins-over-luxe-and-affordable-housing-plan-at-pier-6/

NYC investigates Legionnaire’s outbreak

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New York City’s Department of Health is investigating an outbreak in the Bronx of deadly Legionairre’s disease, city officials said Wednesday.

Since July 10, there have been 31 cases reported and two people have died from the ailment, caused by a bacteria known as Legionella, according to the city’s Department of Health. Legionella often is traced to plumbing systems.

City officials are “concerned” about the outbreak, health commissioner Mary Bassett said in a statement.

“We are conducting a swift investigation to determine the source of the outbreak and prevent future cases,” Bassett said.

Early detection is key, she said. Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed that.

“Thank God this is a disease that can be treated,” CBS New York quoted the mayor as saying.

Legionnaire’s causes flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, fever, chills, aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea. Cases can usually be traced to plumbing systems such as those found with whirlpool spas, hot tubs, hot water tanks and cooling towers.

City officials were investigating and testing water from cooling towers in the south Bronx area of the outbreak.

The Department of Health is asking that people with respiratory symptoms seek medical attention promptly. Those at risk are people middle-aged or older, smokers and those with lung diseases.

Legionnaire’s is a severe form of pneumonia, according to The Mayo Clinic. People can only become ill by breathing in contaminated water vapor, such as mist from faucets, showers or whirlpools.The disease is not spread by human contact.

The illness first grabbed public attention in 1976 in Philadelphia, after several men attending an American Legion state convention became sickened with a mysterious illness and died.

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/07/29/legionairres-outbreak-nyc/30860109/

NY to spend $13 million on affordable solar initiatives

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New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to spend $13 million on improve access to solar power for low- and moderate-income communities.

New York solar power.

This latest community scheme will direct $13 million toward providing affordable solar power to low and mid-income communities in NY state.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced at a clean energy event this week that it is to dedicate $13 million in funding this year to improves access to affordable solar power to communities in the state classed as low- and moderate-income.

In celebration of New York’s Shared Renewables program, Governor Andrew M Cuomo’s administration and additional state officials and community members have outlined ambitious plans to deliver equal access to solar power at affordable, bill-saving rates.

“Since we are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it is imperative that we are at the forefront of change, driving a just transition to a new energy system that benefits the most vulnerable first,” said UPROSE director Elizabeth Yeampierre.

UPROSE will work with fellow NYC-based organization Solar One to deliver the Shared Renewables project. “Our shared solar pilot project will specifically serve low-income renters with lower-cost, stable electricity. This project will provide necessary relief to Sunset Park families who are struggling to keep up with their electricity bills.”

Elana Laichena, project manager for Solar One’s Here Comes Solar program, added: “Many of the families who have the most to benefit from low-cost solar energy have historically faced barriers like not owning their home or being able to afford a loan; that’s why shared solar is such a transformative concept.”

NYSERDA’s $13 million support will comprise a series of financing incentives for rooftop solar and shared renewable projects in the state, and seeks to build on the historic NY-Sun and Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiatives that have already proven successful. New York currently has 456 MW of solar PV installed, making it one of the nation’s solar leaders.

“Record numbers of New Yorkers are harnessing sunshine to save on their energy bills, which is creating local jobs and reducing the need for traditional polluting power,” said Vote Solar northeast regional manager Sean Garren. “This new program will empower even more communities, families and businesses to participate in that great solar success story.”

Source: http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/ny-to-spend-13-million-on-affordable-solar-initiatives_100020334/#ixzz3i0OdBZHr

New York Real Estate: New Home Prices Soar

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The price per square foot of newly-constructed condos in New York jumped 32% between 2013 ($1,656 per square foot) and 2014 ($2,193 per square foot). The wealthy wanting to buy today in New York can find much better value for money in the secondary markets, particularly in Manhattan neighborhoods like Gramercy Park or Yorkville, where prices are relatively cheap compared to the freshly-built high-rise clusters erupting in midtown.

Some background: Last year, the number and dollar value of newly-developed condos that closed above $10 million more than doubled. Those 130 condos, totaling $2.6 billion, even pierced highs hit during the housing boom. No surprise, then, that more are coming online. Luxury development volume in 2015 will be 2.5 times last year’s level, claims Jonathan Miller, president of real estate appraisal company Miller Samuel, and a comparable amount of building is expected to rise in 2016. In fact, over the next five years, five Manhattan towers—like 432 Park Avenue and 220 Central Park South—are expected to fetch one-third of the $32 billion in overall new development sales, according to industry tracker CityRealty.

The market is propped up by foreign buyers. “New York City has never seen such interest from international investors and high net worth buyers,” says Douglas Elliman broker Jared Seligman. And while the dollar has strengthened 21% against other currencies in the last year, Seligman says buyers from Asia and the Middle East continue to pump their wealth into prime New York City real estate. The way these folks see it, Manhattan real estate is more stable than even liquid holdings in their home country – and, of course, it establishes a desirable safe haven for the family, should things turn hairy in their home countries. (For more about how the dollar’s strength is affecting Miami, see Penta‘s “Real Estate: Top 10 Most Overvalued Cities.”)

Still, developers are acutely attuned to the sizable inventory getting built and are reconfiguring floor plans and the mix of units to make their properties look unique — and maximize their potential sales, Seligman says. (See Penta‘s video with Seligman below, in which he explains what you need to know before buying into a new development.)  But moving around rooms might not do the trick in its entirety. “[Developers] are going to reassess how aggressive their pricing was initially,” Miller says.

 

What $6.5 Million Buys You in the Middle of Manhattan
A renovated 19th Century townhouse with seven fireplaces, a garden, and five bedrooms. But it’s more work than apartment living.

 

So while prices might show a little softening due to growing inventory, the widening gap between newly-built condos and the overall market is still today’s best hunting ground. That’s the price differential you want to arbitrage. Ten years ago, there was no difference between the price per square foot of new construction and New York City’s broader market. A gap started to develop in 2013 and today new developments are roughly 30% more expensive than the overall New York City condo market.  

In short, don’t wait around for a massive decline in the prices of new construction. It’s more likely—barring an external shock—prices for new high rises will level off as the broader market catches up. “This plays out over a number of years, rather than a quick adjustment,” says Miller.

So where are the Manhattan bargains? Park Avenue and 5th Ave. to 79th Street demand today an average $3,025 per square foot. For people secure with their good taste, that premium can easily be cut in half without any serious loss of cachet.

Consider elegant Gramercy Park, which commands a far more reasonable $1,585 a square foot, or classy Beekman/Sutton Place, where properties can be had at $1,560 a square foot. Is the Financial District’s $1,279 a square foot attractive on paper but the neighborhood still too institutional to be seriously considered for the family? Then take a fresh look at the Upper East Side’s Yorkville, soon to benefit from the Second Ave. subway getting built and an inevitable revival, which still offers up a bargain $1,267 a square foot. With quick access on and off the FDR drive, Yorkville throws in for good measure a considerable cut in the Friday night dash to the weekend cottage.

Translation: Don’t get seduced by new high-rise brochures from overpriced addresses. Value hunting is as important in real estate as it is on Wall Street.

Source: http://blogs.barrons.com/penta/2015/05/27/new-york-real-estate-new-home-prices-soar/