Council proposes ways to combat ‘high rent blight’

Small Business Committee Chair Council Member Robert Cornegy with a City Council attorney and Council Member Donovan Richards (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Small Business Committee Chair Council Member Robert Cornegy with a City Council attorney and Council Member Donovan Richards (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Suggestions include restrictions on chain stores, penalties for long vacancies of storefronts

By Sabina Mollot

The ongoing saga of New York City’s mom-and-pops facing extinction was the topic du jour at the City Council chambers on Friday, when a hearing was devoted to possible solutions. There were suggestions from Council members on ideas like restricting the ability of chains from opening (though this was shot down by city planners) and discussion on how to get businesses to open in neighborhoods that are currently underserved.

At the hearing, which was co-chaired by Small Business Committee Chair Robert Cornegy and Zoning and Franchise Sub-Committee Chair Council Member Donovan Richards, the Council members brought up “high rent blight,” a term coined by Columbia Professor Tim Wu to describe the warehousing of retail spaces by speculative landlords that’s led to many storefronts remaining empty for long periods.

“As Frank Sinatra once said, ‘If you make it here you can make it anywhere,’” said Cornegy, “but it seems that now real estate is so hot that even businesses who’ve made it (are closing). People have less and less interaction with bank tellers and we have banks on every block. We have commercial corridors with artificially inflated prices.”

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CB3 denies request to build higher at old Post Office site

The former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A Community Board 3 committee recently shot down a developer’s request to build higher than zoning allows at the site of the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office on East 14th Street. The board’s Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee last Wednesday unanimously voted against the zoning variance for a 12-story building. City zoning laws allow the developer to build up to eight stories at the site.

Representatives for Benenson Capital Partners, which is working on the development at the site, 432-438 East 14th Street, previously asked the committee for the variance in June. The company argued that construction costs related to the groundwater conditions made complying with affordable housing unfeasible unless the development could be built larger, the blog EVGrieve reported at the time. With the proposed change in height, the building would have 31 units of affordable housing and a total of 155 units. CB3 had asked the reps to return after the June meeting after looking into alternatives to increasing the building height.

A number of community groups spoke against the plan last week to make the development between First Avenue and Avenue A higher, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the North Avenue A Neighborhood Association, the 12th Street Block Association and the 13th Street Block Association, as well as residents of East 13th Street.
Harry Bubbins, who works with GVSHP as the East Village and special projects director, gave testimony against granting the variance because he felt it was “out of context” with the other buildings in the area.

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