F.A.R. Out

Midtown East rezoning proposal one step closer to final approval

City Terrain East Urbanism
Midtown East rezoning proposal one step closer to final approval. (Courtesy Dimitry B./Flickr)

The rezoning of Midtown East in New York City is one step closer to approval after the latest proposal was presented at yesterday’s City Council meeting, although not without significant opposition from the public.

The rezoning proposal has made an arduous, five-year-long journey with support and roadblocks along the way. The Department of City Planning (DCP) has pushed the proposal forward, claiming that it will incentivize the development of new office buildings, preserve landmarked buildings, and improve the public realm in the area.

The designated site runs from 39th Street to 57th Street and is bordered by Madison Avenue from the west and 3rd Avenue from the east. With Hudson Yards luring away businesses and the Financial District offering newer buildings with larger floor space, the DCP has primarily made it their goal to make the proposed Midtown East sub-district area a premier business area.

If this latest proposal passes, it would add a potential 16 new developments in the area and allow developers to build up to 40 percent taller and bulkier than is currently permitted in Midtown. In exchange, they would be required to either complete improvements to below-grade transit infrastructure (i.e. improve major subway stations), rebuild legally overbuilt floor areas of pre-1961 buildings, or if they transfer landmark development rights, pay a minimum contribution ($78.60 per square foot) to a public realm fund.

“We expect hundreds of millions of dollars to go into this fund,” DCP’s Director Edith Hsu-Chen said. The fund is expected to improve aboveground infrastructure, including widening pedestrian streets and creating shared streets.

Another part of the proposal includes the Pfizer headquarters building. Since it was built before the 1961 Zoning plan, it will automatically get a free density boost of floor area ratio (FAR) 10 to FAR 15 and possibly incentivize the pharmaceutical company to sell the building and leave the city, as The Real Deal reports.

While infrastructure improvements to subway stations were applauded (especially concerning the latest MTA woes), concerns were expressed from councilmembers about the transparency of the use of the public realm funds and whether developers could “game the system,” according to Councilman Daniel Garodnick, a long-time supporter of the proposal.

Other questions raised included the potential—and highly likely—increased traffic in the 116 traffic intersections that will be affected, the increased shadows overcast, as well as the lack of new public space, which has been an issue for many of the proposal’s opponents. Since developers are already gaining extra FAR from contributing to the public fund, they do not have to take part in the POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces) program, a voluntary zoning mechanism where developers get more floor space by building a public space.

The meeting saw many community members pushback against rezoning without the mandatory inclusion of open, public space. “What remains to be determined, after all this time, is what the public will be receiving,” said a representative for Vikki Barbera, chair of Community Board 5. “Open space is not some optional amenity, it is essential for all good planning.”

The City Council will meet later this month to vote on the latest proposal.

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