Real estate development and controversy go hand in hand in New York City. For every developer ready to demolish something old and build up something new, there will always be a detractor on hand to challenge those plans. This year saw no shortage of real estate controversies, especially since 2013 brought mega-developments such as Atlantic Yards, Greenpoint Landing, Willets Point and the World Trade Center back into the spotlight. Here are our top 10 real estate controversies of the year, many of which show no sign of losing their contentious edge as we enter 2014.
The Atlantic Yards project, based in Brooklyn, has seen no shortage of controversy since Daniel Goldstein refused to sell his property in the development’s footprint (it was eventually seized via eminent domain for which he received $3 million) and was the face behind Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn — and it won’t let up anytime soon. Developer Forest City Ratner announced in October 2013 that it was selling a 70 percent stake in the development to a Chinese company, Greenland Holdings Group, a deal which allows Forest City Ratner to hedge its risks. Detractors, such as the Atlantic Yards Report see the move as one that allows “public assistance from New Yorkers [to help] the Chinese government earn profits.” Residents and community leaders also continue to speak out against the still-murky plan for affordable housing, which has a construction timeline of 25 years. (After seven years, Forest City Ratner hasn’t delivered on any housing.) Construction on the 32-story modular apartment building, dubbed B2, is scheduled to be completed in 2014. 461 Dean St.
A massive plan to tear down the “Iron Triangle” — a congregation of auto body shops outside Citi Field, in Queens, and replace it with a mega mall — was approved by City Council in October. The auto body tenants did not want to leave and claim the city is giving them an unfair deal for relocation; they even went on a hunger strike to protest the proposal at the end of August. Despite their please, the city’s first phase of redevelopment began in late November. Other points of contention: The plan will take away parkland from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for the development, and the promised affordable housing has been pushed back to at least 2025, if it will happen at all. Willets Point Boulevard and 126th St.
217 West 57th Street
Around two months ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve a hulking glass tower (1,423 feet tall!) at 217 West 57th Street. Why controversial? The developers have to cantilever the tower over its next door neighbor, the landmarked American Fine Arts Society, so that both 217 West 57th and a nearby under-construction development, 220 Central Park South, get prized views of Central Park. The developers of 217 West 57th Street spent years, and millions of dollars, trying to work out a deal with the Fine Art Society. Preservationists, such as the Historic Districts Council, say they’re “troubled by the likely trend of cantilevering over landmarked buildings” and fear rulings like this one could “create a dangerous precedent”; of concern to them is the “height between the cantilever and the landmark or how far into the landmarked site it hangs.” 217 West 57th St.
In November, the City Council approved a mega-development for the sleepy shores of Greenpoint — 12 towers between 30 and 40 stories tall, and a total of 5,000 apartments. The problem is that many Greenpoint residents don’t want to see the neighborhood turn into Williamsburg, next door, which is now known for its glassy, expensive condo towers. This September a coalition called Save Greenpoint announced its intent to sue the city and Greenpoint Landing developers over the environmental impact of the mega-development. Franklin Street and Dupont Street
Domino Sugar Factory
This fall, the Two Trees development company started its city approval process to develop the massive Domino Sugar Factory, in Williamsburg. Many residents gawked at the renderings, dominated by skinny waterfront towers, and it was called Dubai-on-the-East-River by the Crain’s in March. Residents, in turn, designed an alternate proposal and renderings for art space, not luxury condos, at the site with renderings by Holm Architecture Office. This mega development faced a number of setbacks and controversy, as the previous developer failed on its plan to transform the complex and ended up selling it to Two Trees for $185 million in 2012. Kent Avenue and S. Fourth Street
This February, NYCHA announced it wanted to build market-rate apartments on parking lots, playgrounds, and unused land designated for eight different public-housing projects in Manhattan. The profits would go toward NYCHA’S $60 million budget shortfall. Not surprisingly, NYCHA tenants and affordable housing advocates vocally opposed the plan. In August, the city announced that NYCHA would look to developers for ideas on how to implement its plan. Then in November, NYCHA tenants filed suit against the city. Time will tell what incoming Mayor Bill DeBlasio will do with this one.
A heated battle has been brewing this year between artists and developers at 5Pointz, the infamous graffiti mecca in Queens. This fall, the City Council approved plans to demolish the warehouse for condo towers. The building artists fought back every way possible — trying to landmark the building, taking the owners to court, starting up petitions. The artists even announced they would chain themselves to the building before demolition, scheduled for early next year. Then, building owners Jerry and David Wolkoff threw a curveball: They painted over all the graffiti artwork with white paint at night without warning. 45-46 Davis St.
East Midtown Rezoning
The East Midtown Rezoning plan was one of Bloomberg’s final proposals before he left office, and it called for rezoning a large 73-block swath of Midtown for more office skyscrapers. The ball started rolling in May with the hiring of consultant team Jonathan Rose Company, Gehl Architects and Skanska, but preservationists quickly stepped up to speak against the plan with issues relating to transit, air rights, public space and preservation. Given its track record of approving Bloomberg’s plans, most assumed that it would be approved regardless, but in an unexpected twist, the City Council indicated it wouldn’t pass and so the plan was withdrawn — delivering a huge blow to Bloomberg late in his last term. Midtown East
One World Trade Center
This year, One World Trade Center finally topped off — not without years and years of controversy. The Council on Tall Buildings deemed the structure the country’s tallest building in November after lingering questions over whether the building’s spire would count towards it height (it did). This crowning achievement came after 12 years of hand-wringing on what to build, where to build and, most importantly, how to honor the tragedy of September 11th. 1 World Trade Center
David Schwimmer’s Townhouse, East Village
This spring the scaffolding finally came down from around actor David Schwimmer’s East Village townhouse, which has outraged nearby residents for years. In 2011 he demolished the original structure, built in 1852 and considered the oldest townhouse on the block, before it could receive landmark status in 2012. What followed was years of construction, falling debris and angry notes from neighbors, include the graffiti, “Ross is not cool” scrawled on nearby plywood in August as a welcome note to the Friends actor, who played Ross on the hit show. The result: a totally bland brick facade on a six-story mansion with a rooftop terrace. 331 E. Sixth St.
Read more of our 2013 year-end wrap-ups here.