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Preservationists Want 17 Midtown East Buildings Protected Prior to Rezoning

By Mathew Katz | December 12, 2012 9:08am

MIDTOWN — The Municipal Art Society of New York began a push to lend landmark protection to 17 building in Midtown East, where the Department of City Planning hopes to drastically change zoning regulations.

The controversial plan to rezone the area around Grand Central Station could give developers the ability to build huge new skyscrapers, potentially by destroying or altering existing structures. 

The MAS asked the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to give landmark status to buildings that represent key architectural styles and periods, including the Yale Club at 50 Vanderbilt Ave., the Hotel Intercontinental at 111 E. 48th St., The New York Health and Racquet Club at 18 E. 50th St., and J.P. Morgan Chase Tower at 270 Park Ave.

The buildings represent a selection of styles, including Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, and Neo-Gothic, preservationists said.

“City Planning’s proposed East Midtown re-zoning has the potential to dramatically change the area and threaten the mix of old and new buildings that define the neighborhood as uniquely ‘New York,’" said MAS President Vin Cipolla.

"A holistic vision for the future of East Midtown must support a mix of businesses, people and buildings. Retaining the diverse, and historic, building stock is a critical component of maintaining a vibrant and successful business district.”

The proposal to rezone Midtown East, heavily favored by the Bloomberg administration, has caught criticism from many locals calling it a gift to developers and claiming that City Planning officials want to push the plan through before the mayor's term is up in 2013.

The MAS is not the only group to press for more landmarks in the area as the zoning overhaul looms — it's been a frequent point raised by Community Boards 4, 5, and 6 during their meetings on the proposal.

Giving the 17 buildings landmark protection would prevent developers from changing or destroying them without permission from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"We have been evaluating buildings within the East Midtown study area for their potential eligibility for landmark designation," said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for LPC.

"The buildings in MAS’s request are part of that review." 

Landmark protection also has the potential to come with a side benefit, as the Archdiocese of New York, along with owners of other landmarked buildings, are pushing the city to allow them to sell their air rights anywhere in the Midtown East zone.

That plan would let them sell air rights to developers and, in effect, developers could pay owners of landmark buildings for the right to add more height or bulk their own buildings. It's unclear if it will be a part of the final rezoning proposal.