Stuyvesant Town going solar

Nov9 solar rendering Stuyvesant Oval.jpg

Rendering of Stuyvesant Town as it would appear following installation of solar panels (Photo courtesy of StuyTown Property Services)

 

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday, Stuyvesant Town’s owners, Blackstone and Ivanhoé Cambridge, announced plans to install solar panels on all of the roofs in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Additionally, they said, it will be the largest private, multi-family residential solar project in the country.

The 3.8 Megawatt (DC) solar energy system will span across the property’s 22 acres of rooftops.

According to the owners, once the project is completed, StuyTown will have tripled Manhattan’s capacity to generate solar power. Renewable energy developer Onyx Renewable Partners is the project developer for the installation, which is expected to begin this winter and be completed in 2019.

The installation will consist of 9,671 high efficiency solar panels and will generate enough energy to power over 1,000 New York City apartments annually. The project is expected to offset approximately 63,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is comparable to removing 12,000 cars from the road for a year.

“We are incredibly proud of the long-term partnership we are building with the StuyTown community,” said Nadeem Meghji, head of Real Estate Americas at Blackstone. “In 2015 we made a commitment to preserve StuyTown’s unique heritage and be responsible stewards of its future. This innovative solar project is one of many initiatives we designed and implemented to make the community more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

A spokesperson for Blackstone added that there will be no major capital improvement rent increase for the project, and that early on in the new ownership, environmentally friendly projects were actually suggested by residents in response to surveys issued by management. According to the Wall Street Journal, the project will cost $10 million.

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Air rights transfer could pave way for more affordable housing: expert

Michael Greenberg

Michael Greenberg

By Sabina Mollot

Blackstone’s $5.3 billion purchase of Stuy Town also bought the firm a jumbo 700,000 square feet of air rights that could wind up being “just the tip of the iceberg” in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to preserve and build affordable housing in the city, according to one expert.

News of the air rights in Stuy Town — and new owner Blackstone’s claim over them, along with the 110-building property, was reported in the Wall Street Journal last week.

While the value of the air or development rights wasn’t clear since it depends where they’d end up, commercial real estate attorney Michael Greenberg, also founder and CEO of the Level Group brokerage firm, predicted many more similar arrangements in the future as the city looks for creative ways to get those elusive units of affordable housing.

In Stuyvesant Town, this meant preservation, and if air rights are transferred elsewhere, possibly new affordable housing.

Blackstone and its partner in the Stuy Town deal, Ivanhoe Cambridge, have gotten the city’s support to transfer the Stuy Town air rights since the owner has made a commitment not to build on the property’s open spaces or its existing structures.

“What’s unusual is that it’s rare for the city to allow it — there have been requests for them to allow the transfer to sites that are not contiguous or to other neighborhoods even,” said Greenberg.

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Residents have mixed reactions to affordability plan

Jonathan Gray listens to tenants. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Jonathan Gray listens to tenants. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

At the big announcement on Tuesday, residents who’d skipped work that morning as well as a number of retirees made up most of the crowd (along with a gaggle of reporters, photographers and cameramen).

Many seemed shocked by the news, and not all were thrilled.

One man, as he walked home along the First Avenue Loop, stopped Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to tell her she had done a beautiful job explaining the situation. However, he then added, “It doesn’t impact me because I’m market rate, so I’ll be killing myself this afternoon.”

He then walked away, as Glen responded, “Please don’t do that.”

Residents also gave Blackstone’s Jonathan Gray an earful after the press conference. When one resident asked if CompassRock would continue to maintain the complex, he asked, “What do you think of them?” The tenant then said, “Get rid of them,” before several other tenants also began descending on him with their own complaints.

A resident of 30 years who was standing nearby, Lawrence Scheyer, simply said, “I hope Blackstone will be good stewards of this property.”

Scheyer, a real estate attorney and member of Community Board Six’s Transportation Committee, said he also wondered how the tax breaks offered to the owner in exchange for preserving affordability in 5,000 units would impact funding for the MTA. “They get a fair amount of revenue from (mortgage) recording taxes,” he explained.

Rosemary Newnham, a mom of two in Peter Cooper who does some freelance medical writing, said she didn’t think the new arrangement would help her. Her husband is a doctor and she guessed they probably bring in just over $130,000 a year. But, she added, “What is middle income in Manhattan?” She guessed it was closer to $200,000, due to costs like babysitters and daycare. She added that the last articles she wrote, “I paid for because I had to hire a sitter.”

Newnham added, “My husband does important work, saving people’s lives and we barely have any money after we pay our rent.”

Her two-bedroom in Peter Cooper, where her family’s lived since 2008, rents for close to $6,000. After the “Roberts” settlement, the couple got a check for around $100, if it was even that much.

So that new deal “is not going to change our situation as far as I can see,” Newnham said.

John “Butch” Purcell, a resident of Stuy Town since 1968, seemed more optimistic about the future.

“I think it’s a great move in terms of the 20-year thing,” said Purcell, who’s retired from a career in drug treatment counseling. “I think de Blasio stepping in was a very good move. It’s a good situation. Most people are feeling relaxed although not too relaxed because we don’t know what’s coming after this, anything that’s unsaid. What’s coming down the pike we don’t know but it’s a lot better than it was.”

Marina Metalios, a 25-year resident, was also cautiously enthusiastic. Metalios is a tenant activist who also works for UHAB, an organization that helps tenants convert their buildings to affordable co-ops, among other assistance for tenants.

“I want to see the next generation have an opportunity to live here,” she said. “I have a niece and nephew born in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper and I wonder if they could stick around when they’re adults. It seems the plan for those 5,000 units to be targeted by income might create an opportunity for that. I like that, but what happens in the 20th year? Year 20 is troublesome for me. I want something that is permanently affordable or affordable for a very long time. I don’t see how this plays out after year 20.”

The Tenants Association meanwhile issued an official statement, praising the commitments made by the owner.

“After years of fighting to deliver a more stable and affordable future for our community, today we can celebrate an important success,” said Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg.

“We have eliminated the incentives that have existed for landlords to try to kick rent-stabilized tenants to the curb, and provided security for ‘Roberts’ tenants when the J-51 tax abatement expires in 2020. We welcome Blackstone and Ivanhoé Cambridge’s commitment to protecting our valued open spaces, keeping Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper as a unified whole, and endeavoring to create an environment that is most suitable for long term tenants seeking to develop roots here.

“We also strongly support the steps being taken to assist the senior population in our community. This deal is the result of years of advocacy, and we welcome the opportunity to work with Blackstone and Ivanhoé Cambridge to bring stability back to this community.”

Linda Ayache, a longtime resident, said her concern was about the students in the community or specifically frathouse antics she said she recently witnessed.

Last week, Ayache said a bunch of “young people jumped into the fountain and the women were rubbing themselves like it was a wet t-shirt contest.” Security didn’t respond right away, she said. Security itself was another issue Ayache hoped would be a priority for a new owner.

“Last night a gang of boys accosted a female at 9 Oval at 5 p.m.,” she said.