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Slow Down East Midtown Rezoning, Locals and Pols Say

By Mathew Katz | August 21, 2012 3:26pm

MIDTOWN — An unusually fast timetable for one of the largest rezoning proposals the city's seen in years has local officials saying one thing: slow down.

Both elected and community board officials have launched a campaign to ask the Department of City Planning to push back its target dates for public approval of the proposal to rezone Midtown East, a plan that would allow the construction of giant new office buildings in the area around Grand Central Terminal.

City Planning officials want to hold a meeting at the end of August to figure out the scope of the proposal. Under that timetable, the project would enter the formal public approval process, known as ULURP, by early 2013 and would get it to the mayor's office before the end of Michael Bloomberg's term.

The quick timetable has many locals and even elected officials wondering if Bloomberg wants to rush it through as one final piece of his legacy.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick sent a letter earlier this month asking City Planning to push back its scoping meeting to March 27.

"I understand that the mayor's term has only 502 days remaining, but that should not be the prime factor for such an important proposal," Garodnick wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to City Planning Chair Amanda Burden.

"Indeed, there is no harm in having this proposal be initiated by the Bloomberg administration and finalized by the next mayor, whoever it may be, and for it to be a shared legacy."

Several stakeholders pointed out that City Planning's current timetable is much quicker than similar redevelopment projects, such as the rezoning of Hudson Yards. The idea to rezone the West Side Rail Yards into a series of skyscrapers first came about when Bloomberg took office in 2002, and the major elements of it were approved in 2005 and late 2009.

By comparison, both Community Boards 5 and 6 were not approached with the idea for rezoning East Midtown until April. Both boards have not taken a stand on the rezoning, and many members see that the area could use the competitive boost the rezoning would give it. They just want more time to discuss it.

"The substance of these changes is already years away, arguably even decades away, and there is no reason to move at this pace," Garodnick wrote.

CB6 Chair Mark Thompson said the board was interested in understanding how the rezoning would impact transportation, utilities, services, pedestrian capacity, the environment and other issues.

“Asking for a slight slowdown in the process does not mean it should or should not happen," said CB6 Chair Mark Thompson. "It simply means that such a significant rezoning and potential change to the heart of the city deserves and requires more time.”

The city's 4, 5 and 6 subway lines — the main ones serving the area — are already over capacity, according to MTA studies, and adding a new stock of office buildings would only make congestion worse if not handled right, locals say.

"Maybe we should front-load the infrastructure in anticipation of the density," Garodnick said.

The Department of City Planning did not immediately respond to requests for comment.