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City finally issues proposal for Midtown East rezoning

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The rezoning would allow for greater building density in the neighborhood

The city has finally released its proposal to rezone Midtown East to allow for larger office buildings (h/t Crain’s). The plan to rezone the neighborhood has been in the works since 2013, when the Bloomberg administration pitched the City Council on the idea. But it failed to garner enough support at the time, so the administration withdrew the proposal.

A second proposal crafted by a steering committee appointed by Mayor de Blasio and helmed by City Council member Dan Garodnick with a team of community stakeholders was first presented in June 2015. The proposal has now been formally rendered by the Department of City Planning, and will soon begin winding its way through the city’s labyrinthine approvals process.

The area affected by the rezoning would be bound by East 39th and East 57th streets to the south and north, and Second and Third Avenues to the east and Fifth Avenue to the west. The 78-block area would not include the already rezoned Vanderbilt Corridor, bound by Vanderbilt and Madison avenues and East 42nd and East 47th streets, that is allowing incoming office tower One Vanderbilt to rise 1,400 feet.

So why the rezone? In short, the city wants the area to remain competitive as a business hub. The average office building in the proposed rezoning area is 75 years old, and the city fears the aging building stock won’t continue to meet tenant needs. The Department of City Planning writes, "A primary challenge is the area’s office building stock, which the DCP is concerned may not—in the long run—offer the kinds of spaces and amenities that are desired by tenants, and which can only be provided through new construction."

The rezoning would allow for an increased maximum density of about 30 percent. Areas closer to transit would have higher maximum densities than areas further away, enforcing the city’s planning policy of focusing density near public transportation. The rezoning takes into account East Side Access as well as the Second Avenue Subway, which, fingers crossed, will open one day.

The rezoning would also allow landmarks in the area to sell their air rights without a special city permit within the rezoning subdistrict, rather than just to properties on or across the street as is the case now. The sales won’t only allow for larger buildings, but will also help fund upkeep of the landmarks as well as public improvements; the city would keep a percentage of the proceeds from the air rights sales to finance upgrades in the subdistrict. Currently, the area’s landmarks hold about 3.5 million square feet of developable air rights.

The rezoning is expected to result in the construction of 16 new predominantly office buildings in the area in the coming decades. DCP writes, "It is envisioned that the majority of buildings would remain in their current office uses and only a small portion would convert to residential and hotel uses." The proposed rezoning area is majority comprised of high-density commercial space.

The rezoning proposal has already undergone an environmental assessment that discovered the rezoning may have a "significant adverse impact on the environment," facilitating the need for an Environmental Impact Statement. New development in the rezoned district would largely be as-of-right, meaning developers could build without an okay from the city. Some developments will be subject to the city’s land use review.

Head this way for the city’s full proposal, courtesy of Crain’s.

One Vanderbilt

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