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City Planning Certifies East Midtown Rezoning Plan

By Alan Neuhauser | April 22, 2013 4:45pm | Updated on April 22, 2013 7:12pm

MIDTOWN — The Department of City Planning certified its controversial proposal to rezone a huge swath of East Midtown around Grand Central Terminal to allow newer and far larger skyscrapers Monday.

The proposal, strongly supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was widely expected to be certified, a step that merely confirms that a rezoning application is complete and ready for public review. The application now proceeds through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

Under ULURP, the East Midtown rezoning proposal will be reviewed by Community Boards 5 and 6, Borough President Scott M. Stringer, the Planning Commission and the City Council. Only the Planning Commission and City Council's decisions are binding.

"Our East Midtown plan provides zoning incentives for the development of a handful of new, state-of-the-art sustainable commercial buildings over the next 20 years," City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden said. "This will enable this iconic district to build on its distinguished building stock and maintain a spectrum of commercial space for different business needs, including tenants seeking modern Class A offices."

The proposal, which was previously informally reviewed by four Manhattan community boards and the borough president's office, calls for rezoning a 73-block section of Midtown, roughly bounded by East 39th and East 57th streets, and Third and Fifth avenues.

Most buildings there are more than 50 years old, officials say, with smaller windows, lower ceilings, smaller office space and fewer energy-efficient amenities compared to the city's newer commercial buildings.

While there is general agreement among neighborhood and city officials that buildings there are in need of upgrades, there have been intense arguments over the rezoning proposal.

Some opponents argue that the permitted height of the new buildings could block views of iconic structures such as the Chrysler Building, while others are worried about the amount of money developers would be required to contribute to a fund for upgrading already-overburdened transportation and pedestrian infrastructure.

There have also been fights over the project's timetable, which could interfere with the Hudson Yards development getting underway on Manhattan's west side.

A taskforce of four community boards has called for a "detailed, block-by-block analysis and comprehensive plan prescribing specific improvements to the East Midtown streetscape." The plan overall, they argue, should protect "the public's ongoing investment in Hudson Yards and Lower Manhattan" and include "requirements for environmental sustainability."

"We want the city's plan to be worthy of this important challenge," Task Force chairwoman Lola Finkelstein, who is also a member of Community Board 5, said in a statement Monday. "The Task Force envisions a world-class, 21st century central business district that goes beyond columns and floor plates."

The application now proceeds to community boards 5 and 6, which have 60 days to issue recommendations.