Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How TDR + Landmarking Could Save Forest Hills Tennis Stadium: A Response To Cord Meyer's Letter To Queens Tribune Editor

How TDR Could Save The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium (Response to Cord Meyer)
Queens Tribune
October 4, 2010 

To The Editor:

     Mr. Panico’s lawyerly letter to the editor (Sept. 30) on the application of Transferable Development Rights (TDR) to the landmarking of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium site his company wishes to purchase and redevelop is legally correct as far as it goes.  It omits, however, some points I believe relevant to the decision to be made by the West Side Tennis Club and City Hall on landmarking and saving this historic property.

1. New York’s TDR regulations, the first in the nation, are 42 years old.  With one small exception, it seems they haven’t been amended since the Nixon administration.  So they have not benefitted from development and use of the TDR idea over several decades in other cities.

2. The City’s TDR regulations are excessively restrictive compared with those in other cities.  They deny the benefits of TDR to seven zoning districts.  They allow density to be transferred only to a lot next door or across the street.  These shackles limit the use of TDR to support historic preservation much more than in other cities with more flexible provisions.  They seem designed to address one particular case from the past rather than to establish consistent citywide policy for the future.

3.  The TDR rules reflect a Manhattan-centric concept of historic preservation.  Ruling out the benefits of TDR in lower-density residential and commercial districts like those in Queens seems to assume no possibility of there being an historic property in a low-density residential area like the stadium.  This is short-sighted and parochial.  Most of the land in this city is in single-family homes, not Manhattan high-rises.  Yes, a residential neighborhood location for a stadium is an outlier, but arguably that only makes it more special and worth preserving.

4. City Council can amend and update the regulations for TDR at any time upon request of the West Side Tennis Club to the City Planning Commission or even, as in other cities, at the Commission’s initiative in the public interest.  Private parties propose amendments called rezonings all the time.  Residents of New York need not be chained to the world of 1968, when TDR was new and unproven.

5. The City could, without any harm that I can see, act now to amend the zoning resolution’s rules for TDR to include all zoning districts (historic merit is no respecter of zoning boundaries) and to allow density to be transferred to any other lot in the city suitable for receiving them.  The City could, however, still be in complete control of the process, as it is now.

6. Legal quibbling aside, the bottom line for the West Side Tennis Club and their Forest Hills Gardens neighbors is simple.  With a TDR provision amended to be harmlessly more flexible as in other cities, the Club might realize as much financial gain from landmarking as they would from selling their property--and without adding still more housing to the neighborhood or losing the stadium’s open space and still-uncompromised historic character.  And by updating its oddly narrow rules, City Hall could at the same time extend TDR benefits to other places in Queens and the other outer boroughs with landmarks worth saving.

What’s not to like about that?

- John L. Gann, Jr.
Gann Associates
Glen Ellyn, IL
(800) 762-GANN

P.S. I have prepared density transfer provisions and other “win/win” zoning regulations as a consultant to other cities and been published nationwide on zoning issues.  I was born and grew up in Kew Gardens and went to school in Forest Hills.

TDR Doesn't Apply
Queens Tribune
September 30, 2010

Source: http://www.queenstribune.com/inyour/Your%20Opinion_093010.html

To The Editor:
     As John L. Gann points out in his Sept. 16 letter about the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, cities can often use a transferable development rights program to create “win/win” results for the municipality and the owner of a landmark site with unused development rights. Under such programs these rights can be transferred to, and used on, nearby sites.

New York City, as Gann noted, has just such a program which can be found at Section 74-79 of the City’s Zoning Resolution. Indeed, it was a pioneer in the field. Section 74-79 allows unused development rights for landmark sites not only to be transferred to adjacent properties but also across public streets. There are, however, conditions imposed by the section. Most important for any discussion of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium is the fact that Section 74-79 is not applicable in low density residential zoning districts such as the R3 and R4 districts that surround the stadium.

As the Tennis Stadium and the areas to the east and south are mapped within an R3 zoning district, and the west side of 69th Avenue, directly across the street from the Tennis Stadium is mapped in R4 and R4B districts, the New York City program that permits the transfer of development rights from landmarked structures cannot be used as Gann proposes. Further, even if Section 74-79 were available in this case, there is no appropriate receiving site for development rights, as building in R3 and R4 zoning districts are capped at maximum heights of 35 feet. Those properties that are located directly across the street from the Tennis Stadium are already fully developed with single family homes.

When it created the TDR program decades ago, the City Planning Commission had good policy reasons for excluding lower density districts such as Forest Hills Gardens from the program. In light of the realities of the City’s TDR program, we believe it is time to take a fresh look at the adaptive reuse being proposed for the Tennis Stadium and allow the community to consider the contribution that the proposed project will be making.

- Sal Panico,
President and CEO,
Cord Meyer Company

TDR + Landmarking = Win-Win for Forest Hills Tennis Stadium
Queens Tribune: Tennis History
September 16, 2010Source: http://www.queenstribune.com/inyour/Your%20Opinion_091610.html

To The Editor:

     In the center ring of the tennis world at the moment is another U.S. Open. Off to one side is some action reported in these pages that could be of much greater consequence to the legacy of the sport. The Open's traditional home, the shuttered 1923 West Side Tennis Club stadium in Forest Hills, may not survive.

Unused for matches since 1978, the stadium has decayed despite a brief second life as a concert venue. The Club is to vote Sept. 23 on sale of the property to developer Cord Meyer for a reported $9 million for redevelopment in condominiums.

It is zoned for residential and not protected as an historic landmark by New York City law. Although the developer says it will preserve the historic stadium façade, city regulations would not legally bar its demolition, nor, it seems, would the private covenants of the elite Forest Hills Gardens community. The Tennis Industry Association has endorsed landmarking, and political leaders from the area have asked the city to study the feasibility of such designation.

With good reason. Tennis history in the United States has a name: Forest Hills, the Wimbledon of the New World. The upscale sport has made Forest Hills the only neighborhood in this oft-ignored borough known around the globe. No surprise that the community is probably the most sought-after place to live in Queens.

Tennis put Forest Hills on the map and gave it a classy brand. And just as with consumer products, an esteemed brand is a value-enhancing economic asset to a neighborhood and its residents and property owners. The Forest Hills tennis brand may be worth a lot more than just a few more housing units in an already crowded part of the city. Every residential neighborhood in New York has housing. Only one has a revered historic tennis center.

Smart companies are reawakening to the economic value of the brands that helped make them successful. ExxonMobil has revived its decades-old flying red horse with that in mind. Viewed in terms of the value of branding, the movement to save the stadium is more than just nostalgic sentimentality.

Understandably, the Tennis Club has not sought landmark status that might limit its options. Ordinances that bar demolition or substantial alteration of historic buildings have raised serious property rights issues in New York and elsewhere when they in effect ask private property owners to pay for the benefit to the public of continuing to enjoy an undisturbed historic building. But without such protections, cities can lose irreplaceable treasures like the predecessor of today's Penn Station, the demolition of which energized historic preservation in this city.

There is, however, an as yet little-noted win-win solution that New York invented. It has been used to preserve historic structures, open spaces and environmental areas nationwide while keeping property owners whole.

Transferable Development Rights (TDR) can move the development potential defined by the zoning of such properties to another site and allow the property owner to be compensated for the loss. Landmark the stadium, build the number of new homes allowed on its site somewhere else, and pay the Tennis Club what they would have realized from the sale for redevelopment. The stadium could then neither be razed nor otherwise developed but might be devoted to neighborhood-compatible low-intensity uses.

TDR can be complex to work out. But even in crowded New York, there are other places for more housing. There's only one Forest Hills. Retaining the visible evidence of decades-long association with an upscale sport by a place with an international reputation may be a better bet economically than building on its few remaining square feet of open land.

A player who loses at the Open can come back. A venerated historic building that is lost cannot. Holding off on a sale to consider TDR and other uses a rehabilitated stadium could be put to might be the best course. More housing is surely the least imaginative solution to the future of a very special place.
- John L. Gann, Jr.
Cleveland, Ohio

John L. Gann, Jr., President of Gann Associates, has prepared historic preservation regulations and other land use codes for Cleveland and other cities and now consults on marketing cities. He is a graduate of Forest Hills High School.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mr Gann for your letter. Let's let the Trylon be our last venture into tackiness. The price a community pays for not caring.