Councilman Introduces Bill To Rein In Shadows On Parkland

By Brendan Krisel

NEW YORK, NY — Developments rise to new heights every day in New York City, casting new shadows over the precious few green spaces that provide despite to weary urban dwellers. A new bill in the city council is seeking to reign in the darkness.

City Councilman Mark Levine — who represents parts of the Upper West Side, Harlem and Washington Heights — introduced legislation that would create an inter-agency task force to study any new development that will cast shadows over city parkland. Levine, the former chair of the council's committee on parks and recreation, noted that six new developments taller than 1,000 feet have risen on 57th Street in Midtown alone in the past few years, casting new shadows over Central Par.

"Parks and green spaces are essential pieces of our City's infrastructure and parks need sunlight to thrive," Levine said in a statement. "We want to tackle this problem before the next boom on super-tall towers attacks Central Park. They cast shadows that can be a mile or longer in the park. If it was just one, you would wait for it to pass, but there are potentially seven more and that's going to affect the ecosystem of Central Park alone."

It's not just Central Park that's contending with shadows. Parks as small as Midtown's Greenacre Park — which occupies a single lot on on East 51st street between Second and Third avenues — are fighting for light as new towers rise around it. Greenacre Park was fortunate to receive a designation on the National Register of Historic Places this year and officials have pledged to preserve the park.

But not all parks will get the same protection.

"Currently, there is no process in the zoning resolution to assess, let alone mitigate, the impact of buildings on parks and open space," Layla Law-Gisiko, Chair of the Central Park Sunshine Task Force of Manhattan Community Board Five, said in a statement. "As a result, we have seen numerous parks throughout the city plunged into shadows with no ability to protect the public's access to sunlight."

A task force to study shadows is urgently needed now that developers have a wide range of tools for expanding on as-of-right zoning including transferable development rights, zoning lot mergers, mechanical space loopholes and new building technologies, Levine said. Projects applying for discretionary approvals or permits from or receiving city funds must conduct shadow assessments, but private as-of-right construction does not need to, Levine said.

"With the number of out-of-proportion developments increasing throughout the city, it's well past time New York takes action to protect our parks," Levine said in a statement.

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Town Hall Addresses West Siders’ Commuting Nightmares

By Michael McDowell

Bus-riders, bike-riders, straphangers, pedestrians and drivers all seem to agree on one thing: it’s no picnic getting around the city these days. Those struggles took center stage at a packed transportation town hall hosted by Councilman Mark Levine at the Manhattan School of Music in Morningside Heights on Monday night.

New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, MTA Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer, and State Senator Brian Benjamin, who represents much of Upper Manhattan, were joined on stage by transit advocates Stephanie Burgos-Veras of the Riders Alliance; Hayley Richardson of TransitCenter; and Erwin Figueroa of Transportation Alternatives.

The discussion ranged from the airing of individual grievances to wide-ranging ideas about how officials should best use New York’s scarce streets and parking spaces as the city nears nine million residents.

“We’re in the midst of a crisis, folks, a transportation crisis [and] a congestion crisis,” Levine began, and sketched several proposals he argues will support mass transit and alleviate traffic.

“I am a huge proponent of congestion pricing,” Levine said, to applause. “It would generate about a billion dollars a year to shore up our mass transit, it would be a long-term stable source of revenue, and it would reduce congestion.”

Levine also recently introduced a bill that would create residential parking permits in Northern Manhattan (covering all of the borough north of 60th Street), and is a supporter of shared mobility programs like CitiBike, as well as the city’s pilot carshare program with Zipcar and Enterprise.

Another ambitious idea? Extending ferry service up the Hudson.

“We need ferry service. We’re 8 minutes from Edgewater, we have potential ferry landings up and down the Hudson River, from Dyckman Street, Riverdale, other places, and I see ferry service as a way to further reduce congestion on our streets, so that people who right now are taking their cars across the George Washington Bridge would have a green alternative.”

Commissioner Trottenberg also answered a range of questions, saying that the city is aware of the abuse of city-issued parking placards, and is looking at the introduction of residential parking permits—be careful what you wish for—the recent citywide cordoning off of bus shelters, and the addition of dedicated bus lanes to city streets.

Bus advocates in particular made their presence felt. Burgos-Veras of Riders Alliance called bus service “the ignored transit crisis in New York City,” and described a novel technology solution her organization is supporting that is meant to improve bus commute time by safely moving buses through intersections.

“What we have been calling for, on the city side, are enforced bus lanes and Transit Signal Priority [TSP], a technology in streetlights that can communicate with a bus, so as a bus approaches a light turning red, the bus can communicate with the light, which will then hold the light green so that the bus can cross.”

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Bill aims to curb supertall shadows in NYC parks

By Amy Plitt

A new bill introduced in the City Council this week calls for establishing a task force to review any properties that have the potential to cast shadows across city parks.

City Council member Mark Levine, whose district includes neighborhoods in northern Manhattan, first introduced the idea back in 2015, when many of the supertalls that have come to dominate the southern end of Central Park were little more than holes in the ground. But now, with four of those cloud-piercing buildings nearing completion (and one—220 Central Park South—that just misses supertall status by about 30 feet), the council member felt it was the right time to make protecting parks from shadows a priority.

“[In 2015] these buildings weren’t up,” Levine tells Curbed. “Now, everyone can look up in the sky and see exactly the impact on Central Park that we had feared. … The threat is no longer hypothetical.”

The towers along Central Park South do cast long shadows that reach well into the park, although according to a New York Times study from 2016, their relative skinniness means that the darkness will “pass through the park at an incredibly fast pace, like a minute hand on a clock.” But while Central Park is what initially spurred Levine to act, he sees this as a preventative measure.

“It’s really aimed at forcing a conversation about solutions, and at ensuring the city monitors this issue in a way they haven’t before,” Levine says. “There’s just no accounting for parks and sunlight in any aspect of our zoning or construction approval process.” (Indeed, searching the zoning code text brings up scant references to sunlight or shadows, and only in reference to pedestrian plazas.)

Levine’s bill calls for establishing a task force, comprising officials across various city agencies (including the Department of Buildings and HPD), that would “study the effect of shadows cast on parks under the jurisdiction 5 of the department by new or proposed building construction,” per the legislation language. There are no specifics included on how tall or big a development would need to be to qualify; instead, the bill calls for the task force to study projects that have the potential to cast shadows, and issue recommendations to the mayor (which could include proposed changes to developments).

The Municipal Art Society, which has followed what it calls the “accidental skyline” issue for several years, issued a statement to Curbed in support of the legislation. “Protecting light and air is a matter of public health and has been a planning priority since the earliest days of the skyscraper—New York’s original 1916 Zoning Resolution was largely predicated on addressing precisely this concern,” Elizabeth Goldstein, MAS’s president, said. “As New York becomes denser than ever, developing a formal understanding of the impact of shadows on our public spaces is an obvious and necessary next step. We urge Council Members to pass this bill.”

In 2015, the Real Estate Board of New York called the shadow fears “overblown,” noting that the Central Park Conservancy had not raised concerns about the proliferation of skyscrapers. At the time, the city declined to get involved in curtailing as-of-right development (we’ve reached out to City Hall regarding Levine’s current proposal, and will update with a response).

“I’m not anti-development,” Levine says. “I think the city needs to continue to build and grow. But development should take into account things like preservation of sunlight in our parks.”

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Council bill takes aim at shade cast by tall buildings

By Joe Anuta

Levine proposes task force to limit development near green spaces.

An Upper Manhattan lawmaker who wants to regulate development near parks introduced a bill Wednesday to create an interagency task force to study the effect of shade on the city's green spaces.

The issue has become controversial—especially regarding the spate of towers topping 1,000 feet along West 57th Street that cast long shadows on Central Park—and it has become the raison d'être for the Municipal Art Society and other groups.

"Other cities—including Boston, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco—have already enacted zoning ordinances that afford a measure of protection for green space," Councilman Mark Levine said. "One common measure is to apply a 'shadow budget' to development around parks, to shape development in ways that minimize shadow impact."

It's unclear whether the de Blasio administration would support the idea.

The City Council typically focuses its efforts on trimming the scope of development, but the administration has been trying to expand the supply of apartments by financing new affordable housing projects, supporting dense developments near transit hubs and rezoning neighborhoods to entice the private sector to build both market-rate and regulated units.

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City Council to Hold Hearing on Bill Meant to Help Stop Small Business Closings

By Carol Tannenhauser

On October 22nd, the City Council Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a bill intended, in its own words, “to give small businesses rights in the commercial lease-renewal negotiation process.” The hearing will take place at 1 p.m., in the Council Chambers at City Hall, and is open to the public.

The SBJSA has the dubious honor of being “the longest-pending legislation in New York City Council history,” noted The Villager. Yet, it is still as relevant — and controversial — as it was when it was first introduced in 1986, by then Council Member Ruth Messinger. The bill begins:

The Council hereby finds that the City’s small business sector remains vulnerable at a time when New York City is more dependent than ever on small businesses for job growth and revenues. The New York City commercial rental market has been negatively influenced by speculators for such an extended period of time that the interest of small businesses and job creation, and the broader general economic interest of the City, are being harmed.

An unacceptable number of established small businesses are being forced out of business solely as a result of the commercial lease renewal process. The present commercial rental market provides no means for tenants to mediate disputes between tenants and landlords to arrive at fair and reasonable lease renewal terms. The absence of legal protection for the interests of commercial tenants in the lease renewal process has unnecessarily accelerated the closing of small businesses and resulted in lost jobs, tax revenues and community instability.

It is the intent of the City Council, through this legislation, to be known as the “Small Business Jobs Survival Act,” to give small businesses rights in the commercial lease renewal process, and therefore, a measure of predictability of future costs through a two-step procedure of mediation and, if necessary, arbitration for negotiating commercial lease renewals and rentals. This process would create a fair negotiating environment, which would result in more reasonable and fair lease terms to help small businesses survive and encourage job retention and growth in the City of New York.

Upper West Side Council Member Mark Levine, a co-sponsor of the bill, acknowledged in a telephone interview that lease renewals and rents are not the only reasons small businesses close.

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Save Central Park from tall building shadows, lawmaker says

By Lisa Colangelo

With the city’s skyline growing taller by the year, a Manhattan lawmaker is reviving his efforts to get the city to study the impact of its shadows on city parkland.

City Councilman Mark Levine is set to introduce a bill on Wednesday that would create an interagency task force to make recommendations on how to prevent buildings from blocking sunlight that is vital to the parks and the people who use them.

“We want to tackle this problem before the next boom on super-tall towers attacks Central Park,” Levine told amNewYork. “They cast shadows that can be a mile or longer in the park. If it was just one, you would wait for it to pass, but there are potentially seven more and that’s going to affect the ecosystem of the park.”

Levine introduced a similar bill in 2015 and it was the subject of a City Council hearing. But the bill was never approved.

In a 2015 report, the Real Estate Board of New York called concerns over the shadows “overblown.”

But Levine said, “Now is the right time to do it because the market has slowed down some.”

Levine pointed to six towers being constructed along the 57th Street corridor in Manhattan that measure over 1,000 feet tall.

According to shadow studies by the Municipal Art Society, new luxury towers will block sunlight in some areas of the park all day long,

“Currently, there is no process in the zoning resolution to assess, let alone mitigate, the impact of buildings on parks and open space,” Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5’s Central Park Sunshine Task Force, said in a statement. “As a result, we have seen numerous parks throughout the city plunged into shadows with no ability to protect the public's access to sunlight. We need to urgently equip ourselves with better zoning tools.”

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City Postpones Bike Lane Plan On Harlem's Amsterdam Ave: Report

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — City officials are postponing the implementation of a traffic-calming plan that would add bike lanes to one of Harlem's most dangerous avenues, according to reports.

The city Department of Transportation will not make planned changes to Amsterdam Avenue between West 110th and 155th Streets because Community Board 9 will not hold a vote on the project, Streetsblog first reported. The board has refused to vote on the plan for 19 months because its transportation committee fears it will result in the slowing of traffic on the avenue, according to the report.

"Every time you say you're taking out a lane, you're slowing traffic down. I don't care what they're saying, it slows traffic down," CB 9 Transportation chair Carolyn Thompson said during a Monday night town hall, as reported by Streetsblog.

Board members are also concerned about the new street layout's possibility to increase the number of idling vehicles on the avenue and have called on a health study to be conducted before the board votes, CB9 vice chair Victor Edwards told Patch.

"The community above 125th ST. and Amsterdam Ave. is already impacted by two nycta bus depots and the North River Sewage Treatment plant," Edwards told Patch in an email. "We have called on several occasions for a health impact study prior to the implementation of this plan which has been ignored."

The city Department of Transportation has been pitching a plan to redesign the stretch since the beginning of 2017 that will add painted bike lanes, left turn bays and pedestrian safety islands to the 45-block stretch of Amsterdam Avenue. The redesign will also reduce the number of travel lanes from four to two on the two-way avenue and add loading zones to help businesses receive deliveries, according to the DOT's latest presentation of the plan.

Making the avenue narrower and adding turning bays will discourage speeding and create simpler and safer left turns for cars, according to the DOT.

Local City Councilman Mark Levine called the Amsterdam Avenue safety upgrades urgent during a September rally and said that the targeted stretch currently experiences nearly one collision per day. More than 750 people have been injured and three people have been killed in automobile collisions since 2012 on the stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, Levine said in September.

"What you're looking at here on Amsterdam Avenue is a street designed according to state-of-the-art principals from half a century ago. It's a street that is desparately need in modernization and we have learned a lot in the past half century about how to make our city streets safer and more efficient for everybody," Levine said during the September rally.

The city does not community board approval to implement projects such as the one planned for Amsterdam Avenue, but has decided to wait for a vote from Community Board 9, Streetsblog reported. With conditions in New York City getting colder, the window of opportunity to implement the plan is shrinking, according to the report.

Messages to the city Department of Transportation and City Councilman Mark Levine's office were not immediately returned. Patch will update this article when we hear back.

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Councilman Endorses West Harlem Ferry Landing

By Brendan Krisel

HARLEM, NY — A city councilman representing Harlem and the Upper West Side is calling on the city to extend ferry service to Manhattan's west side.

City Councilman Mark Levine wrote in a letter to the city Economic Development Corporation — the agency that operates city ferries — that a new ferry landing should be constructed on the West 125th Street pier. The pier re-opened in 2009 after "years of neglect" and could provide ferry service between Upper Manhattan and New Jersey as well as up and down Manhattan's west side.

The seven-minute ferry ride between West 125th Street and Edgewater, New Jersey, would bring uptown residents to jobs in Bergen County and would bring New Jerseyans to city businesses, Levine said. The councilman identified the West 39th Street Hudson Yards terminal, Inwood's Dyckman Marina and as far north as Yonkers as potential ferry destinations from West 125th Street.

"As residential and commercial growth continues up and down the west side, and with key infrastructure already in place at West 125th Street, investing in ferry service now is a sensible step to address the need for an additional transportation hub," Levine said in a statement. "As New York City embarks on a new phase of ferry expansion through the five boroughs, Northern Manhattan shouldn't be ignored again."

Levine also cited the expansion of Columbia University's Manhattanville Campus as a reason to bring ferry service to Manhattan's west side. With an influx of students, faculty and staff to the area, ferries could help relieve stresses on the already-overcrowded A and 1 train lines, Levine wrote in his letter.

The city Economic Development Corporation recently completed its 2018 Ferry Feasibility Study to determine where new ferry landings should be built throughout the five boroughs. The city recently opened two new routes servicing Soundview in the Bronx and the Lower East Side.

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Councilmember calls for NYC ferry from West Harlem to New Jersey

By Ameena Walker

Councilmember Mark Levine is calling for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to consider a feasibility study to establish a ferry service between West Harlem and New Jersey.

The EDC is in the process of finalizing its 2018 NYC Ferry feasibility study and in a letter penned to the corporation’s president, James Patchett, Levine argues that a landing at West 125th Street would “give uptown residents access to jobs in Bergen County and bring New Jersey customers to Northern Manhattan businesses. He also adds that commuters from New Jersey who drive across the George Washington Bridge, adding to traffic congestion, could opt to leave leave their vehicles at home if the ferry was an option.

“A ferry landing on the edge of West 125th Street could also provide for routes heading south as far as Wall Street through the newly developed West 39th Street Hudson Yards terminal, and north towards Inwood’s Dyckman Marina and Yonkers, NY,” said Levine in his letter.

Levine concludes his letter by stating that with Columbia University’s rapid expansion of its Manhattanville campus, investing in a new ferry landing now would be “the most sensible thing to do before the neighborhood’s 1 and A trains are stressed any further.”

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Town Hall to Cover Transportation, from Car-Sharing to Safer Amsterdam Avenue…to a West Side Ferry?

By West Sider

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents sections of the Upper West Side, West Harlem and Washington Heights, is holding a town hall meeting on Monday night covering transportation issues.

“Have questions about the new car sharing programs on our streets? Tired of long waits for packed subways and slow buses? Want to see a safer Amsterdam Avenue? My office is holding a Transportation Town Hall to talk about these issues and more with an incredible panel that includes New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, in addition to representatives from Riders Alliance, Transit Center, and Transportation Alternatives. The Town Hall will take place on Monday, October 15th at 6:30 pm at the Manhattan School of Music, 120 Claremont Avenue.”

Levine has also started advocating for a ferry on the West Side that could dock at 125th Street and offer service to and from New Jersey. “We’ve already built the pier — this is a $30 million investment to build a wonderful, modern West Harlem pier,” he told Metro NY.

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