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East Midtown Rezoning Enters Public Review, New Details of Plan Emerge

By Noah Hurowitz | January 3, 2017 6:20pm
 The proposed rezoning is meant to spur the redevelopment of east Midtown, much of which was built more than 50 years ago.
The proposed rezoning is meant to spur the redevelopment of east Midtown, much of which was built more than 50 years ago.
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Wikimedia Commons/Dmitry B.

MIDTOWN — The city’s proposed east Midtown rezoning plan entered the months-long public review process on Tuesday, as new details emerged about key portions of the project, including the planned public-transit improvement projects that will be built into the plan.

The new draft of the proposed Greater East Midtown Rezoning, released on Dec. 30, includes specifics about pre-approved transit projects that will be part of the new zoning amendment, along with details about how the transfer of air rights from landmark sites will contribute to public improvements.

See Also: Here's What You Need to Know About the Greater East Midtown Rezoning

"This rezoning will not only facilitate development of the type of quality office towers that will attract a range of employers to East Midtown," said City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod in a statement. "It also will produce 21st century transit and pedestrian upgrades — specified in the zoning text as a prerequisite to development — to ensure that the district can accommodate all who work, stay and pass through it in an enjoyable and livable environment."

Developers looking to build in the rezoned area of Midtown will be able to contribute to station improvements at transit hubs in the neighborhood, with some projects pre-approved by the Department of City Planning and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority including improved disability access at Bryant Park and a new station entrance at the 59th Street station, according to a document outlining the plan.

The rezoning process is an attempt, long sought by property owners and elected officials alike, to make it easier for developers to build more modern office stock in the area of Midtown surrounding Grand Central Terminal, where zoning regulations and existing density restrictions make it difficult to build new towers.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration pushed a similar effort which fell apart when key elected officials withdrew support out of concern that Bloomberg’s plan did not do enough to ensure that the rezoning would require developers to contribute to public improvements in exchange for added height and density bonuses.

Proponents of the new plan say it goes much farther than the Bloomberg plan, particularly in terms of the pre-approved public transit improvements, which will be written into the rezoning amendment as a virtual catalog that developers may choose from in exchange for density bonuses.

Developers looking to build in the rezoned areas will choose an improvement project and in return they will be granted increased floor-area ratio, or FAR, which in Midtown typically translates to increased height.

Transit hubs that the MTA and DCP have identified as being potential areas for improvement include: 

►Lexington Avenue/53rd Street and 51st Street (E,M,6)
►Lexington Avenue/59th Street (N,Q,R,4,5,6)
►Fifth Avenue/53rd Street (E,M)
►Rockefeller Center/47th-50th Street (B,D,F,M)
►Bryant Park/Fifth Avenue (B,D,F,M,7)
►Grand Central (4,5,6,7,S)

In addition to the public transit improvements, the updated rezoning proposal also lays out how developers, in buying air rights from adjacent landmark sites, will contribute to public improvements. 

For each purchase of air rights in the rezoned area, 20 percent of the price will go into a public improvement fund, which will be used to finance aboveground projects such as public plazas and other amenities for public use, according to the proposal.

The plan will begin going before Community Boards 5 and 6 from Jan. 12 through March 13, before heading to review by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. For a full schedule of the review process, see the DCP's website.