On what Buffalo is doing to ensure that construction keeps going after the Buffalo Billion-funded projects eventually come to an end ...
“The Buffalo Billion provided a significant additional shot in the arm for the city, but it’s not the be all and end all for development in the city. There was significant development in the city of Buffalo before the Buffalo Billion. We are working to continue development in the city of Buffalo.
“The brilliance in the way Gov. Andrew Cuomo structured the program is it brought international attention to the city of Buffalo that certainly created additional momentum. There is momentum for specifically these Buffalo Billion projects, but there’s also momentum from developers who are renovating buildings, building things new that don’t involve Buffalo Billion resources at all. So that’s what we need to do. We need to keep churning the development in the city of Buffalo. The Buffalo Billion projects are going to end at some point, but we don’t want the development that’s taking place in the city of Buffalo to end, and so we’re doing a variety of different things – like the Cars Sharing Main Street project (reopening the street to two-way traffic) – to accelerate the pace of development in Buffalo.”
Commissioner, New York City Department of Buildings
On improving safety amid an increase in construction fatalities ...
Construction across the city is at a record high. Unfortunately, this growth has brought with it an increase in construction accidents, many of which are avoidable. Even one construction-related fatality is too many, but the six so far this year under our jurisdiction – the largest number since 2008, during the last building boom – are a call to action. My department is cracking down on bad actors in the industry and taking unprecedented steps to remove problem construction professionals from job sites.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is investing $120 million over three years to bolster our enforcement and development capabilities. We will be hiring more than 100 additional inspectors in the next year. To make the best use of these resources, we are transitioning to a risk-based project review model that helps us to easily flag more complex projects for frequent enforcement inspections. We have already begun taking proactive disciplinary actions against repeat offenders, changing the mentality that violations are just the cost of doing business, and showing that the department will go after the licenses of problem construction professionals.
But the most important thing that can be done is simple: Construction professionals need to follow the New York City Construction Codes. Our code has some of the most stringent site safety standards in the country. Almost every time a department inspector shows up at a job where an accident has occurred, they discover an instance where an owner or contractor was cutting corners and not following the code. It only takes a few moments to clip into a harness, and minimal effort to install guardrails to prevent falls. These simple measures can mean the difference between life and death on a work site.
On the proposed fund to be generated by air rights transactions in a rezoned Midtown East ...
The improvement fund is intended for upgrades of vital pedestrian and transportation infrastructure, placemaking initiatives, and arts programming.
Pedestrian infrastructure could include plazas and pocket parks, as well as wayfinding designs that help people get around and create a sense of place. East Midtown tends to be disorienting for the uninitiated. Interactive wayfinding signage could highlight transit options and landmarks as well as plazas and other places of respite. Improving the experience of Midtown streets, transit and other public spaces would help attract new companies and retain existing firms.
In addition, the fund could support public art. East Midtown’s value as a business district depends on its accessibility as well as its image. Public art and performing arts programming would help make it a truly vibrant public space.
On the Midtown East Steering Committee’s recommendation to create an independent body to oversee the fund ...
We need an independent body because currently, there is no clearly logical entity to take on the function of supervising the fund. There are many public agencies that might plausibly take on that role, but each has limitations, the greatest of which is that none of them has the authority over the others that’s needed for a fully coordinated placemaking effort.
In addition, the governing entity should give a voice to the many constituencies that contribute to the excitement and energy of East Midtown – local residents and business interests, as well as city government. The body’s membership should include representatives of the mayor and other elected officials, but also include highly qualified outside voices, including the community boards and representatives of the citywide civic community.
Chairman, New York City Council Land Use Committee
On community concerns amid citywide rezoning ...
We in the City Council strongly support Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to build and preserve a historic amount of desperately needed affordable housing. Obviously, the administration needs to change the zoning in New York City to achieve the mayor's important goals. The council's charter-mandated role is to ensure that, in the rezoning process, the interests of local communities are met before we sign off on any zoning changes. That's what we are already doing and will continue to do. We are aware of and sensitive to the legitimate concerns raised by local community and borough boards, especially with respect to the three key proposals: additional building height, waiver of parking requirements, and the appropriate range of affordability.
In the Land Use Committee, we regularly make adjustments to the administration’s proposals based on specific neighborhood concerns. We have been speaking to the administration for the last six months and some of our recommendations have already been incorporated. As we move forward, we in the council will ensure that the administration’s plan is improved and its details modified to reflect the needs of each of the five boroughs. As chairman of the Land Use Committee, I look forward to working closely with my fellow council members and the Department of City Planning to incorporate individual community feedback to improve these plans.
The challenge is simple: This is the first citywide rezoning in decades. It's not easy satisfying every part New York when you are rezoning the whole city at once. However, we are committed to doing just that.
On Yonkers’ aging schools ...
“Yonkers has the oldest school buildings in the state, and growing enrollment is overcrowding our classrooms. It’s time to build new schools. In Yonkers, nearly one-third of our schools were built before 1920; half before 1940. Our schools are so outdated that we have identified $2 billion in facility needs, including $500 million just to bring our school buildings up to basic state standards.
“We know that school buildings impact learning. Air quality, temperature, natural light and noise levels all affect student performance. It should be no surprise that overcrowded classrooms – a big problem in Yonkers – limit achievement. A study found that elementary students who moved from an overcrowded school to a new school in Los Angeles experienced educational gains equal to 65 additional days of school. In Yonkers, our students are not only being taught in overcrowded classrooms, but in overcrowded basements, converted auditoriums, cafeterias and mobile trailers, yet we don’t have the ability to build new schools. The reason is because Yonkers is fast approaching its constitutional tax limit, not to be confused with the tax cap. We are currently just 13 percent below our limit. Even if we wanted to build just one new school – and we need many more – we couldn’t afford the debt service on the construction.
“The state has financed school reconstruction programs in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse up to 94 cents on the dollar, even as those school districts shrink while Yonkers’ grows rapidly. I plan to ask the Legislature to pass a 10-year, multi-phase school reconstruction act for Yonkers. With nearly 27,000 students, it’s time for the state to recognize the reality of Yonkers’ critical infrastructure needs and make the investment necessary to help rebuild our schools.”
On whether programs like the “Upstate Hunger Games” will spur activity similar to the Buffalo Billion in other cities ...
“We’re hopeful that that’s what comes out of it. It’s about bringing more jobs in, more opportunity for people that live in our community. We want to put as many people to work as possible and I think one of the ways to do that is infrastructure improvements.
“I think that Rochester is uniquely positioned because of the work that we’ve done in photonics and the work that we have put in to basically reinvent ourselves. There’s not enough resources to do everything at one time and so you invest in the projects you believe are going to give you the biggest return on your investment. I think that’s what we have to figure out as a government and as a community. What are those things we can invest in that are going to give us the biggest return for the citizens that we represent?”