East Midtown Rezoning Plan Approved by City Planning Commission

By Alan Neuhauser on September 30, 2013 12:17pm 

Slideshow
 The Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission reviewed plans to upgrade subways as part of an application to rezone a 73-block area of East Midtown.
East Midtown Rezoning and Grand Central Terminal
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MIDTOWN — The proposal to overhaul East Midtown's aging business district to allow for new, larger skyscrapers moved one step closer to becoming reality Monday.

The City Planning Commission overwhelmingly approved the Bloomberg administration's application to rezone 73 blocks around Grand Central Terminal, voting 11-0 with one recusal and one abstention.

The measure that would allow buildings with greater density, higher ceilings and wider floors now heads to the City Council, which has until the end of November to vote on it.

"If we are to continue to have a world-class district with top-tier, state-of-the-art office space, we need to change the zoning — but carefully," Commission chairwoman Amanda Burden said. "This proposal...will allow East Midtown to usher in the next generation of state-of-the-art and competitive office space, and to ensure that the district maintains its vital role in support of the city’s economy."

The plan, however, has encountered strong resistance from local leaders. At the hearing Monday, many people sitting in the gallery shook their heads as commissioners voiced support for the rezoning.

"Disappointing. Gravely disappointing," said Lola Finkelstein, chairwoman of a multi-community board task force that has strongly opposed the plan.

While agreeing that East Midtown's office stock is in need of upgrade, the task force — composed of eight of Manhattan's 12 community boards — has argued the plan lacks crucial details on when and how infrastructure would be upgraded to handle the influx of commuters, and how a District Improvement Fund for supporting infrastructure improvements would be managed.

Additional concerns were sparked late Sunday night, when the Wall Street Journal revealed the administration might allow two major developers to begin building in advance of a four-year moratorium. A "sunrise provision" had been made part of the rezoning plan to avoid competition with other large-scale developments in the Financial District and Hudson Yards.

At Monday's hearing, talk focused on transit and the District Improvement Fund. Commissioners Anna Levin and Michelle de la Uz expressed reservations regarding both issues, but Levin nonetheless voted for the plan, with de la Uz abstaining.

"We appreciated their recognition of the inadequacy of the plan," Finkelstein said.

The Multi-Board Task Force was scheduled to offer its full reaction at a press conference Tuesday.

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