Developers unveil first project under mandatory housing proposal
The first real estate project to utilize Mayor Bill de Blasio's mandatory housing proposal since it was unveiled last summer has begun the official city approval process, even though the policy is not yet final.
Developers want to tear down a two-story parking lot and U-Haul rental space on a one-acre plot in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and rezone the land to allow for a 23-story building. When complete, the structure would house 335 apartments, locally based shops and a community facility.
In exchange for the rezoning, the builders said they would set aside 30 percent of the apartments for residents making an average of 80 percent of the area median income, or $62,150 for a family of three.
That formula is one of three options de Blasio laid out in his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal. The new policy, intended to create more below-market-rate housing, cannot take effect unless the City Council approves it.
Nevertheless, Edwin Marshall, a planner in the Department of City Planning's Manhattan office, presented the project on behalf of Washington Square Partners and Acadia Realty Trust at a meeting of the City Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon.
Marshall said if the builders were to use the existing policy that allows them to voluntarily create more low-income apartments in exchange for a rezoning, the project on Sherman Avenue would set aside only 20 percent of its units for those making 80 percent of the AMI. In addition, the voluntary program allows for tenants making no more than 80 percent, while the mandatory proposal requires builders to reach an average — meaning some could earn more as long as others earn less than that target.
Carl Weisbrod, who serves as both chairman of the commission and the city's planning commissioner, reminded Marshall that it is up to the administration and City Council which income options developers must adhere to for each project.
Anna Levin, a member of the commission, questioned the dramatic change in height the builders are proposing.
Marshall said the developers want to "provide as much affordable housing as they possibly can."
"It's clear that we're in an environment where property owners and the mayor's office are trying to get as much affordable as possible," Levin replied.
Marshall said the local city councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez, has indicated he is more concerned about low-income housing than the height of the proposed building.
Joseph Douek, another commission member, asked Marshall what would happen if the Council does not approve the mayor's proposed policy change. Marshall indicated the developer would instead seek to utilize the existing voluntary program.
The planning commission will vote on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing early next month. The Council then has 50 days to review and vote on the proposal.
Agency officials also presented a series of changes to the two-pronged zoning proposal — the mandatory housing policy and another known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability.
The changes include a lengthened review for long-term care facilities, which, under an earlier version, could bypass residential zoning regulations in certain areas if they got through a shorter approval process.
The agency also recommended strengthening the role of the city's housing agency in testifying against developers who would seek a special permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to circumvent the additional low-income housing requirements. The city officials would try to ensure all programs for below-market-rate housing, including city subsidies, are explored before the BSA issues a special permit.
And in two types of residential districts, permitted heights for low- to middle-income developments on narrow streets would be reduced.