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Plan for Long Island City: A Framework for Development cover Plan for Long Island City: A Framework for Development, zoning and capital investment proposals to guide new industrial, residential and commercial development, 1993. ($6.00)
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Executive Summary

The Plan for Long Island City: A Framework for Development sets forth a vision for Long Island City--to be implemented through zoning changes and capital investments in mass transit, streets and parks--to guide new industrial, residential and commercial development in the area well into the 21st century. This vision includes:

  • A vibrant, 24-hour pedestrian-oriented Central Business District with development capacity for 20 million square of new housing, offices, shops and community facilities--the city's fourth CBD.
  • New, moderate-density housing and retail businesses in the Hunter's Point mixed-use community.
  • A busy industrial center--the city's largest industrial neighborhood outside of the Manhattan CBD.
  • New public parks and economically integrated housing along three miles of the East River waterfront.

Long Island City, located within a five-minute subway ride of Manhattan's Grand Central Station, has a superior combination of locational, economic and cultural resources which provide the base on which this vision can be achieved:

  • The Sunnyside Yard--150 acres of below-grade railroad tracks and vacant land--used by all of the region's commuter railroads except Metro-North. The yard offers an opportunity for New York City to move to the forefront of transportation planning through the creation of a new intermodal station for AMTRAK, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Metro North commuter railroad service, connected to two nearby subway stations and the Queens Plaza station for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's proposed automated light rail airport service. Originally proposed in the Regional Plan Association's 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs as a means to relieve overcrowding in Manhattan, the new intermodal station would add capacity to the region's transportation network, thereby strengthening New York City's national and international competitive advantage.

  • A Diverse Industrial Base, of approximately 50,000 industrial jobs and 1,800 industrial businesses. Several factors contribute to Long Island City's attractiveness as an industrial center: a large stock of well-maintained 20,000- to 50,000-square foot one- and two-story industrial buildings; excellent access to the regional and national highway and rail freight networks; and proximity to the Manhattan CBD.

  • The Hunter's Point Mixed-Use Community, a traditional neighborhood for some 4,000 residents and 400 businesses. Hunter's Point also features a small, but thriving artist community and the only historic district in Queens. The community is served by four subway lines and a variety of community-oriented services, including three churches, an art institute, a public library, police and fire stations, three small parks and a community garden.

  • An Underused Waterfront of approximately 100 acres, extending three miles up the east bank of the East River, from Newtown Creek to Queensbridge Park. Two New York City landmarks are located near the north end: the Queensboro Bridge and the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Works Building. The Hunter's Point Waterfront Project and the East River Tennis Club project, two redevelopment projects with a combined capacity for over 7,000 apartments and 18 acres of public park land, were recently approved but are not yet under construction.

  • An Emerging Commercial Center, the most visible example of which is the 1.25 million square foot 49-story green metal and glass Citibank tower at Court Square. There is also capacity for an additional 1.8 million square feet of office space on two adjacent blocks.

Although Long Island City is best known as an active industrial center, it has also been a focus for commercial and residential development proposals dating back to 1929, when the Regional PlanAssociation proposed a new rail terminal for the Sunnyside Yard with a single, high-rise office tower over the terminal. The recommendation was never pursued. The city's commitment to redeveloping portions of Long Island City was formed in the early 1980's, when a new economic development strategy was adopted to retain the "back office" jobs of the financial and other service sector industries. These industries were beginning to move their back office functions out of Manhattan to lower-cost locations in New Jersey, Connecticut or upstate New York. The city's strategy focused on attracting back office jobs to the boroughs other than Manhattan, where there was a greater variety of less expensive, large development sites that could accommodate the large floor plate requirements of back office users. A number of economic development incentives were created for the boroughs other than Manhattan (and the portion of Manhattan north of 96th Street)--chiefly tax incentives and energy rate reductions--to make the other boroughs more competitive with the region. Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn, each within five minutes by subway of Midtown and Lower Manhattan respectively, were recognized as two areas appropriate for new development. Since then, a number of publicly- and privately-sponsored redevelopment projects have been approved for Long Island City.

The Framework study area includes 665 acres of land located generally between the East River, Queens Plaza, 39th Street and Newtown Creek. The analyses and recommendations are organized around the four planning goals for Long Island City:

  • Redevelopment of the Court Square and Queens Plaza areas for new Central Business District uses, including offices, shops, housing and parks.

  • Improved infrastructure and economic development initiatives for increased industrial activity.

  • An enriched mix of residential, commercial and industrial activity in the Hunter's Point mixed-use community.

  • Redevelopment of the waterfront for housing, retail, parks and other uses that would attract people to the waterfront.

A summary of the plan's principal recommendations follows.

Central Business District
The Central Business District is envisioned as a well-defined, pedestrian-oriented, high-density, 24-hour urban center, consisting of a 36-block triangular area along the Sunnyside Yard from Court Square to Queens Plaza. Subway stations are located at each point of the triangle, and pedestrians can walk from one end of the CBD to the other within 10 or 15 minutes. The Citibank building, located at the southwestern point of the CBD, establishes a focus for new development; the 60- to 95-foot tall loft buildings that surround it provide a context for the design of new office and residential buildings.

A multi-phase plan for zoning map and text amendments is proposed to allow for 20 million square feet of office, retail, residential and community facility uses in the CBD. Phase I would rezone eight blocks from Court Square to Queens Plaza, creating development capacity for up to 7.0 million square feet of new commercial and residential space, in addition to the 1.25 million square foot Citibank building and the 1.8 million square feet of development capacity on two blocks adjacent to Citibank. Subsequent phases of the proposed CBD rezoning would include the blocks along the Sunnyside Yard between Orchard and Davis streets and the blocks on or near Queens Plaza between 23rd Street, 41st and 43rd avenues and Northern Boulevard.

The Phase I development would reinforce the burgeoning activity at Court Square, create a strong presence at the Queens Plaza/Jackson Avenue intersection--a principal entry point to the CBD--and strengthen Jackson Avenue between the Court Square and Queens Plaza subway nodes. The Court Square Sub-district would be extended to the Phase I blocks. Mandatory lot improvementsin the form of new open spaces and subway improvements would be required of all new development, similar to the requirements for the Citibank development. Other elements of the special district would include mandatory ground floor retail uses and building articulation.

The proposed CBD is recommended in part because of its excellent subway access and the potential for additional regional commuter rail service. High-density CBDs must rely on mass transit instead of private vehicles for commutation. Therefore, parking regulations similar to those in effect in Manhattan Community Boards 1-8 are recommended for the entire Framework study area. Off-street parking would no longer be required for any new development. Accessory parking facilities for commercial and industrial businesses would be restricted to a small number of spaces. To accommodate residents, accessory parking for housing would be permitted for up to 100 percent of the units. Public parking facilities would be allowed in the CBD by authorization of the City Planning Commission.

Increased mass transit capacity and an improved street system will be required to accommodate new workers and residents. The Department of City Planning, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Queens Borough President's office are working together to identify short- and long-term recommendations for new mass transit and roadway investments, including the possibility of a Sunnyside Yard intermodal station.

Hunter's Point Mixed-Use Community
The Hunter's Point Mixed-Use Community is home for approximately 4,500 residents and 400 businesses, located in the southwestern corner of Long Island City. Residents have lived side-by-side with industrial and commercial businesses since the 1860's, when the area developed around several railroad and ferry terminals used by Manhattan-bound commuters. The historical mixed-use pattern of development continues today. In the early 1980's, the area's zoning was changed from a heavy manufacturing zoning district to a special mixed-use zoning district that allowed the existing mix of uses to continue. Since the district was adopted, however, the limited housing stock has begun to erode. Over the past five years, several homes and apartments have been converted from residential to office or retail use. The special district regulations also restrict the location of new residential development and allow for building forms that are out of scale with the existing community.

Changes are proposed to the special district to better reflect the scale and character of the community and to insure an appropriate balance between residential and other uses. Moderate-density residential contextual zoning districts would replace the current low-density infill residential regulations. The restrictions on new residential development would be eliminated for zoning lots along the community's four "Main Streets": Vernon Boulevard, Jackson Avenue, 21st Street and 44th Drive. Capacity would be created for up to 460 units of housing on these four streets, and ground floor commercial or community facility uses would be mandatory for all new development. Vernon Boulevard, Jackson Avenue and 21st Street already function as retail strips in the community. New mixed-use development, which is currently not allowed, would strengthen the character of these streets. New mixed-use development would also improve the pedestrian character of 44th Drive, the primary link between the proposed CBD and the waterfront.

The remaining portion of the mixed-use community is occupied largely with light industrial businesses, small homes and tenement buildings. Here, restrictions on the enlargements of houses would be eliminated, allowing for increased investments in housing.

Industrial Areas
Long Island City is a unique industrial area because it is the only industrial area outside of Manhattan that meets the locational criteria of many industrial (and non-industrial) businesses andalso has development sites that are approved or recommended for up to 35 million square feet of new residential and commercial development. Over three million square feet of commercial space already exists, 11.9 million square feet of commercial and residential space is approved and 20 million square feet is recommended in this report. While new commercial and residential development is not inherently incompatible with industrial activity, new initiatives are necessary to insure that development does not adversely affect industrial activity in Long Island City in the form of increased property tax assessments, increased traffic congestion and complaints about trucks and other nuisances.

The three most consistently industrial areas of the Framework study area are the Hunter's Point Industrial Core, a 29-block area between the waterfront and the proposed CBD; Newtown Creek, a 15-block area between the Hunter's Point Mixed Use Community and Newtown Creek; and Sunnyside Yard East, a 49-block area between the Sunnyside Yard and 39th Street, the eastern boundary of the study area. These areas account for 56 percent of the total number of industrial jobs in the Framework study area. One percent of the land in these areas is vacant, and between five and six percent of the land is occupied with completely vacant industrial buildings.

A two-part strategy is proposed to reinforce Long Island City's role as an industrial center. The Hunter's Point Industrial Core, Newtown Creek and Sunnyside Yard East will remain zoned for manufacturing use, although a light manufacturing zoning district is proposed to replace the heavy manufacturing zoning district mapped over the majority of these areas. The proposed low-density M1-4 district would better reflect the changing character of the area's industrial businesses from noxious uses with open storage to enclosed, "cleaner" uses. Retaining low-density manufacturing zoning districts in the industrial areas is essential to reinforcing the land use plan for Long Island City, which seeks to preserve the majority of Long Island City for continued industrial activity, while directing non-industrial development to the waterfront and the proposed CBD. When combined with the Hunter's Point mixed-use community, 71 percent of the Framework study area will remain zoned for manufacturing use. The low-density manufacturing zoning districts in these areas would reduce the potential for higher-density non-industrial development, thereby protecting the area's supply of industrial buildings. A series of recommendations were also developed in consultation with the Long Island City Business Development Corporation ("LICBDC") and Community Board 2 to begin to improve the area's infrastructure and to provide better outreach and marketing of the city's economic development programs.

  • Better cooperation between the LICBDC and Community Board 2. Community Board 2 holds monthly district cabinet meetings with appropriate city officials to resolve sanitation, traffic, zoning code enforcement and other issues. The Long Island City Business Development Corporation should participate with Community Board in these meetings or establish an equivalent, regularly scheduled forum with appropriate officials to improve conditions in Long Island City. The Department will continue to work with Community Board 2 and the LICBDC to identify problem areas for graffiti, litter and traffic.

  • Better cooperation between the LICBDC and Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation ("ITAC"), which assists businesses in developing alternative production and inventory solutions to improve productivity. The Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation also works with businesses to help them comply with pollution control requirements. A number of Long Island City businesses have already worked with ITAC, including Eagle Electric and Standard Motor Products, two of Long Island City's largest employers.

  • Additional capital budget funding for street reconstruction and other roadway improvements. The Department has initiated a study of truck traffic in Long Island City to identify potential solutions to congestion and loading issues resulting from narrow streets, unsignalized intersections and poorly maintained streets. The Long Island City Business Development Corporation will be a member of the Steering Committee to insure input from the local business community. The study will address short- and long-term solutions to resolvepotential circulation problems resulting from increased non-industrial development at the waterfront and the CBD.

  • Relaxed parking and loading restrictions for industrial businesses. Business in the Garment Center and the city's Department of Transportation worked together to change the loading restrictions on certain streets in the Garment Center in Manhattan. Similar changes may be appropriate in Long Island City.

Waterfront
The Framework's recommendations focus on the Northern Hunter's Point Waterfront--a 33-acre area between the East River, Queensbridge Park, Vernon Boulevard and the Anable Basin. A six-acre site at the northern waterfront was rezoned in 1991 to allow for 960 new housing units and a half-acre public waterfront esplanade. Long-term zoning changes for new housing, institutional and low-density retail uses are recommended for the remaining portion of the waterfront, with the potential for up to 3,000 new housing units.

A Waterfront Access Plan is recommended to insure a continuous waterfront esplanade from Newtown Creek on the south to Queensbridge Park in the north. Two three-acre public parks are also recommended. One park would be located on a city-owned site at the end of 44th Drive, next to a restaurant and city-owned public pier. On a direct axis with Citibank, the park would be the only waterfront park within walking distance of the proposed CBD. The second park is recommended for a privately-owned site adjacent to Queensbridge Park to allow for the expansion of the park, which is used by many Queens residents for softball and football games, and to provide a wide buffer between the Queensboro Bridge and new development.

Eventual redevelopment of the Northern Hunter's Point Waterfront holds the promise of creating a new residential community along this important waterfront. As a matter of sound planning policy, the City Planning Commission has required that other recently approved new communities be economically integrated through the provision of affordable housing units. In Shaping the City's Future, the Commission called upon the Department to develop a comprehensive inclusionary housing program to promote economic integration. The recommended new community along the Northern Hunter's Point Waterfront will be a part of any such program.

Implementation
The proposed zoning map and text amendments and public investment strategies recommended for Long Island City will strengthen the community and New York City's competitive edge. The collaborative process that helped to evolve the Framework recommendations will continue this fall when the Department of City Planning begins to implement the zoning map and text changes outlined for the industrial areas, the mixed-use community and the parking regulations proposed for much of Long Island City. The Department will also continue working closely with property owners at the waterfront and the proposed CBD to implement the zoning map and text changes recommended for these areas.


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