Home Second Avenue Subway Along Second Ave., more complaints about auxiliary buildings

Along Second Ave., more complaints about auxiliary buildings

by Benjamin Kabak

This auxiliary building for the Second Ave. Subway at 72nd St. is drawing complaints from the neighborhood.

Building a new subway line in age with stringent requirements about station and tunnel security and accessibility is a trying affair. No matter how involved the affected community is with the project, someone is bound to find something they don’t like. For the MTA along Second Ave., they’ve faced their fair share of complaints as Upper East Siders have bemoaned entrances at 96th St. and 72nd St. as well as ventilation structures up and down the avenue. Yet again, the auxiliary structures are coming under fire.

While some residents have sued the MTA over updated designs to these structures, others believe the MTA has missed an opportunity to beautify and develop the above-ground area on top of the Second Ave. Subway. Had the Authority better designed the auxiliary structure, the Upper East Side could have seen more affordable housing and nicer buildings, says Richard Bass, a lawyer representing one Second Ave. co-op in discussions with the MTA.

In the Real Estate section in today’s Times, Terry Pristin goes in depth on this issue. Did the MTA, she asks, adequately integrate these buildings into the neighborhood? Few seem to think so, and many, she writes, view these buildings as “a missed opportunity or an unwelcome industrial intrusion into a residential neighborhood, or both.” Bass suggested that the MTA could have taken advantage of New York’s air rights laws to build above their auxiliar structures, but the Authority has instead chosen an austere look.

The agency, reticent to speak because of the pending lawsuits, answered some questions about the above-ground decisions. Pristin reports:

Kevin Ortiz, an M.T.A. spokesman, said by e-mail that the agency had worked with developers on both the 97th Street site, where the Century Lumber Corporation once stood, and on 72nd Street, the longtime home of Falk Drug and Surgical Supplies. Plans for 72nd Street, where the site measures 75 feet by 75 feet, were scuttled because “in order for a development to work, additional property would have had to be acquired, which we couldn’t justify as a transportation use,” he said.

On 97th Street, “M.T.A. Real Estate worked very long and hard to make it work, but in the end the developer lost interest,” he said.

In a subsequent e-mail, Aaron Donovan, another M.T.A. spokesman, said the developers that the agency had consulted owned the sites. Mr. Donovan said the agency had not issued requests for proposals from developers “because we didn’t own the properties,” which were acquired through eminent domain. According to the M.T.A., only the 97th Street site, which measures 100 feet by 125 feet, is large enough to accommodate a residential development. The M.T.A. also would not say why it did not consult a second developer for that site.

In addition to the visual elements and seemingly missed opportunities to allow for residential development, other urban land-use experts have questioned whether the MTA is maximizing its opportunities while minimizing costs. The Authority hasn’t successfully worked with real estate developers on plans that would help defray costs as new subway construction raises land values and rents. The same can be said of the lack of a station stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave. along the 7 extension. “The MTA does not think of its real estate as either an investment opportunity or a development opportunity,” Julia Vitullo-Martin of the RAP said to The Times. While a bit hyperbolic, the MTA’s real estate planning has often worked against and not with the neighborhoods serviced by new subway routes.

Not all is lost however along Second Ave. The auxiliary structures may be monolithic, and they might not appear to fit the character of the neighborhood, as the MTA claimed they would in the SAS Environmental Impact Statements. Civitas, the Upper East Side civic group, has long questioned the aesthetic impact these buildings will have, and the MTA defends that on grounds of lower maintenance costs. But Civitas was succcessful in convincing the MTA to include 360 square feet of real estate at 69th St. and 240 at 72nd St., says Pristin. At least the avenue won’t face too many windowless ventilation walls as some side streets in Midtown do.

It’s no easy task to build subways through neighborhoods that are replete with 80- and 90-year-old buildings, and the MTA seems to be learning this the hard way. One day, in a decade, we’ll view these structures with the same disregard with give every MTA substation, but those who live next to them might see them as lost opportunities to better a neighborhood soon to enjoy the benefits of a subway line running through it.

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John Paul N. September 1, 2010 - 2:04 am

Is it really too late to design these buildings with a brick facade? Won’t that be the easiest and most effective modification? But then again, it may not, since there must have been a reason why ceramic was chosen (see link on ventilation structures).

It seems the MTA has its hands tied when it comes to air rights and owners’ wishes, which I can believe. But couldn’t the MTA apply for some sort of waiver that would allow non-transportation related development? Like mini-Atlantic Yards for these properties. Or are they hesitant to be responsible for more non-transportation related things?

And finally, not to give any ideas, but the building that is pictured looks like it is ripe for billboard advertising. That’s what happens when there are no faux-windows available.

Eps September 1, 2010 - 9:28 am

You must mean “MINIMIZING costs” re: “land-use experts have questioned whether the MTA is MAXIMIZING its costs.”

Benjamin Kabak September 1, 2010 - 9:29 am

Indeed I do. They should be maximizing opportunities, but they are not.

Al D September 1, 2010 - 9:42 am

I like modern architecture and all, but these structures are unattractive and totally out of character with the neighborhood. SAS is indeed coming at great cost.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 10:28 am

It is a pity indeed that this project won’t have been ended with more housing than was available when it started. With the MTA as landlord, it could have meant a lot of rental income.

Christopher September 1, 2010 - 1:07 pm

I’d prefer not to think of the MTA as a landlord, but I could see a longterm lease — which required little day to day management — if you’ve ever been to SF and visited the San Francisco Shopping Centre. That building sits on SFUSD property and the schools get a huge lease payment every year for that land.

MTA needs to start maximizing its land holdings through air rights, and we need to start looking into other types of funding streams like tax increment financing for these types of projects. We shouldn’t be planning new lines without assuring we are going to making use of the increased value to developers. It’s a give away we are giving NY developers. And it should be framed that way.

What are other cities doing? Chicago has struck a deal to build a Apple Store near an “L” station and as part of that deal gets $4M to refurbish that station. DC built an entire new station with TIF. SF is rebuilding transbay terminal — with room for eventual HSR — with development air rights.

If Albany wants to do audits until they are blue in the face, someone up there needs to look at how MTA is operating its development and land-use policies.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:21 pm

I wonder if the MTA is deliberately steering clear of using property obtained by eminent domain for anything other than pure transportation uses.

(I doubt it, since the same MTA is including retail in the Fulton Street Transit Center.)

Scott E September 1, 2010 - 11:19 am

There is a fundamental problem with putting apartments on top of these buildings, and that is the issue with ventilation. There are huge air ducts in these buildings which need to exhaust from the roof, and would take up valuable real-estate on each floor. (If it exhausted from the side, the stale are could then enter through open windows above). You also need a separation from exhaust and intake vents, so the stale air doesn’t get sucked back into the subway.

But even simpler than that, this is the MTA’s building, and tenants of such an apartment would be tenants of the MTA. Given their track-record of broken elevators and leaking structures, would you really want them as your landlord?

Benjamin Kabak September 1, 2010 - 11:26 am

I think your ventilation concerns are more valid than the landlord concerns. The MTA wouldn’t manage the properties. They’d work in partnership with developers to build and manage the residential parts of the building as they’ve done near the 7 line extension. That’s a solvable problem while the functional aspects of these buildings have to be maintained.

Bolwerk September 1, 2010 - 1:33 pm

It probably doesn’t make sense for them to manage properties themselves, but like most landlords there’s no reason they can’t outsource the management.

As for ventilation, it’s probably not that big a deal. It’s a matter of engineering the buildings to ventilate properly initially. We aren’t dealing with exhaust fumes here, and most of the air quality issues tenants would be exposed to are likely to originate in the street, not in the tunnels. Tunnel ventilation in subways is more about regulating heat and providing oxygen and fresh(er) air to those in stations, not preventing people from dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.

herenthere September 2, 2010 - 7:40 pm

I don’t think that is entirely true – in Hong Kong the MTR, which BTW is the leading transportation provider, builds tons of residential and commercial properties over its stations…yes, ventilation would take up space but isn’t any rental income for the MTA better than no income?

Second Ave. Subway drilling sagas :: Second Ave. Sagas September 1, 2010 - 12:01 pm

[…] « Along Second Ave., more complaints about auxiliary buildings Sep […]

Kris Datta September 1, 2010 - 7:06 pm

IMO these buildings could be designed better. They could have retail space on the first floor of every structure, living space, or both. If not possible, at least design the building with a brick facade and pseudo-windows so it doesn’t just look like an eyesore.

But really, are they seriously complaining about how this will affect affordable housing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan?

The Guardrail September 2, 2010 - 1:23 am

You would really think that the cash-strapped MTA would come up with better real estate options for the Second Ave Properties. We see ground and underground level retail all over the city i.e. Times Square/8th Ave/PABT, Penn Station, Rock Center. Granted some of these investments were made by private developers as well, as it is citied some were interested, but at least the MTA could provide ground level retail so its not so obvious there is a giant ventilation building marring the landscape of the neighborhood. Oh, and they can collect rent too, how about that! And for the developer that backed out, whats the rush? We still have another 5 years until “scheduled service” is to begin.One thing is for sure, these auxiliary structures are lackluster in design, and the MTA citing maintenance costs for the cities makes me laugh. They will be covered with soot, brake-dust and exhaust withing a year, and I doubt will ever be cleaned. Thanks MTA, clearly going our way….

Marcus September 2, 2010 - 2:33 pm

Could someone explain why such large structures are necessary? What do they do for ventilation on the cities other 22 lines?

Quinn Hue September 2, 2010 - 6:48 pm

Those subway grates that flood the system too easily.

Andrew September 2, 2010 - 10:19 pm

…and which can’t be used for bored tunnels, and which probably don’t even meet current safety standards for cut-and-cover lines.

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