|The Manhattan Institutes|
Center for Rethinking Development
Ideas that shape the citys planning, housing, and development
"Jamaica is the future of New York," says Andrew Manshel, Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development for the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC). "It has an extraordinary transportation infrastructurebut one that's underused. It has direct access to the airport, transportation to Midtown via the Long Island Railroad, and is 15 minutes from downtown Brooklyn." Yet Jamaica is astonishingly underdeveloped, which Manshel argues is in part due to outdated zoning that has held back development for decades. Indeed, much of the recent development that has occurred is governmental and has had to be exempted from industrial-only zoning in order to proceed. Obsolete zoning's dead hand is only now being lifted from large swaths of property that have remained blighted, even vacant, as much of the rest of the city has boomed.
LARGEST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE IN NEW YORK
Few neighborhoods have the transit resources of Jamaica, which hosts the Long Island Railroad and its newly renovated station, the AirTrain to JFK, and several stops along the E and F subway lines.
Yet Jamaica's public transportation is far from perfect. "Jamaica is where transit meets rubber," says GJDC president Carlisle Towery. "Jamaica doesn't really serve the northeastern quadrant of Queens, for example. You can't get here from Bayside except by car." One paradoxical result is a sense of congestion on the streets even as the area remains underdeveloped. As a result, the city's proposals for upzoning have needed to be unusually sensitive and precise so as to not upset the merchants and residents who often complain about a lack of parking.
The rezoning is intended to encourage high-density development along the transit corridors, shield the lovely residential areas beyond the downtown, and protect the strong industrial sections. "Rezoning is all about balance," says Manshel, noting that Jamaica has both the largest Twinkie factory in the East, which provides 1,000 jobs, as well as New York City's only operating dairy. Both will be safeguarded under the new zoning, and a nearby concrete plant will also be grandfathered in.
HIGHER DENSITY AND TRAFFIC
For 30 years government agencies have constructed headquarters, courts, and offices on Jamaica's vacant land to make up for the lack of private investment in the area. Over the years ever increasing numbers of government employees have chosen to drive to workand park for free on the streets of Jamaica by displaying government placards. Whole blocks are lined with placard-protected cars parked illegally, in front of hydrants, blocking driveways, impeding corners and intersections, and causing parking-induced congestion.
In his campaign to win support for his congestion pricing pilot, the Mayor should begin by cracking down immediately on the placard abuse of city agenciesstarting with the police department and its forensic lab which is housed in a converted Montgomery Ward's. As Carlisle Towery points out, garages are plentiful in Jamaicabut they are slightly more inconvenient than parking on the street in front of city buildings.
PROTECTING RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS
An absurdity of the (still functioning) 1961 zoning code is that it often fails to distinguish density between major thoroughfares and residential streets, which often leads to the underdevelopment of the former and out-of-scale development of the latter. Correcting this inconsistency has been an ongoing theme of Bloomberg administration rezonings. Thus, City Planning Director Amanda Burden announced on May 21 that public review of a parallel, protectionist rezoning of St. Albans and Hollis had begun.
SURELY A STRONG FUTURE
The rezoning will enhance and strengthen the economic revival already underway.
In addition to overcrowded schools, southeastern Queens has the ongoing problem of a high water table, which makes construction very expensive and sometimes dangerous. The Bloomberg administration says it will address all objections. The City Planning Commission has 60 days to vote on the plan, which it will almost surely approve. It then goes to the City Council, where, as usual, there is sure to be a fight. All will be resolved by mid-September.
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