When people discuss Mayor Bloomberg's legacy – and that's what happens when you're a lame duck -- they typically turn to big bread-and-butter issues like education, crime, or health. Under the radar and far away from the debates over stop-and-frisk and banning big sodas is something less sexy but much more important about what the city literally looks like: zoning. One of the greatest accomplishments of the administration over the last twelve years is the massive rezoning of most of the city, allowing more building to occur in some neighborhoods while restricting it in others.
But a key portion of Team Bloomberg's massive blueprint for the city was put on hold yesterday when Dan Garodnick, the City Councilman who represents the area, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn expressed reservations about the plan which would have allowed the construction of taller skyscrapers in the area near Grand Central Terminal.
Bloomberg and much of the real estate industry have long pushed for new zoning regulations for the area that, they say, will allow the city to modernize a decaying base of office buildings on Manhattan's East Side, allowing New York to catch up with other international cities. Opponents say the plan will put more pressure on an already-overtaxed transportation network while the powerful hotel workers union wanted more say on the salary structure of any new hotels proposed in the rezoned area.
Besides showing that it's hard for a soon-to-be-departing mayor to have political mojo, the pushback by the City Council must have sent tremors of fear throughout the real estate industry because of a statement issued by the man who will soon be replacing Bloomberg, Bill de Blasio.
While vowing to come up with a new zoning plan for the area by the end of next year, de Blasio, noted that: "We cannot afford to hand over the right to develop some of the most valuable real estate in the world without ensuring real and fair benefits for the people of New York City." This is the same kind of language that torpedoed a proposed shopping mall for the Kingsbridge Armory in The Bronx when a fight erupted over a "living wage" for employees.
With a mayor who appears to be more sympathetic to arguments made by unions and more skeptical of plans drawn up by big developers, New York could be seeing a shift in the debate over the city's future. It's an argument that could make the fight over that supersize soda look awfully small.