EDC Wants 500 Parking Spots at Long-Awaited Lower East Side Development

A rendering of the kind of development possible under the Economic Development Corporation's plans for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. EDC calls for 500 parking spaces at the site: more than the zoning code allows.

The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, is the largest undeveloped, city-owned area south of 96th Street. Located along the south side of Delancey Street at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, SPURA currently consists of five empty lots, the leftovers of a 1967 slum clearance project. Though mid-century towers-in-a-park style housing was built elsewhere on the site, these lots have remained vacant since the tenements were torn down 45 years ago, displacing a population that was two-thirds black and Hispanic.

Since the 1960s, one proposal after another has been floated for the SPURA site, only to fall victim to the complicated politics of development in an economically-divided neighborhood that has grappled with the challenges of both disinvestment and gentrification — and which happens to be represented by powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Parking remains the only use of the lots.

Now, however, the potential for progress appears closer than ever. A plan from the city Economic Development Corporation [PDF], based on principles put forward by Community Board 3 [PDF], is moving through the city’s land use review process, as outlined in this very helpful post from The Lo-Down. CB 3 will vote on the plan, which differs in certain ways from what it proposed, Wednesday night. The borough president will also weigh in before the City Planning Commission and the City Council take binding votes.

It’s exciting to see anything moving forward on the site, and there’s much to like about this proposal for a major mixed-use development. EDC would build 900 new units of housing, half of which would be designated affordable housing. Another 660,000 square feet would be used for retail, offices and community facilities. Unlike the urban renewal projects nearby, these buildings would engage the pedestrian realm with active ground floor uses and a continuous street wall.

But on one issue, at least, EDC’s plan for SPURA goes awry: parking. The agency is requesting special permits allowing the construction of 500 parking spaces, all underground. That total is higher than what is allowed under the city’s zoning code and higher than what was requested by the community board.

Building additional automobile storage would inevitably mean more cars on the already-deadly Delancey Street and more congestion on the already-clogged Williamsburg Bridge. At the same time, four subway lines meet at the corner of Essex and Delancey, offering ample transit access to the site.

Currently, there are around 400 public surface parking spaces on the site, according to the Lo-Down (there is also a smaller amount of parking set aside for trucks). CB 3, for its part, asked only for the new project to replace the spaces for private cars and not the spaces for commercial vehicles and trucks.

The city’s zoning code would allow even fewer parking spaces on the site. Under Manhattan’s parking maximums, no more than one parking space is allowed for every 4,000 square feet of commercial space or five residential units. Under those ratios, parking at the proposed SPURA project would be capped at 345 parking spaces.

EDC argues that the agency needs to both replace the existing parking and provide additional spaces for those using the new development. “The ULURP application meets the Community Board’s guidelines for replacement parking below ground while allowing for some additional parking to meet a portion of the demand expected by the new development,” said EDC spokesperson Kyle Sklerov. The 100 additional spaces are less than the new demand for parking spaces pseudo-scientifically predicted by the project’s environmental impact statement, and Sklerov would not say how EDC determined that was the correct number of new spaces to provide, nor did any official EDC documents about SPURA.

EDC has argued in the past that it should replace all the parking that previously existed on a development site and then build any parking it predicts will be necessary for the new growth on top of that (see, for example, Flushing Commons in Queens). That logic ought to be thrown right in the dustbin.

First, it represents a one-way ratchet toward car-dependency. If the number of parking spaces in New York City can only increase, that leaves only two options: an ever-growing number of cars in the city, or acres of costly, unused garages. Neither is an attractive or sustainable future.

Second, EDC’s desire to replace all parking spaces represents a unique double-standard for development. Imagine a developer knocking down a three-story rowhouse to build apartments in an area where the zoning caps heights at ten stories. The developer wouldn’t get to build a 13-story building to replace the lost housing. Why are the zoning code’s limits on parking treated so differently than its limits on housing?

  • HamTech87

    More parking insanity from a government agency.  Something tells me EDC’s top officials all drive around a lot.

    Any traffic engineer will tell you that the more cars you try to insert onto an arterial (Delancey Street), the more dangerous it becomes.  

  • anon

    What is with EDC’s obsession with parking?  They are supposed to further economic development, not to get into transportation policy to the point of making the most anti-urban mode the most sacrosant.

  • XO

    Whoever does transportation demand for EDC seems like they’re in a 1977 time warp.  Probably the same person who estimated demand for the new Yankee Stadium garages.  Nice job guys!   

  • Maybe the solution is to agree to build the spaces and then design parking structures as space easily converted to a better use and loaded as the last phase of the project so that it can easily be neglected and forgotten. 

  • Mark Walker

    Time to clean house at EDC.

  • fj

    Underground no less; purely delusional.  What part of climate change don’t they understand?

    Too much has been built underground in recent years already despite climate change predictions and it’s estimated that the cost will be from $9 billion to $15 billion just to harden the NYC subway system for the anticipated increased frequency of very powerful storms and surges.

    It would be wise to talk to an expert on climate change and New York City:  scientist Klaus Jacob at Columbia’s Lamont Doherty.

    http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/user/jacob

    It would be absolutely stupid to allow this to be built for cars underground in New York City.

  • vnm

    Paradoxically, if the tenements had never been torn down in the first place, they would be some of the most valuable real estate on the planet right now. They’d be part of a community with 24-hour activity, diversity of uses, and quaint little shops — all stemming from a walkable community with less traffic.

  • Miles Bader

    Instead, how about zero?  That’s a nice round number…

  • Anonymous

    Tons of parking spaces at a development in an urban center…. who would have guessed that theres government money pouring in? Thanks EDC.

  • Andrew

    How does Seth Pinsky get to work? If he drives, does he have a parking placard?

  • Urban Planner

    Completely insane. Does Amanda Burden actually show up to work at the Dept. of City Planning or does she just do interviews in documentary films like “Urbanized?” 

  • Reluctant Streetsblog Reader

    Hmm.. He says “..If the
    number of parking spaces in New York City can only increase, that leaves
    only two options: an ever-growing number of cars in the city, or acres
    of costly, unused garages.” 
    But really people — what’s wrong with more cars? Car = freedom.

  • Larry Littlefield

    So, is EDC driving this train, or “the community?”  In particular, the community of people who park on the street, and see new housing units without their own off street parking as more competition for a scarce resource.  This is Sheldon Silver land, after all.  And this is a site where everyone organized group seems to have a veto.

    “If the number of parking spaces in New York City can only increase, that leaves only two options: an ever-growing number of cars in the city, or acres of costly, unused garages.” 

    Perhaps it will take a whole generation of pols and “civic leaders” dying off, or a whole slew of “costly, unused garages” for perceptions to change.  The idea that new housing generates drivers regardless of parking is right there in the rules for a legally defensible EIS.  And if it wasn’t for the costly, unused garages at Yankee Stadium and East River Plaza, there would be zero chance of anyone taking this argument seriously.

    Politics lags markets, particularly in places where there aren’t real elections (except for Mayor) like NYC.

  • KillMoto

    Remove all parking limits, both maximums and minimums.  Instead, tax all parking spots at $1000 per spot per year, adjusted upwards for wealthy developments.  

    Market forces will make them disappear.

  • HamTech87

    What’s so frustrating here is that after the Yankee Stadium parking lot debacle, there is zero accountability at EDC and DCP.  The point @202af6469ed62e6ed5eb1ca86e9b1d1f:disqus makes is right-on: when will Burden say that her vote for these garages was completely wrong, and that parking is a bad idea in dense places with great transit and dangerous roads?  When will Pinsky realize that he doesn’t live in Kansas?

  • KillMoto

    @9cdd87407bb9eca4767ff2620fce19fa:disqus “cars == freedom”?  Never ridden a bike past all the stopped cars on a gridlocked street eh?  Never spent 10 minutes driving to an event only to spend another 15 trolling for a spot?  You can easily afford to throw away the estimated $9000 per year it costs to own a car?  

    Also, cars (well, drivers of cars) “free” more people under age 30 from their mortal coil (which is to say, “kills”) each year than any other cause.  

    No, cars != freedom.  Cars == slavery. 

  • Neil

    Few if anyone living here will use the parking spaces to commute or do local errands. It’s Manhattan. Most will use cars to go on a weekend trips or maybe a trip to the outer boroughs with transit access. Not saying that much parking should be built, but it’s not really increasing car dependency. Having parking means you have the option of driving occasionally, not that you’d drive all the time.

  • Andrew

    @639cf621dca4fbae76d410bf115fc5da:disqus They haven’t invented car rentals yet?

    I don’t have a problem with the private sector providing parking to the extent that there is demand.

    I have a serious problem with EDC, an arm of the government, providing parking – especially in such massive quantities. Have we learned nothing from Yankee Stadium and East River Plaza?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “They haven’t invented car rentals yet?  Have we learned nothing from Yankee Stadium and East River Plaza?”

    I’m hoping those will be repurposed for car rentals.  Take the train there, get your car, leave the city.  One aspect of this is that rental cars are very, very expensive in NYC.  They were supposed to get cheaper after “vicarious liability” went away, but didn’t.

  • Anonymous

    http://www.nycedc.com/about-nycedc/contact-us

    I’m not an expert on land use or parking policy but I do wish that EDC would very seriously consider some of the criticisms directed at it concerning its habit of calling for significant numbers of parking spaces in NYC.  My non-expertise notwithstanding, a few things are well known:  1. for all of NYC’s transit’s struggles, NYC is nonetheless a transit rich city.  2. Most workers and residents in NYC do not have to park a car.  3. building parking induces more car travel, which brings attendant economic and enviromental harms. 
    Please forward these remarks to whoever at EDC can consider how strongly some of the public opposes EDC’s parking policies.  For one example, consider this article:  http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/05/15/edc-wants-500-parking-spots-at-long-awaited-lower-east-side-development/.  And please rethink your parking policies to help lead NYC to a more sustainable future than your current policies do.
    Thank you,David Dartley

  • Anonymous

    @ddartley – sorry, unclear as usual.  I meant to indicate that that was the note I just sent to EDC.

  • fj

    EDC would be much more compliant with forward thinking CUNY (SolarCity, SustainableCUNY, etc.) and NYC government (PlaNYC) initiatives considering net zero construction, solar, rooftop and even vertical farms, etc.

    Grange in LIC is considered the world’s largest rooftop farm last I heard.

  • David Bergman

    I tried raising the issue of very outdated concepts of parking needs at a neighborhood ULURP information meeting, but was shot down immediately. I also wrote an op-ed in local blog, Bowery Boogie, criticizing the similarly outdated thinking that says you have to have big box stores to draw consumers.
    http://www.boweryboogie.com/2012/03/op-ed-saying-no-to-big-box-in-spura/

    Both are serious flaws in the SPURA plan. The question now is how can we get CB3 or other groups to effectively require EDC to fix these flaws.

  • Cberthet

    This  violates the 1982 State Implementation Plan to settle a lawsuit brought by the EPA against the city  where parking limitations are a remedy to clean air deficiencies. 
    You ought to refresh City Planning memory and cite the HKNA successful challenge to the rezoning of Hudson Yards where eventually City Planning had to revert to a very tight control of parking supply, the highest in the city. 
    You ought to threaten to sue the city and tie up the rezoning…. 
    check details at CHEKPEDS.com

  • Streetsblog_org

    Hmmm, would the underground spots in SPURA preclude the possibility of having a “Lo-line” park? Isn’t some of the Lo line space under the SPURA lots?

  • fj

    The image is hilarious in a sick sort of way, evacuating 500 cars from subterranean parking in downtown Manhattan with a major storm on the way . . . to who knows where?

    When Global Warming Hits Home (Literally)

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/16/483019/when-global-warming-hits-home-literally/

    . . . not to mention dramatic changes in flood insurance most likely in the pipeline (pardon my pun) 

    . . .  on further thought, as hilarious as having an emergency command center in the World Trade Center.

  • bill b

    Those vacant lots are being used by a lot of trucks for over night parking. I guess they will have to over night park in Brooklyn and drive over the WillieB to get into Manhattan.
    The northside would be a good location to park .

  • 500 parking spot,that was really a huge parking space for sure a lot of people who have  vehicle surely happy to this news,In Finland they have only some several parking lot but it is running by some private parking control companies which is been doing a great job to make things smooth.

  • Anonymous

    What is most scary is that city planning is proposing a revision To the zoning that will generalize this approach and will violate the clean air act.

  • al

    If they can add clauses for:
    market rate parking pricing,
    allocate unused spots for rental/time share cars, bike parking, or underground storage units,
    repurpose unused underground space for retail/restaurants.

    , then this is fine.

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