All Parking

A lot of people have been speculating as to what an “as-of-right” development at the CitiStorage property might look like. The property – promised as a park in 2005, but still in private hands – is zoned for M3 (heavy industrial). The likelihood of a rezoning to residential use or to a lesser degree of M zoning is pretty close to nil, at least for the foreseeable future. Councilman Steve Levin has said that he would never support such an action, and all of the other elected officials – Congresswoman, Borough President, Assemblyman and State Senator – have all gone on record as opposed to any actions that are not for a park. The Mayor has said that his administration would not approve a rezoning over community opposition.

That explains why the owner’s recent marketing package for the property describes it as “as-is, where-is“. Anyone buying this property is buying M3 land. Still, it is M3 land on the Williamsburg waterfront, and M3 can include office and retail use (but not hotel use – that is only allowed in M1). So an as-of-right development could include some mix of office and retail uses, for which there is certainly a market in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

It turns out, though, that it may not be that easy. M3 zoning comes with some pretty hefty parking requirements. On top which, the property is subject to additional restrictions as a waterfront site and as part of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint Waterfront Access Plan (WAP) established as part of the 2005 rezoning.

All of this boils down to this – any substantial “as of right” development of the property for commercial use would need contain an almost equally substantial parking structure.

The math works out like this – according to Cushman & Wakefield’s set up for the property, there are about 588,000 square feet of development rights. For Use Group 6 (commercial retail and office use) M3 zoning requires 1 parking space for every 300 square feet of development. That means 1,920 parking spaces would be required for a full build out. A standard parking space is 300 square feet, which means that the required parking would amount to 588,000 square feet. Parking (within limits, see below) does not count as floor area, so the total envelope of the as-of-right development at full build out would be just under 1.2 million square feet.

That parking cannot go anywhere.

It can go underground, but this property is in a flood zone and has a water table about 4′ to 5′ below grade. Underground parking is very expensive, but underground parking below the water table is doubly so.

The parking could go in an above-grade parking structure. Under the WAP, any parking under 33′ in height would not count as floor area. A parking structure 33′ high would allow three stories of parking, so the parking could be consolidated on about 1/3 of the site.

But there are more restrictions. The WAP requires that all parking be wrapped by commercial or residential uses to a depth of at least 25′. So the footprint available for parking would be a smaller area at the center of the lot. And by putting parking there, you can’t use that area for ground-floor retail use. So the mix of office to retail shifts strongly in favor of office, with only smaller ground-floor retail footprints.

M3 zoning also has height limits. Street walls are limited to 60′ (six stories), and overall height is limited to 110′ (11 stories). A penthouse rule under the WAP can raise that height limit to 150′ (15 stories) in areas. But if a big chunk of your building base is occupied by a 3-story-tall parking structure, the envelope available for retail and office use starts to shrink considerably.

Add to this the setback requirements of the waterfront zoning regulations and the open space requirements of the WAP (15% of the site needs to be waterfront open space), and things get tighter.

Not to mention more expensive. Even above grade, structured parking is expensive. And there isn’t enough room at grade to just build a parking lot (talk about paving paradise…).

This is one of the issues that led the developers of 25 Kent Avenue to pursue a rezoning to allow office and commercial construction at its M1-zoned property without the hefty parking requirements. City Planning recently approved that rezoning, but it was contentious, and in the process, the abandoned a broader rezoning for the area. That rezoning would not have extended to the Bushwick Inlet properties across Kent Avenue.

There is some relief available. With permission from DOB, you can reduce the area per parking space to about 225 square feet, or about 441,000 square feet. But that requires fully-attended parking – a more expensive proposition. There is also a variance available through the Board of Standards and Appeals, which could cut the number of parking spaces in half. But that is a discretionary process, and just about every level of city government has gone on record stating that they would not support any discretionary actions for this property. As is means as is.

The upshot is this – as-of-right development at the CitiStorage site comes with very restrictive open space, building envelope and, in particular, parking requirements. Those parking requirements would add significantly to the cost of development on the property, and any knowledgable buyer looking at this property must be taking this – and the downright toxic political environment (and actual environment) surrounding this site – into account in pricing their offers.