Occupy Wall Street has been occupying Zuccotti Park for over a month now, and it's starting to irk the owners, Brookfield Properties. But, a zoning law that allowed Brookfield to add thousands in square feet to their building, allows the public to occupy the park 24/7, in a feature of POPS, publicly owned private spaces.
If something is not going your way because of a certain rule or regulation, what do you? Why, change the inconvenient rule of course! This is how the 1% operates. t They get laws written for their benefit after all, so their first reflex is to have it changed when the odds are no longer completely stacked in their favor.
Although the park is technically private property, Brookfield is required to allow public access to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The city made this a requirement in 1968, when the original owners, U.S. Steel, wanted to build more stories at 1 Liberty than zoning allowed. They got the extra floors and the public got a park on private property.
Brookfield Properties took their subsidies and beneficial zoning changes for the city in exchange for providing public space. Now it is being used as public space, as intended, and they don't like it.
Thanks to the occupation of Zucotti Park, people have begun to take some notice of at least one such POPS, and the POPSters hope they can turn this into a new awareness of the spaces citywide. But the protests have also angered the landlords responsible for the spaces, and now they are preparing to fight back, possibly placing further restrictions on the city’s POPS.
So what's the solution? Change the rule, of course, to readjust the balance of power back into their favor. Real Estate Board president Stephen Spinola explains how perhaps the Privately Owned Public Parks are too beneficial to the public after all.
“Obviously, there needs to be a balance,” Real Estate Board president Stephen Spinola told The Observer earlier this week. “Most of these places are told they need to be open 24 hours a day, which is why the cops are reluctant to push the protestors out. If you ask me, I don’t know what’s wrong with saying the plazas should close at 1 o’clock, so there’s an added degree of security or even maintenance.”
Obviously. Um, did someone ask you?
He echoed complaints made my Brookfield Properties, owners of Zuccotti Park, that the space the protestors have dubbed Liberty Square has become dirty and unsafe—which perhaps ignores the near constant police presence and the surprisingly organized efforts of the protestors to operate trash lines and recycling stations. Brookfield points out that the plaza has not been power washed since September 16, the day before the protests began.
I guess it's possible, but I wonder how many times the park was power washed prior to the occupation?
Mr. Spinola said his group, which represents many of the city’s most powerful developers and building managers, would consider pushing the Department of City Planning to create new rules for what they see as better regulation of the city’s POPS. One of the notable things about the events at Zuccotti Park was that its rules were indeed loosely defined, allowing the protesters and the police wide leeway in what activity took place there. Were it a city park, provisions against camping and even hours of operation would have been more obvious. Efforts to implement such restrictions retroactively have so far failed.
“It’s a serious issue,” Mr. Spinola said. “It’s open to the public, but it’s owned by a private company, and perhaps it’s better we balance those two sides.”
There's that favored buzzword, balance, again. I wonder if Mr. Spinola will volunatarily 'balance; the bonus square footage his company had been granted, in exchange for a reduction in park hours.
How easily new restrictions could be implemented is, like so many things concerning POPS, a little murky. Each of the 516 space has its own specific rules and regulations negotiated with the Department of City Planning at the time of the building’s inception. Theoretically, landlords could go back to the department and ask for changes to their POPS regulations where they see fit, but this would require a lengthy and costly public review. These are not uncommon, when a landlord wants to install a café or even a handicap ramp, but if there was a movement for change from most building‘s in the city, it would create gridlock at City Planning.
There is the possibility that the department could institute a citywide amendment to the zoning code, the kind of thing the influential Real Estate Board could well lobby for. But the push back from civil libertarians, parks advocates, community groups and the POPsters seems all but assured if that were the case. They frequently complain that the developers get more than they paid for with their POPS deals—are a few benches and trees really worth a some extra stories on a building that will generate millions of dollars in rent over time?
Not to mention the reduction in sunlight caused by additional floors and the increase in population in all those extra floors, causing greater burdens to city services of trash removal, overloaded subway platforms at rush hour, and so forth.
The rules governing POPS make them pretty accessible by design. At least half of the 500-plus plazas in the city must be open 24 hours, although the real-estate industry’s main lobbying group wants to change the rules so that they can close at night. Some owners have received permission to close theirs at night if they can make a convincing case that there is a security concern associated with 24-hour access.
At issue is whether not the landlord can retroactively change the rules at the site. According to the Department of City Planning, which oversees the city’s POPS, Brookfield can make some restrictions, but not others.
“POPS owners can establish reasonable rules of conduct to help ensure that the plazas continue to be used for their intended use,” a Department of City Planning spokesperson told The Observer. “They do not need to go through land use review process to do so.” So all those provisions about tents and tarps and lying down seem within reason, even if the department has defended the rights of the homeless and other apparent transgressors in the past. If Brookfield wanted to change the hours on the plaza, however, which it can do (and which the real estate lobby would like to see happen), that would require departmental review.
Maybe Brookfield should be more generous with its public space, given that it has received almost $700,000 in city subsidies since 9/11.