CITY HALL — Current North Shore homeowners will likely benefit from the city’s plans to rezone a stretch of Bay Street for residential development, according experts.
But Stapleton’s so-called “Bay Street Corridor” could also further drive up rents in the surrounding neighborhoods, where experts say tenants are already being forced out.
While the rezoning is intended to spur the creation of more affordable housing, the Bay Street Corridor is expected to bolster ongoing efforts to buy up and develop North Shore properties as large projects begin to rise along the waterfront.
“The rents are already going up,” said Andrew D. Klapper, a real estate attorney and partner in the West Brighton firm of Klapper & Klapper. “The focus of all of these developers is to get the current tenants out, fix up properties, and get people who are going to walk and bike to the ferry and the (Empire) outlets and the Wheel and to commute from there.”
Encouraging new development of taller and denser buildings is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to dramatically expand the city’s affordable housing stock. The Bay Street Corridor is the only area on Staten Island that’s being officially examined for meaningful expansion — one of 15 neighborhoods citywide.
Officials are still working to complete a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the plans and an application that will be submitted for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a seven-month process known as ULURP.
THOUSANDS OF NEW RESIDENTS
The rezoning comes amid a dramatic shift on Staten Island, where residents embrace a suburban flavor complete with lower housing prices and more land. But four enormous North Shore development projects — the NY Wheel, Empire Outlets, Lighthouse Point and Urby — promise hundreds of new residents and a flood of tourists to Staten Island.
The city’s early plans envision buildings rising as high as 16 stories on Bay Street.
Rezoning a 45-acre area on the North Shore that includes Bay Street Corridor would add as many as 2,569 apartments and nearly 600,000 square feet of commercial space, bringing some 6,900 more new residents, according to a draft scope of the work the city released in May 2016. As many as 1,039 of the new units would be for low- to moderate-income tenants through the city’s new “mandatory inclusionary housing” policy.
Experts said the rezoning potential for new housing, businesses and jobs only adds to the anticipation over the North Shore’s “boom.”
Real estate prices and values across the North Shore are already soaring to record high prices. The average price of North Shore homes sold in April 2016 was $399,554 — a figure that jumped to $488,287 this April, according to the Staten Island Board of Realtors.
Rents across Staten Island are also increasing. The median rent price on Staten Island was $2,239 a month in April, according to Zillow, a real estate and rental marketplace. That’s up from $2,102 in April 2016. Three years before that, Zillow reported the median rent price on Staten Island as $1,993 a month.
ALREADY SET IN MOTION?
Experts said home and property owners in the area will see their values increase, though moving into those neighborhoods will prove more difficult.
“It would tend to help homeowners, especially in this seller’s market,” said attorney Nicholas M. Moccia, who heads up a firm in Stapleton specializing in real estate litigation, particularly the areas of landlord-tenant law and foreclosure defense.
Moccia said he didn’t know if the rezoning would accelerate the rise in rents that’s “already been set in motion.” But he noted there’s now a shortage of affordable rentals on Staten Island. In housing court, he’s seen evicted tenants have a hard time finding new apartments.
Most of Staten Island’s apartments — including hundreds of rent-stabilized units — are located on the denser North Shore.
“The renters, for them, it’s the worst, because the rents are increasing so rapidly that it’s hard for people to keep up,” Moccia said.
‘A REAL FEAR’
More industrial buildings could be converted to residential. Developers and property owners could also try to “flip” or renovate apartment buildings — increasing the prospect of harassment tactics to displace current tenants in exchange for those willing to pay higher rents. (Rents can surge even for stabilized apartments, based on how much is spent to upgrade the units.)
Nick Petrie, a neighborhood rezoning coordinator at the community group Make the Road New York, said the city needs a “proactive” anti-discrimination approach. He said rezonings have tended to harm low-income and immigrant communities, facilitating existing gentrification.
“We’re already hearing from people about their rents going up or tenants being harassed out of rent-stabilized housing, particularly in St. George,” Petrie said. “There’s a real fear.”
One hope is that the rezoning will provide current Staten Islanders with an affordable place to live.
SO WHAT’S ‘AFFORDABLE’?
Between 20 and 30 percent of new apartments in the rezoned areas would be for tenants making less than the area median income, or AMI, under the citywide housing policy approved earlier this year.
The lowest level of affordability would have 20 percent of new units set aside for those making 40 percent of the area median income, or $31,075 for a family of three in the city. The highest would have 30 percent of apartments reserved for tenants making 115 percent of AMI, or $89,355 for a household of three.
Exactly what the city will ultimately choose is unclear — Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) and Borough President James Oddo disagree about which option would be best for the area.
Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, said the city continues to work with the community to develop the proposal.
“The goal is to shape the future of this stretch of Bay Street so that it directly serves the needs of Staten Islanders, by functioning as a walkable ‘downtown’ with a wide range of retail stores and services, provides job opportunities and, critically, affordable housing for a range of income groups, including seniors and young adults,” Raynoff said.
INFRASTRUCTURE ISN’T THERE
Whatever happens, everyone agrees that the city must first address the community’s concerns over infrastructure, particularly traffic on already clogged streets.
“Unless and until the transportation issues can be worked out and resolved, that’s going to stymie any type of rezoning effort on the North Shore or the Bay Street Corridor in order to incentivize building or residential construction,” said real estate attorney Michael M. Menicucci, a partner in the law firm of Menicucci Villa Cilmi in Meiers Corners.
Oddo said in a statement that the Bay Street Corridor is “still very much in flux” and what impacts the rezoning will have on real estate aren’t completely certain. He acknowledged that more developers are looking to invest in Staten Island, with or without the city’s plans.
“Unfortunately, we have not yet gotten to the starting gate on infrastructure, so the question asked is still premature in my mind. If we get this right we will create housing for a range of income levels, including an emphasis on workforce housing, and we will jumpstart further the improvement of our waterfront and help communities that have struggled,” Oddo added. “If we get this wrong we will exacerbate decades-long existing ills. The stakes are that high.”
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