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Community Boards Slam East Midtown Rezoning Plan

By Mathew Katz | November 19, 2012 4:18pm

MANHATTAN — Three community boards have joined together to sharply criticize the Department of City Planning's fast-tracked plan to rezone large areas of East Midtown — saying in a scathing letter that it could run roughshod over potential landmarks and was a gift to developers.

The plan, which is still in the development stages, would allow builders to erect huge new skyscrapers in the area. In a joint statement, Community Boards 4, 5 and 6 blasted the city for speeding the massive rezoning plan along instead of taking the time to carefully develop a strategy.

"Unfortunately, the approach the Department of City Planning has taken thus far sends a clear signal that a political timetable is guiding this work, not an effort to study the issues carefully and reach a consensus on Midtown’s many challenges and opportunities," the letter to the department, dated Monday, read.

"More time is needed to consider the implications of the issues we and others have raised and we continue to urge the city to carefully address these questions before putting forward a [Land Use Review] application."

All three boards have met for months to come up with a response to the plan, which the city hopes to formalize by early 2013.  

The letter did not mention Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but many members of the three boards have pointed out that under the plan's current timeline, the rezoning proposal would get to the mayor's desk just before his final term ends.

If approved, it would not go into effect for another five years.

By comparison, a similar redevelopment project at Hudson Yards was in the planning stages for years before it was certified by the City Planning Department. In the case of East Midtown, the three community boards were not approached by the city with the idea until April. Several elected officials have also asked the department to slow down its timetable on the proposal.

Neither the mayor's office nor the Department of City Planning were able to immediately comment on the boards' statement.

The letter made it clear that the community boards view the current plan as a gift to developers.

"The focus of this proposal is overwhelmingly on facilitating real estate development," the letter stated.

"Instead, we should start from what we want to see in East Midtown, what kind of experience we want office workers, tourists, and residents to have, and then determine the kind of development that can provide this experience and how best to encourage it. "

Part of that, the letter said, involves building subway improvements in the area before huge new buildings go up and bring more commuters. Under the current plan, cash for such improvements is left to developers, who would pay into a fund only when they obtain their building permits.

The statement also asks for greater protections for potential landmarks like the Graybar Building and Roosevelt Hotel, provisions that would make the new buildings as green as possible, and requests that buildings that might dramatically change the city's skyline go under a greater public review process before they're built.