Rethinking Parking Lots in Long Beach, Particularly the Superblock [Editorial]

superblockparkingThis is my editorial on a recent Newsday editorial titled: How Long Island can update its downtowns. The author talks about the 4,000 acres of parking lots in and around Long Island downtowns, how they can be better utilized and reimagined. This does not mean getting rid of existing parking, it merely means using the space a better way.

These flat slabs of concrete will be anachronisms in dynamic downtowns where people walk the streets, buildings have multiple uses, and culture and nightlife abound. But they, too, can be transformed into something that adds to the energy of these new downtowns, something both old and new at the same time — parking garages. (Newsday: How Long Island can update its downtowns)

I bring this up because there has been talk about the parking design with the iStar Superblock proposal. While many have issues regarding the building height, traffic and parking in general, others (including me) are also worried about the footprint looking too much like a strip mall; there is too much exposed, single level parking that could be put to better use. AGAIN: This does not mean getting rid of parking spots. In fact, it could bring more.

The Superblock is private property, so a public paradise would be out of the question, but something could be done to improve the lifestyle of the residents who might live there. Can you imagine if they had a community garden on top of a parking garage? It would make the building so much more desirable to live in. Plus, us folks on the boardwalk wouldn’t just be staring at a concrete slab, green rooftops are just sooo much nicer, IMHO. Besides, that current-design parking slab will have a better view of the ocean than you, it’s too nice of space to waste on just blacktop.

From the Newsday article:

The plan for Westbury mixed parking with commercial and office space inside an attractive structure, with dramatic terraced housing on top. A promenade lined with different services and amenities would lead people into Westbury’s burgeoning downtown. Rockville Centre’s design was aesthetically beautiful, with large graceful arches and a ground level serving dual purposes: parking during the week, a place for festivals and farmers markets on weekends.  

Based on the reader comments written for that Newsday article, it’s evident how many of those folks have absolutely no clue what the author is writing about.  I might be completely alone on this myself.. lol, but those who understand the concepts of smart development, beautification and complete streets might understand.  Make this iStar building look like it belongs in Long Beach, not just a sore thumb standing out on its own. Right now the plan looks like a gated, strip mall, sprawling community – the complete opposite of what is happening in other areas. Parking is a must, but I don’t want to live in a paved paradise.

Other parts of the country — from Florida to California — are way ahead of us, sporting parking structures with jaw-dropping designs. One in Miami Beach that’s become a tourist attraction features no exterior walls and a top-floor event space that rents out for weddings, bar mitzvahs and charity events.

…….There are more than 4,000 acres of parking lots in and around the Island’s downtowns. That’s a lot of potential for re-imagination. The Long Island Index’s experiment shows we can, and should, rethink how these spaces are used as we develop the downtowns of tomorrow — downtowns that take advantage of their proximity to train stations and serve as magnets for the young and anyone seeking a more vibrant lifestyle.

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12 thoughts on “Rethinking Parking Lots in Long Beach, Particularly the Superblock [Editorial]”

  1. Covered lots not only look nicer, they’re a selling point for residents in that covered parking means no digging your car out or getting wet when you walk to it. A rooftop garden with natural vegetation (don’t cover the thing in Kentucky Blue!) that would naturally thrive would be beautiful, easy (read: cheaper) to maintain, help keep the building in the character of the City by the Sea and contribute towards reducing the urban heat island effect.

  2. The idea of taking up so much beachfront real estate with a parking lot is amazingly bad. You’re absolutely right that a more innovative and higher density parking solution should be part of the plan. Something like the above-ground parking on the lower floors of Chicago’s Marina City could make a variance for height more palatable and serve the community as a venue as described in the Newsday article.

    Realistically, it seems like this development is surely a little on the overly ambitious side. 500 units is quite a lot. Is the demand really there?

  3. Anthony, you’re right on targe! The City needs an overall plan that can help Long Beach thrive. Your comments highlight the need for additional parking, coupled with a better use of parking space, fitting into an overarching City plan.

    I recognize some people think we don’t need additional parking. But they fail to understand the daily angst that homeowners and visitors experience…particularly during the summer. We have conducted homeowner surveys, with several hundred responses, that overwhelmingly voice a need for more parking. Similarly, businesses recognize this need.

    But we should all agree that parking similar to that proposed for the IStar building is contrary to healthy growth. Many new parking designs have been developed that respond to the parking need while also helping support a more livable city.

    Good parking design will promote more walking, more biking, more short-run shuttles, less driving. They will also be attractive. And, they should also promote storm resilience (Rotterdam built a reservoir under their parking lot, providing a path for flood waters.)

    One “high priority” proposal submitted to New York State is a “Complete Streets” plan to improve/reduce traffic flow, increase biking/walking, and develop parking solutions. We need to work on improvements to individual projects (eg IStar) and overall City plans (Complete Streets).

  4. People still believe this is going to be a “luxury rental”. How many people who actually pay rent with their own money, are going to spend $30-40K a year on rent in Long Beach? Not many. The developer sees the state of condo sales in LB and know they can’t sell them out as condo units. So they are rentals. Why? They are rentals because they plan to move subsidized housing in to fill it – at full market rent, that rent having been established by handful of paying customers. It’s the Rockaways all over again. That’s why I say – give them the parking lots, this way the drug transactions have an off street location to take place at.

  5. I don’t know anyone who would pay that much. FWIW, I’m early 30’s work in IT and I’m DINK and we pay less than half that for a one bedroom in a (obviously not nearly so nice or new) garden apartment a few blocks east. I wouldn’t dream of paying anywhere close to that kind of money.

    Everyone in my peer group is getting their first fixer-upper house or renting in a similar price bracket. Those who aren’t so well employed (and also not fortunate enough to have hit the magic DINK stage yet) are still living with their parents.

  6. I think the problem with elevated parking is that the cost for a parking spot that’s not just paved dirt with lines is that the costs are very high. My grandparents live right behind the new Town of Oyster Bay lot and there were a lot of local meetings about the height of the structure. Everyone who lived there wanted to know why more levels couldn’t be built underground and they were all surprised to find out how much more it costs per spot to build underground as opposed to above ground.

    The same applies here. It’s easy to say “go vertical!” but the costs are prohibitive. I know that roughly speaking, going vertical triples your cost per spot. And going underground more than double that second number. For some sample numbers, here’s a study done in Washington state comparing construction costs of parking options in both urban and suburban environments and the type (surface, 2 level, 3 level and underground):

    (You can find tons of information about this subject in case you think I’m making up numbers by researching “structured parking”.)

    So if parking would cost $75/mo at this new place (I pay $50/mo in my not nearly as fancy building for one spot), if you wanted two level parking, they’d have to charge $225/mo for a parking spot. I’m sorry, I don’t think people are willing to pay that much for a parking spot in Long Beach.

    More information on this topic can be found in Donald Shoup’s excellent book, The True Cost of Free Parking.

  7. I’ve read that book, really enjoyed it.

    To my mind, because the developers are asking for such a significant variance, parking offers some room for a compromise. Underground would certainly be cost-prohibitive, but perhaps two levels above ground would control the total number of units/cars added to the area, settle a major aesthetic objection to the plan, and reduce vulnerability to future flooding. It would also leave quite a bit of space that could potentially be devoted to some other revenue-generating purpose.

    With that said, I was reading about the older Pilevsky proposal for two 10-story towers… It just seems so much more sensible.

  8. Good post.The Superblock plan is not good planning. It is the antithesis of good planning. In fact, it cannot be the result of any urban/community planning. Which leaves 2 options: the City management simply was anxious to get the lawsuit settled and get anything done and has convinced itself that this is a good idea, or it is the result of back room influence peddling. It is a storied tradition in LB for residents to think the latter, and, perhaps, with good reason. I prefer to think the former, as it is to facile to think the latter. The question is whether the Community can rally to push back. Not seeing it yet, although most who I’ve encountered are against it and those who are not often are less engaged in what it is about. For example, I’ve talked to a number of people who had one or more of the following reactions: (i) nothing I can do about it; (ii) it’s better than getting a casino; (iii) we lose the $5 million if we don’t allow it; (iv) if not now it will never be done; and (v) my taxes will go down. I’d submit all those reactions are wrong. The ZBA and City Council should listen to their residents. I’ve never heard that its Istar’s plan or a casino. The City council and attorney specifically represented that the $5 million lawsuit settlement and the variance are not tied. Of course something else will be done. Pilevsky was ready to build (the better plan) when the economy crashed. The lawsuits are all resolved now, so any developer of the Superblock is not hamstrung by litigation. So Istar would build something else more suitable or sell it to someone who would. Taxes — really? I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    Anthony, you have indicated in the past that you are not a journalist and this site is for your musings/opinions. I’d ask that you use this site to become a rallying point.


  9. I am not exactly an expert, but my understanding is that the original plan was for three 10-story towers, two for condominiums with one serving, at least partially, as a conventional hotel. At some point, the deal was modified to include only two 10-story towers, with 250 condos and another 150 or so serving as a hotel-condominium, as well as a number of other changes to address concerns about the density of the development.,52283?page=3&content_source=

    I believe the scaled-back plan is what is pictured here:

    From what I read elsewhere, I gather that iStar has been arguing that they still have the authority to build the three 10-story towers per the old plan, but feel that the margin is now too slim to proceed. Hence, the new proposal, with taller, slimmer structures and an all-rental business model.

    It’s seems strange that after everything that has happened between 2006 and now, iStar would decide that the best approach is to go big. It’s very hard to imagine filling 500+ units at the prices they’re proposing and I would think there should be some intense scrutiny of the viability of this project before a variance is approved and the city is stuck.

  10. This is in reply to Mister A’s “THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6TH, 2014 AT 10:35 AM” comment, but the reply link under that comment is missing …

    Thanks so much for the links. Oddly enough the Haberman family mentioned in the NYT article is also the same Haberman family that owns my building. Go figure.

    This quote from the same article is really something:

    Charles Theofan, the Long Beach City manager, said groundbreaking for the project could begin by June. ”Not to sound any bravado here, but nothing can stop us now,” he said. ”We are elated because it is finally going to happen.”


  11. Thank you for your kind words. My thinking is that the building would be a lot more desirable to live in if it had something like a resident garden or something similar over the parking lots, rather than just a flat surface of asphalt. When I wrote this, I had complete streets and smart growth in mind, but didn’t get a chance to fit it in. I am glad to see you brought it up, because its very important.

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