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Religious Landmarks Seek Wider Reach To Sell Their Air Rights

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Three Midtown landmarks may be able to transfer their extremely valuable, unused air rights under a new plan being floated by the religious institutions along with the city and the Archdiocese of New York. Central Synagogue, St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, and St. Patrick's Cathedral—which alone has enough unused air rights to construct a tower as tall as the Chrysler Building atop of it—are in talks to develop a plan that would help the institutions transfer their air rights to farther away, less built-out areas east of Fifth Avenue, the Wall Street Journal reports. As it is now, the city only allows air rights to be transferred to buildings next door, across the street, or catty corner to the landmark. The plan for a plan is backed by Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who are both chairing a steering committee to look into the feasibility of Midtown East's rezoning, which would stop just short of the religious landmarks.

As it is now, the landmarks are surrounding by sites which have already reached their maximum building potential. The plan would allow the landmarks to sell their air rights to sites farther away than is typically permitted. Former programs have been put in place to aid the transfer of landmarks air rights across development sites; In 1968, the city created such a program but it was accompanied by a rigorous formal review process that deterred developers. Other groups have proposed restructuring the sale of landmarks' air rights in the recent past.

The ability to sell their air rights would help the institutions finance routine maintenance and other fixes to their aging properties. The air rights over St. Patrick's alone likely value in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Now that's a lot of spackling paste.

City Planning Director Carl Weisbrod announced a broad review of the buildings' air rights at a conference held by the Department of City Planning and the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute of Baruch College several weeks ago.
· Up in the Air: Development Rights of New York City Landmarks [WSJ]
· Firm Wants to Change the Way Landmarks Can Sell Air Rights [Curbed]
· Religious Institutions Not So Keen on Midtown Eats Rezoning [Curbed]