“Clever” Developers Evade New York City’s “Labyrinthine Zoning Laws”

(p. A1)  Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

. . .

(p. A20)  “It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

. . .

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Haag.  “Builders Use Ploy to Create the Luxury of Height.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A1 & A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.”)

A Tale of Two Bookstores: New York City Subsidizes Amazon and Regulates the Strand

(p. A22) Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.
With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.
Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.
There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.
Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.
So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”
Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.
“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”
. . .
Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.
“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”
. . .
Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission’s approval.
. . .
Ms. Wyden — who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell’s book store in Portland — is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.
. . .
While she would not divulge the bookstore’s finances, she said that she could make more money renting out the Strand’s five floors, but she loves the family business too much.
She accused city officials of trying to hurry the landmarking process, leaving her little time to prepare a defense, especially during the holiday rush.
“It’s our busiest time of year, and we should be focused on customers and Christmas, which is where we make our most money,” Ms. Wyden said. “But they have no sympathy for that.”

For the full story, see:
Corey Kilgannon. “‘Declaring Strand Bookstore a Landmark Would Kill It, Says Strand.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018): A22.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title “Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says.” The online version says that the New York print edition appeared on p. A20 and had the title: “A Bid to Preserve Strand Bookstore Would Destroy It, Owner Says.” The page and title in the citation I give further above, is from the National print edition that I receive.)

“New York Needs to Embrace Entrepreneurs, Not Repel Them”

(p. A15) For centuries New York has evolved. With its deep port, the city dominated U.S. trade through the late 1800s. But that wasn’t enough to employ the swarms of immigrants coming through Ellis Island. So the city transformed, creating higher-paying jobs. By 1910 some 40% of all New York workers were employed in manufacturing–the garment industry, sugar refining, publishing and even bread making. My grandfather was in the millinery business. Manufacturing lasted even through the 1960s. I remember seeing shirts made in the Empire State Building. Total employment in the city peaked in 1969.
As post-World War II technology drove transportation costs down, manufacturing moved to the suburbs (and eventually Asia). Most large American cities stagnated. But New York transformed itself again, this time into a service economy with high-paying jobs in finance, media, fashion, law, accounting and health care. It also remained home to the most important stock market in the world. Today well over 90% of New York employment is in services, according to the New York state government.
But the city has arrived at a nasty inflection point again. New York risks becoming another Detroit. New York needs to embrace entrepreneurs, not repel them.

For the full commentary, see:
Andy Kessler. “Can New York Reinvent Itself Again? It risks becoming another Detroit if it keeps repelling entrepreneurs.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 11, 2017): A15.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 10, 2017.)

New York City Wrongly Believes Destroying Ivory Saves Elephants

As I explain to my micro principles students each semester, if New York wants to save elephants, they would keep ivory on the market, increasing its supply and reducing its price, thereby reducing the incentive for poachers to kill elephants. [I first saw this argument made in the Baumol and Blinder text that I used many of years ago in my micro principles classes.]

(p. A19) A loud rumble and giant billows of dust interrupted an otherwise serene day in Central Park on Thursday as hundreds of cream-colored carvings of dragons, Buddhas and horses awaited their public execution.

Onlookers waved paper fans reading “Protect their home.” They cheered as sculptures and jewelry made from elephant tusks were carried on a conveyor belt and dropped in a pulverizer.
Brian Hackett, an animal-welfare activist from New Jersey, patiently awaited his turn to choose a carving from a table to be destroyed. For him, the mood was solemn.
“Every piece, no matter how polished, represents a beautiful animal that was slaughtered,” Mr. Hackett said.
The carvings were confiscated in recent ivory busts in New York. They once belonged on the faces of a least 100 slaughtered elephants. Nearly two tons of ivory worth about $8 million was destroyed at the “Ivory Crush” event, which was timed to precede World Elephant Day on Aug. 12 [2017].
. . .
Rachel Karr, 48, the owner of Hyde Park Antiques on the Lower East Side, who specializes in 18th-century antiques, said the ivory-crushing events upset her and other antique collectors because some of the ivory found in bona fide antiques could be 300 to 400 years old and could have religious and historic value. For example, in teapots from the 18th century, the handles were carved from ivory to protect hands from burns, because ivory does not conduct heat.
“Even with my love of nature, I simply cannot understand what good it does to destroy things that were worked on 300, 400 years ago before conservation was part of daily language,” Ms. Karr said.
“Face it, we’re the original recyclers, antique dealers,” she said. “We have no interest in using new ivory at all. We are willing to say we aren’t willing to use it to repair old ivory.”
Sam Wasser, a professor at the University of Washington who has performed forensic analysis on seized ivory for the last 13 years and analyzed the ivory that was crushed, said it was unlikely the destroyed carvings were more than 100 years old. The results are pending.
Iris Ho, who is the wildlife campaigns manager at Humane Society International, said the existing law does enough to protect antiques. The law provides exceptions for antiques that are determined to be at least 100 years old with only a small amount of ivory.

For the full story, see:
Hannah Alani. “Ivory Is Destroyed to Save Elephants.” The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): A19.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title “About $8 Million of Elephant Ivory Destroyed in Central Park.” The online version says that the article appeared on p. A21 of the New York edition. It appeared on p. A19 of my copy of the National Edition.)

When Government Mandates a Technology

(p. A20) In 2011, after a lengthy competition among automakers, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that the Nissan NV200 would become the “Taxi of Tomorrow” with most yellow cab owners required to purchase the boxy, bright yellow van. Eventually, the vehicle was expected to make up 80 percent of New York City’s fleet of over 13,000 cabs.
At the time, city officials touted the NV200’s increased leg room, USB charging ports and sunroof as amenities that would be attractive to riders who had long complained about cramped travel in less than spotless back seats.
But it turns out that tomorrow lasted only seven years.
Last week, the Taxi and Limousine Commission reversed the requirement, expanding the option for drivers beyond the Nissan NV200 to a smorgasbord of over 30 vehicles, including popular, fuel efficient models like the Toyota Camry.
. . .
. . . there are drivers like Sergio Cabrera, 60, who owns his vehicle and the expensive medallion needed to have it on the road, who said the NV200 has given him many headaches.
. . .
“There hasn’t been a worse car for the taxi industry than the NV200,” he said. “It’s not easy for older people to get into. Mechanically it’s one of the worst made cars I’ve ever owned.”
Mr. Cabrera complained that owning the Nissan has been expensive, in part because of regulations that he and other yellow cabdrivers say subjects them to more maintenance rules than drivers for ridesharing apps.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission requires yellow taxis to undergo a 200-point inspection every four months. Each time his Nissan has been inspected, Mr. Cabrera said he has had to shell out at least $1,500 in repairs in order to pass.

For the full story, see:
Tyler Blint-Welsh. “Time Is Up for ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A20.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2018, and has the title “It Was Billed as the ‘Taxi of Tomorrow.’ Tomorrow Didn’t Last Long.”)

Tusk Helped Startups Enter by Mobilizing Consumers Who Would Benefit

(p. C6) In August [2018], Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of bills capping the number of cars driving in New York City for companies like Uber and Lyft and setting minimum pay for drivers. The mayor had long wanted such restrictions, but for years Uber had successfully pushed back, thanks in large part to strategist and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk.
“The problem is not only did this happen in New York, but now it’s going to happen everywhere,” laments Mr. Tusk, who worked as a consultant for Uber Technologies from 2010 to 2015, earning equity that was eventually worth around $100 million. Under his guidance, Uber mobilized its users to lobby against the legislation and made the case that its service provided transportation to people in the outer boroughs and jobs to immigrants and minorities.
. . .
Since working for Uber, Mr. Tusk has helped other tech companies in similar political battles. As he sees it, politicians too often sacrifice their constituents’ economic interests for their own political gain. “What’s good for politician X isn’t necessarily good for the businesses in his or her district,” he says. “Without at least some people like us, innovation gets crushed by politics and corruption and that’s really bad for the economy and for society.”
. . .
After serving as campaign manager of Mr. Bloomberg’s reelection effort, in 2010 Mr. Tusk founded Tusk Strategies with the goal of running campaigns for companies and institutions rather than politicians. At the time, Walmart was looking for a way to enter markets without pushback from powerful unions. Mr. Tusk urged city councils, including New York’s, to stop blocking its entry by polling customers, launching television ads and mobilizing constituents who wanted the choice of shopping at Walmart.
Then one of Mr. Bloomberg’s former deputy mayors called him with a proposition: “There’s this guy with a small transportation startup. He’s having some regulatory problems. Would you mind talking to him?” It was Uber. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission had sent Uber a cease and desist letter, and its then-CEO Travis Kalanick needed someone who understood New York politics. Mr. Tusk mounted successful campaigns on behalf of the company in New York and other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
. . .
Does he see himself as an example of the revolving door between politics and business? “I’m absolutely using the savvy I learned in the political world–just in a different way than most,” he says. But he has no intentions of ever returning to government. “I felt like I could force more change on the system from the outside,” he says. “Not only am I not doing politics, but most of my work is making politicians crazy.”

For the full interview, see:
Alexandra Wolfe, interviewer. “”WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Bradley Tusk from Political Insider to ‘Fixer’ for Tech.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018): C6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Aug. 31, 2018, and the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; How Bradley Tusk Went from Political Insider to ‘Making Politicians Crazy’.”)

The book under discussion above, is:
Tusk, Bradley. The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics. New York: Portfolio, 2018.

New York Critic: “I Simply Don’t Care a Damn What Happens in Nebraska”

(p. C14) ‘I simply don’t care a damn what happens in Nebraska,” ranted a New York critic, “no matter who writes about it.”
Or so Willa Cather claimed. In the long leisure of the grave, the alleged scoffer may ponder how it is that a century after its September 1918 publication, Cather’s “My Ántonia,” its every page rooted in Nebraska, remains very much alive and in print–while he is neither.

For the full review, see:
Robert Garnett. “MASTERPIECE; Rooted in America’s Heartland.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018): C14.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 14, 2018.)

The book mentioned above, is:
Cather, Willa. My Antonia. New York: Collins Classics, 2019 [1st published 1918].