Borough Presidents Discuss Future Development

NYC Boroughs

In a forum hosted by Crain’s, the five borough presidents of New York City made a joint appearance last week, where they discussed their visions for future development in their respective boroughs. Four of the presidents are brand new to their office, and though they only play an advisory role in the land use review, their opinions are influential; a borough president can potentially cultivate or extinguish a project.

For Manhattan, Borough President Gale Brewer said one of the major topics is the future of Madison Square Garden. Currently, the venue sits atop Penn Station, and a strong possibility of relocating the arena exists. Aside from the Garden, Ms. Brewer noted that her office will be determining the future of an 80,000-square-foot site in East Harlem. The neighborhood has scene a recent increase in gentrification, and she suggested that the development site be used for affordable housing. The future of the South Street Seaport is also on the line, with development there expected to feature residential high-rises, affordable housing as well as retail.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams raised the sensitive topic of selling air rights in his borough, which would fund affordable housing via “land banks.” While development boomed under former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, some neighborhoods did not grow at a comparable rate. “Brooklyn must remain affordable,” said Mr. Adams. He said he will focus on continuing development on the Sandy-impacted Coney Island, which he hopes will “draw people through the borough.”

In Queens, Borough President Melinda Katz wants for public input for the planned projects at Willets Point and Flushing Meadows Park. Ms. Katz, formerly the chair of the City Council’s Land Use Committee, thinks “we need to take a little step back.”

The only returning Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx, said his focus will be on ensuring that the MTA follows through with a plan announce by Governor Cuomo that will add four new Metro-North stations in the borough. Mr. Diaz is confident that these new rail stations will encourage development in the surrounding neighborhoods.

James Oddo, Borough President of Staten Island, claims to have a similar approach of his predecessor by focusing on “smart development.” Four major projects are slated for the North Shore of the borough, which Mr. Oddo hopes will change any old, negative perceptions of Staten Island as a landfill.

One of the primary talking points was the creation of historic districts. Forum moderator Greg David, asserted that historic districts rarely build affordable apartments, but Ms. Brewer argued that historic districts actually preserve rent-regulated apartments.

In Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Greene, many property owners have difficulty affording the costs of renovation in historic districts. “Those who are making these decisions don’t understand the effect [landmarking] has on people on the ground,” said Mr. Adams.

Across the boroughs, residential vacancy remains relatively low, but real estate brokers are hopeful buyers will continue to focus on outer borough neighborhoods, specifically Brooklyn and Queens.