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City-Owned Vacant Property

From: New Directions: A 197-A Plan for Manhattan Community district 11 (Revised 1999)

 

OVERVIEW
There are hundreds of vacant lots in East Harlem. Vacant land, private or public, projects a blighted neighborhood image and encourages illegal land uses, dumping and, sometimes, criminal activity. About 24.5 percent of the land in East Harlem is vacant or contains deteriorated buildings.

A report issued in 1992 by the NYC Department of City Planning, Northern East Harlem: Neighborhood Land Disposition Plan, identified 470 city-owned vacant lots north of 115th Street. In that report, DCP classified vacant property in three categories: small lots (less than 5,000 square feet), medium assemblages (between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet) and large assemblages (greater than 10,000 square feet). This plan uses these categories below to articulate concerns and outline recommendations.

A Neighborhood Land Disposition Plan was not prepared for the southern portion of the district. However, a Misland Report dated April 6, 1993, fisted 152 vacant City-owned lots south of 115th Street.

CURRENT CITY DISPOSITION POLICY
At present, the City disposes of vacant property without a comprehensive plan or disposition strategy. It appears that the City disposes of its land to achieve one goal -- to generate revenue. Opportunities to link vacant city-owned land to other developments should always be pursued. Occasionally, city-owned land is disposed of with some restrictions. However, there is no official city policy to dispose of vacant city-owned property in a manner that takes advantage of the unique characteristics of each vacant lot. Residential lots are not treated differently from commercial lots and lots adjacent to occupied residential, community facility or commercial uses and are not treated differently than isolated vacant lots, regardless of the value to the community for interim uses such as gardening, parking or spiritual outreach.

SMALL LOTS
According to DCP's Northern East Harlem: Neighborhood Land Disposition Plan in 1992 there were 53 small City-owned vacant lots above 115th Street, Many of these lots are located adjacent to owner occupied homes (including cooperatives and condominiums), community facilities and commercial uses. Small lots are not typically the lots targeted by City for housing or other development proposals. Frequently, the City targets small lots for disposition (i.e. auctions) with little or no restrictions. Many of these lots had a constructive interim use or and interim lease before the City sale, are bought by a speculator who cares little for the appearance of the property.

When lots are disposed, the City does not require that new owners clean, nor fence, nor landscape the lot after purchase, nor does the City establish a time frame to develop the lot. Without these restrictions, the property may change ownership from public to private, but the blighted condition remains unchanged.

Current sales of small lots in public auction continue the ancient cycle of buy, try to sell at a big profit. If not sold or flipped quickly, neither develop nor pay taxes, and let it go back in rem until it goes back on the auction block some years later. Only the community suffers in this monstrous process.

An adjacent home owner's program ("AHOP') was a successful program that allowed the homeowner adjacent to a vacant city-owned lot to purchase the lot from the City for business expansion or residential use. However, the City no longer pursues this program nor is there a program like AHOP for community facility sponsors and commercial owners.

MEDIUM-SIZED AND LARGE ASSEMBLAGES
According to DCP's 1992 study, there were 9 medium-sized assemblages and 22 large assemblages in East Harlem. These larger assemblages are more likely to be targeted for housing and other developments because they offer more design flexibility and development options.

A significant portion of the medium-sized and large City-owned vacant properties is situated within three Urban Renewal areas located in the northern section of East Harlem. The history of some vacant land can be traced back to the unfulfilled Urban Renewal plans, abandonment and building demolition. The majority of these sites have been laying dormant for decades as well as undergoing countless urban renewal amendments. As these sites are being considered for development, the City should consult with CB# 11 to better understand the housing, health, educational, commercial, urban design and cultural needs of the community.

VACANT PROPERTY WITHIN THE UPPER MANHATTAN EMPOWERMENT ZONE
There is a large amount of the vacant land located within the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone which represents an enormous community and economic development potential. According to a survey conducted by the Manhattan Borough President's Office in 1995*, there were 233 vacant properties totaling 1.25 million square feet in East Harlem. Of those properties, 126 were privately owned, 107 City-owned. The vacant property within the Empowerment Zone, if developed, has the potential to produce thousands of jobs.

*Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone: An Inventory of Industrial & Commercially-Zoned vacant Property, (New York: 1996)


LEASING CITY-OWNED PROPERTY
Aside from disposing of property, the City also leases property under long-term and short-term arrangements. The City's leasing policy (in particular auto-related uses, green thumb gardens and lease renewals) has been constructive, yet there has been no follow-through to enforce the leasing conditions.

There are many auto related uses located within the commercial (C8) and manufacturing zones. There are also auto-related uses in residential and commercial zones that are legal non conforming and illegal uses. While this is part of an important economy, these uses produce noise, disrupt pedestrian traffic and generate fumes. Lack of enforcement of illegal uses and City-leased properties allows public nuisances to continue unabated. In some cases, the City has renewed leases to lessees who have not complied with the terms of the existing lease.

The community considers residential, commercial and certain community facilities (health, educational, cultural and institutional) as long term uses. Leasing City-owned vacant property is an appropriate interim measure as long as those uses are compatible with the surrounding area and it does not deter nor delay the long term use of the site.

Operation Green Thumb, a interim solution to City-owned property, offers a unique way for community based organizations to convert vacant lots into temporary community gardens. At least eight city-owned vacant lots have been leased through the Operation Green Thumb program. However, different organizations develop and maintain the green thumb gardens in different ways. Some organizations define and develop "gardens" in a non traditional way, others do not maintain the lots in a way that compliments the surrounding area.

The lack of maintenance and the non traditional gardens is compounded by the City's lack of monitoring the contracts and the City's practice of renewing the leases of even poorly-maintained green thumb gardens. The community believes that the green thumb gardens could be more successful if the City would provide funds to enhance the gardens with trees, perennial plants, good soil, and furniture.

SITE CONTROL and DISPOSITION
The process for site control or ULURP action must include recommendations from CB# 11.

After years of abandonment and disinvestment, the City now owns 57 occupied buildings operated by the Office of Property Management of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development ("HPD") which are not in a program, and 20 vacant buildings not yet in a program.' At the request of CB# 11, the NYC HPD is releasing the unoccupied buildings which are rapidly disposed of through the rehabilitation and sales program.

6 Per Telecon with Manhattan Planning Department, HPD, 9/10/1999.


Land disposition requests before CB 11 usually follow one of the following patterns:

A. NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development ("HPD") studies its maps and decides on a number of properties for funding in a program ahead. The HPD office informs the CB# 11 that HPD is considering certain buildings for an upcoming program and asks the Community Board to pre-approve the sites. These requests are considered by CB# 11's City Properties/Land Use Committee, which forwards a recommendation to the full Board to either accept or reject the proposed sites. HPD may issue an open Request for Proposal ("RFP") or a Request for Qualification ("RFQ").
HPD then selects the developer.

B. Other City agencies with non-housing concerns will approach the Community Board for approval of a land use request, often with a site selected. It may be agencies with programs for special services, such as, homeless housing or substance abuse. The Community Board will often specify that one of the neighborhood community-based agencies have a role in such a development project.

C. In response to a Notice of Funds Availability ("NOFA"), one or more community-based agencies may request of the Community Board a support letter for an appropriate site of City-owned property. In these cases, the Community Board will review the applicant's qualifications and either approve or disapprove the request If supported, HPD will usually give a conditional site control letter in time for the applicant's RFP submission.. The Community Board may give a support letter to more than one project sponsor for site control. Decisions for funding are made outside the Community Board.

D.. A community-based agency may approach the Community Board for a letter of support for the concept of their project, as it conforms to the 197-A Plan principles. Many agencies do not want to invest resources in preparing plans and gathering data unless the Community Board supports the concept behind their proposal. This letter of support for the concept encourages government and funding sources to take seriously the sponsoring agency's proposal and assist in the initial development.

E. CB# 11 can declare sites available for competition in advance of any government Request For Proposals or Request For Qualifications (RFP/RFQ) or NOFA. The Community Board may stagger the sites and suggest an outline of what development is desired. This action would stimulate public and private investment in compliance with the 197-A Plan principles.

F. All CB# 11 letters of support for either the project concept or site control are valid for up to one year after issuance. For renewal, the project sponsor must return, explain actions taken and reasons for renewal. Otherwise the letter of support automatically expires. If the project for which the letter was prepared chooses another applicant, the letter expires. The Community Board reserves the right to issue another letter of support for the project concept or site control to any other entity it desires before or after the one year period.

"Site control" is usually required of a project sponsor in order to acquire funding. However, the city, state and federal agencies usually do not notify CB# 11 prior to the release of a Request for Proposals and Request for Qualification in order to determine whether the proposed development adheres to the principles found in this 197-A Plan.

NEIGHBORHOOD STRATEGY RECOMMENDATIONS
The most pressing land use issue facing East Harlem is the disposition and development of vacant land. Future development must be done in a site-specific and neighborhood-sensitive manner to ensure that suitable use is made of this critical and decreasing resource. The Community and the local residents must be notified in advance of any land disposition hearing or action.

I. DISPOSITION OF VACANT CITY-OWNED LOTS

A. Small Lot Disposition With Residential Zones

1 Small lots adjacent to owner-occupied homes, including cooperatives and condominiums, should be targeted for special programs and in-fill housing.

2. Small lots adjacent to community facilities should be sold with a nonprofit restriction to support institutional development for the community.

3. Small lots adjacent to City-owned building(s) undergoing rehabilitation or planned for improvement should be incorporated with the development as ancillary recreation, parking or landscaped open space.

4. Small lots not appropriate for inclusion in any of the above recommendations should be sold with the restrictions in the contract of sale and deed that the lots must be cleaned and fenced no later than 30 days after property is purchased (dosing) and be landscaped within three months if remaining
vacant or serving as parking lots.

B. Small Lot Disposition Within Commercial Zones and Overlays

1. Small lots within commercial corridors should be sold with a mandated two year development time frame and with ground floor restrictions that promote commercial, retail and if appropriate, community facility developments. Also, the City should require in the contract of sale and the deed that new property owners dean and fence vacant lots no later than 30 days after the property is
purchased (the dosing) and be landscaped within three months if vacant or serving as a parking lot.

2. Small lots adjacent to active commercial uses should be marketed to the adjacent commercial property owners with a program similar to AHOP and with a mandatory two-year development time frame. Also, the City must require that property owners dean and fence vacant lots no later than 30 days after the property is purchased (the dosing) and be landscaped within three months if vacant or serving as a parking lot.

4. Notice readable from fifteen feet must be posted on all lots being offered for sale, stating the time and place of any disposition, or before a public hearing that may affect disposition. Such notice must be posted at least three weeks ahead, by the City if it is a public auction, or by the developer if it is a development project.

C. Medium-sized Lots Within Residential And Commercial Zones And Overlays

1 Medium-sized lots should be available now for new housing, commercial and economic development.

2. Medium-sized lots should be considered for future community needs, such as health, educational, cultural or institutional facilities and in-fill housing developments. Such developments must consider long term use, community need and building design that blends harmoniously with the surrounding
neighborhood.

3. All development plans should be sound, feasible and receive support from CB# 11. The City should then sell the land for the agreed upon development proposal. Request for qualifications and proposals should be used as a mechanism to determine the sponsor's capabilities. East Harlem's qualified
community-based organizations should be given first priority for development and preference over outside developers. Developers should have a consistent record of quality and must agree to Community Board 11's concern about local employment.

4. Notice readable from fifteen feet must be posted on all lots being offered for sale, stating the time and place of any disposition, or before a public hearing that may affect disposition. Such notice must be posted at least three weeks ahead, by the City if it is a public auction, or by the developer if it is a development project.

D. Large Lots Within Residential and Commercial Zones and Overlays

1. Large lots should be designed considering long term use, community need, and building design that blends harmoniously with the surrounding neighborhood.

2. Developers should have a consistent record of quality, and must agree to Community Board 11's concern about local employment.

3. Notice readable from fifteen feet must be posted on all lots being offered for sale, stating the time and place of any disposition, or before a public hearing that may affect disposition. Such notice must be posted at least three weeks ahead, by the City if it is a public auction, or by the developer if it is a development project.


II. LEASING OF CITY-OWNED LOTS

A. General Leasing Policy

1 Interim use of vacant land must neither deter nor delay the permanent renewal of any community development project.

2. The City must not renew a lease to an entity that has not complied with the terms of the existing lease.

B. Operation Green Thumb

1. Operation Green Thumb is only appropriate for small lots. However,

Green Thumb gardens must be monitored by the leasing agency and CB# 11 to guarantee compliance with the terms of the lease.

2. The City must not renew leases to organizations that have not complied with the terms of the Green Thumb program.

3. The City should enhance East Harlem's Green Thumb gardens by providing adequate funds for trees, plants, benches and soil.

C. Auto-related Uses

1. Parking facilities on City-owned lots must be monitored by the leasing agency to ensure that compliance with the terms of the lease are met.

2. The City must dose all parking facilities and auto-related uses in East Harlem that are operating illegally or using city land without a valid lease.

3. All City-owned vacant land that is leased for parking should be accompanied by a landscaping plan. The landscaping plan must be implemented no later than 90 days after the leased is signed.

4. If a lease for parking includes permission to make automotive repairs, "on-site" parking must provided for customers. No repairs must be permitted on the streets or sidewalks.

5. The lessee must keep sidewalks dean, remove snow and ice and use legal sanitation resources to remove automotive parts and debris.

6. The City must develop an automotive repair and recycling facility as part of a youth employment and job training venture.

III. SITE CONTROL

CB# 11's procedures regarding City land disposition as defined under the New York City Charter must be adhered to by the City in the disposition of large amount of City-owned land and buildings found in East Harlem.

2. All Federal, State and City agencies should notify CB# 11 prior to the release of an RFQ or REP-for-rehabilitation construction or changes to the current use of a building or site

3. RFQs and RFPs should comply with the recommendations principals outlined in this 197-A-Plan.

4. City agencies should announce competition for a design and funding for one or several projects, at one time or in staggered times should comply with the principles outlined in this 197-A-Plan

5. For a publicly-funded proposal, all project, applicants must secure from CB# 11 a letter of support for-site control. CB 11 letter of support have one year period; after which an applicant needs to reapply for site control. CB# 11 requests funding sources to consult with CB# 11 prior to its selection of
an applicant. Once the funding source selects the developer, all CB# 11 letters of support to other applicants not selected expire immediately.

6. In lieu of a publicly-funded proposal, a development sponsor may seek a Community Board Letter of Support for a development proposal that conforms to the planning goals and principles of this 197-A Plan. Such CB# 11 support shall expire in one year from the receipt of the support letter. CB# 11 support may be renewed for another term upon presentation of proof of substantial progress by the sponsor and funding sources.

7. Notice readable from fifteen feet must be posted on an lots or sites being offered for sale, stating the time and place of any disposition, or before a public hearing that may affect disposition. Such notice must be posted at least three weeks ahead, by the City before a public auction, or by the developer if it is a development project.

Other Sections of the 197-A Plan

Introduction
History of East Harlem
Demographic and Socioeconomic Profile
Land Use and Zoning
Housing and Urban Renewal
Economic Development
The Waterfront
Transportation and Infrastructure
Institutional and Historical Resources
CrossRoads
Non-Profits At Work In East Harlem
For Profits At Work In East Harlem
Participants

Maps (all pertain to Community Board # 11)
The maps are in Gif format. File sizes are big, but you can better see the details in the maps.

Community Board District # 11 (162K)
Population of Race and Ethnicity by Census Track (679K
Land Use (Color 579K)
Zoning Map (244K)
Major Housing Developments (329K)
Urban Renewal Areas (328K)
Empowerment Zone (630K)
Economic Developement (628K)
Public Transportation (672K)
Historic District and Landmarks (610K)
Crossroads (589K)

 

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