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East Midtown Rezoning Proposal Rejected by Community Boards

By Alan Neuhauser | June 18, 2013 10:40am | Updated on June 18, 2013 11:43am
 The Department of City Planning has proposed rezoning 73 blocks around Grand Central Terminal in East Midtown to allow newer and larger skyscrapers.
City Seeking to Rezone 73-Block Section of East Midtown
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MIDTOWN — The city's controversial proposal to rezone a 73-block section of East Midtown around Grand Central Station to allow newer and taller skyscrapers has been rejected by two community boards.

While acknowledging that East Midtown's cramped and aging office towers do need to be replaced, Manhattan Community Boards 5 and 6 argued last week that the plan lacks crucial details and contains major flaws. 

"The amendments may be counterproductive in addressing many of the challenges of East Midtown, and...they represent an incomplete and unworthy proposal ill-suited to meet their most basic goal: to ensure East Midtown’s competitiveness in the 21st century," boards 5 and 6 found.

They called for "greater study and review to produce a more comprehensive, thoughtful strategy to strengthen the city’s most important business district."

In rejecting the East Midtown rezoning proposal, the boards approved a resolution passed two weeks ago by the Multi-Board Task Force on East Midtown, comprised of boards 1, 4, 5 and 6. The task force's resolution, which passed unanimously, recommended denying the rezoning measure.

The task force and boards 5 and 6 found that the East Midtown rezoning plan fails to clearly explain how the city will pay for and upgrade mass transit to deal with the influx of office workers and residents from new large-scale developments.

While the proposal calls for establishing a District Improvement Fund to pay for transit improvements, the task force and boards insisted that improvements must be made before any development occurs. They also argued that the measures stipulating how much developers would be required to pay into fund, and how that fund would be used, remain too vague.

"East Midtown is already one of the densest areas of the developed world with a transit system that is currently overcapacity, yet this proposal seeks to add more density with the prospect of future transit improvements coming only after said density has been added," the task force wrote in its resolution.

"A truly world-class district must have a truly world-class transit system," it added. "A commitment to infrastructure as represented by Grand Central Terminal is what allowed East Midtown to become the premier business district it is today."

The task force and community boards also asserted that the proposal's plan to charge developers $250 per square foot for air rights was too low. They were concerned about the timing of the proposal and how it would affect — or be affected by — large-scale developments at Hudson Yards and the World Trade Center.

"The timeline for this rezoning has been beholden to a political calendar and needlessly rushed," the task force said.

The resolutions from Boards 5 and 6 are non-binding, but they represent the first formal decisions in the months-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, for East Midtown. Under ULURP, the rezoning proposal will next go before the Manhattan Borough President's Office, whose decision is also non-binding, then the Department of City Planning and the City Council.

"We look forward to studying [the boards'] recommendations as we continue to work to maintain East Midtown as a world-class business district and major job generator for New York City," a Department of City Planning spokesman wrote in an e-mail. "City Planning takes the community and stakeholder views seriously, and their recommendations, along with those of the borough president, will be carefully considered as the proposal advances through the official land use process to the City Planning Commission."