Council OK’s new design standards for public plazas

New standards and guidelines intended to improve public use. The City Council approved City Planning’s proposal to update, improve, and consolidate rules for privately owned public spaces.

Under the old zoning, a developer in parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens can generate a floor area bonus of up to 20 percent if it builds an adjacent publicly-accessible open space, such as a plaza, arcade, or galleria. In practice, however, many of these privately owned public spaces do not adequately serve the public, and some even discourage public use.

Attributing this phenomenon to inconsistent and outdated design guidelines and standards, the City’s new zoning regulations will eliminate the five categories of privately owned public spaces, in favor of one category, “public plazas,” with one set of guidelines and standards.

The new standards will improve the quality, design, accessibility and experience of these spaces. To promote a sense of openness and accessibility, public plazas will have to be completely visible when viewed from any adjacent street frontage, with exceptions for irregularly shaped plazas. Moreover, barriers surrounding public plazas will be limited to a maximum height of 15 feet. Property owners must also keep their public plazas open for longer periods: up to 10 p.m. from spring to fall and up to 8 p.m. from fall to spring.

The standards will also increase the size and improve the quality of public plazas. The new minimum area will be 2,000 sq.ft. Public plazas between 5,000 and 10,000 sq.ft. will include at least one amenity such as artwork, movable tables and chairs, water features, children’s play areas, game tables or food service. Public plazas over 10,000 sq.ft. that are connected to a commercial building will offer three amenities, with food service being one of them.

The standards do not change the minimum number of seats required, but do add to the variety, dimensions, location and configuration requirements for seating. Developers will choose from six types of seating: movable seating, fixed individual seats, fixed benches, seat walls, planter ledges, and seating steps. The standards prohibit any devices that deter sitting, such as spikes and rails.

At the Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises hearing on October 9, 2007, Council Member Robert Jackson expressed his concern that the Commission’s proposal does not require public toilets, and pointed to Cemusa’s contract with the City for street furniture as an example of the need to provide the public with such facilities. 3 CityLand 129 (Sept. 15, 2006). City Planning responded that a public toilet requirement was not feasible because of maintenance issues.

The subcommittee approved the proposal without modifications on October 17, 2007, and the Council followed suit later that day, voting unanimously in favor.

Lead Agency: CPC,Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: BK 2 / MN 1 / MN 2 / MN 3 / MN
4 / MN 5 / MN 6 / MN 8,App’d
Boro.Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 12-0-0
Council: App’d, 49-0-0

Council: Privately Owned Public Plazas (Oct. 17, 2007). CITYADMIN

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