I was coming from my office in the Upper West Side, and by the time I got to the office it was already very crowded, so I stood outside with some folks and talked to them about the issue.
I couldn't help but feel flashbacks of 2008, when we were organizing to stop the Domino rezoning from happening. When Domino was first rezoned, it was done by one developer and then flipped and purchased by Two Trees.
It was a fairly novel idea then to flip a manufacturing space into luxury high rise. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
I have had so many arguments with developers and their lawyers and representatives around rezonings. Land use regulation is supposed to guide a master plan of a municipality. It is meant to be guided by a vision set by the government representing the community's best interests.. It's meant to keep incompatible uses separate and allow for economic diversity and balance.
However, because the real estate industry has controlled our city and state for so long, we have totally lost sight of what these land use laws are for.
Now, instead of following a ten-year master plan set by the state based on all of our best interests, we basically allow developers to set their sights on a piece of land, seduce the officials meant to protect it with campaign donations and other favors, and flip it one by one.
The community board is constantly awash in these requests: turn a manufacturing space into a hotel; turn a manufacturing space into office space; turn a lot that was a gas station that's too small and polluted to hold much of anything into a tower full of luxury studios.
Each time the request becomes higher and more lofty. And with no enforcement or vision for our community coming from anyone other than the power players, developers have their own way. And the worst aspect is that most of these luxury properties get out of paying taxes for decades.
For years, we’ve been effectively gaslit by our leaders: to get more affordable housing, they say, we need to build more luxury towers. We’ll carve out some “affordable” units and that will ease the change.
But the reality is that it doesn't trickle down in a meaningful way. We've seen it, and we're going to see more of it unless we work to change tax incentives, have more thoughtful leadership about what we will allow and disallow, and more thoughtful planning that thinks about a longer term future, not pleasing developers and the international elite.