Land use attorney Carol E. Rosenthal is able to combine her appreciation of architecture, government, and law all in a day’s work as a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. After contemplating a major in art, Rosenthal graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in political science. She then earned her law degree from New York University School of Law and began her legal career as a clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Citing a desire to work on something “concrete,” Rosenthal entered private practice as a transactional real estate attorney.
A major turning point in Rosenthal’s career occurred when she left private practice to become assistant counsel to the New York City Department of City Planning. She based the decision on her longtime interest in government and policy, and desire to have an impact on the City’s future. One of Rosenthal’s major projects while at Planning was helping to create the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program. She recalls the uncertainty at that time about the legal issues related to zoning incentives and how closely the benefits needed to be related to the impact of a proposed project in order to withstand judicial scrutiny. Rosenthal and her colleagues structured the program to require that the developer build the affordable housing geographically close to the development receiving the floor area bonus. This promoted the creation of heterogeneous mixed-income neighborhoods.
Rosenthal credits her time at Planning with giving her a strong understanding of the City’s land use review process and a deeper appreciation for the consensus-building needed to gain approval for a project. She notes that the ability to work with and bring together multiple government agencies, private parties, the public, and special interest groups is critical for a land use attorney.
Current trends in NYC land use. Reflecting on her time at Planning, Rosenthal believes that one major change in the City has been the increased public access to information and the opportunity to stay more informed about projects. Rosenthal also believes that an appreciation for first-class architecture has been revived under the leadership of Amanda Burden
When asked about challenges to new development in the City, Rosenthal explains that with developable soft sites becoming scarcer with the increasing density of the City, many of the remaining sites are burdened with some form of legal or regulatory issue; new projects will require creativity to move forward. Rosenthal notes that as the economy has improved, developers are dusting off plans and reviewing previously granted approvals for projects. Rosenthal herself has been working with clients to modify prior discretionary approvals to better meet the context of today’s market. She is, however, concerned that the large number of downzonings and the expansion of historic districts—without more staff at the agencies to administer applications—could hinder new development.
Rosenthal recognizes the trend that more proposals are incorporating sustainable design features. For example, restrictive declarations for discretionary projects may require recycled materials or energy conservation that exceeds the City’s minimum standards. Describing this increased environmental awareness, Rosenthal says that sustainability has become a permanent part of the development vocabulary in the City.
Past projects and new developments. Rosenthal recently represented Time Equities, Inc. in obtaining the entitlements for a 63-story mixed-use hotel/residential building on West Street next to the Brooklyn Battery Garage. That project required demapping over the street and tunnel approaches, a zoning text change, the purchase of air rights from the City, and special permits. Rosenthal also counseled the Whitney Museum in connection with its contract to acquire City-owned property adjacent to the High Line for the construction of a new Renzo Piano-designed museum. As part of the Fried Frank team, Rosenthal also represented Vornado Realty Trust and Merchandise Mart Properties in connection with the leasing and development of a 400,000 sq.ft. exhibition center at Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River. The project required ULURP approvals for disposition of land, waterfront access, and special permits; Public Design Commission approvals; and a 99-year ground lease from the City’s Economic Development Corporation.
Currently, Rosenthal is assisting Durst Fetner Residential LLC prepare its application for a proposed 650-unit mixed-use project on 57th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues in Manhattan. Durst Fetner has enlisted architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group to design the building. It would be the Copenhagen-based firm’s first project in the City. Rosenthal describes the proposal’s “thoughtful and invigorating” design as a marriage between a perimeter mid-block and high-rise scheme. Rosenthal and Fried Frank partner, Stephen Lefkowitz, are in discussions with Planning and will be seeking certification in the latter half of 2011. They plan to present the proposal to Manhattan Community Board 4 in early February. — Eugene Travers