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Residents Want Slower Timetable on Midtown East Rezoning

By Mathew Katz | July 18, 2012 11:29am

MIDTOWN — Community Board 5 members questioned the need for speed this week on a proposal to allow for more skyscrapers around Grand Central Terminal.

The plan, unveiled before the board's Land Use and Zoning Committee last week, would create new zoning regulations for an area extending roughly from East 39th to East 57th Streets between Second and Fifth avenues. It would allow for the construction of huge new buildings and create thousands of square feet of office space.

The project is set to enter the city's official public review process, called ULURP, in early 2013 and could be approved by that summer — using that timeline, board members said, would keep the details of the plan in the public eye for a much shorter time than similar so-called up-zoning projects such as Hudson Yards on the west side.

Some board members wanted at least a year of town halls and other community consultations before the project would enter the formal ULURP process.

"The message we want to send to [City Planning Commission Chair] Amanda Burden is slow down," said board member Lola Finkelstein at a Monday meeting of the committee. "The emphasis should be on slow down."

The long meeting put a specific emphasis on how much board members did not know about the proposal, with each of them adding in their own questions about the details about it.

The board's concerns included the details of what could be done to improve transit congestion as workers and residents flock to the building, how developers could buy air rights above landmarked buildings, impacts of the development over the next few decades, and what could be done to make sure the towers were given over to office space instead of other developments, like hotels.

"What if we get overrun with hotels and you don't end up with the Class-A office space that you did this for in the first place," asked Edward Klimerman. "How will hotels be done? With a special permit?"

Some members also questioned the need for the project at all, considering developers are having issues filling office space in the new World Trade Center and Hudson Yards developments.

"I'd like to push [the city] on who the potential clients are for these buildings and which industries and types of businesses they think need this," Finkelstein said, pointing out that many high-tech companies like Google have either moved into spaces in Chelsea or are looking at the area around the Flatiron Building.

"Who is it that is so desperate for this office space?"

The board's letter still needs to pass through its Executive Committee before it goes to the City Planning Department. CB5 is not the only board the city is consulting with — a large chunk of the proposal also falls within Community Board 6, which got an initial presentation on it last week. Several residents at that meeting also said the project was moving far too fast.