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Manhattan’s Garment District is next on the rezoning block, with some bright spots for manufacturers
Obama Presidential Center breezes through planning and zoning hurdles, but continues to kindle community concern
City Council approves major Bronx rezoning
The proposal, approved 42-0, updates the area’s zoning code to incentivize new, dense development and revitalize the flagging business area in order to compete with the Financial District and Hudson Yards. The 78 blocks in the area are currently home to more than 250,000 jobs and generate ten percent of the city’s property tax base, according to a New York Daily News article penned by Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city anticipates 6.5 million square feet of office space being added to East Midtown.
Developers can build higher and gain more floor-area-ratio (FAR) by either buying landmarked air rights or making specific transit improvements (targeted mainly at subway stations). Several recent changes include the lowering of the air rights minimum: developers can purchase air rights at $61.49 per square foot, of which the proceeds will go toward a public realm fund. Developers are also required pay upfront for transit improvements if they choose to go that route; buildings will not be occupiable until those improvements are finished.“The goal is to improve Midtown, not keep it as it is,” Councilman Garodnick said at the meeting.
The city has committed $50 million to start improving public spaces—before anything is built—and the first project includes a shared street on 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Over the next 20 years, the city estimates that up to 16 properties could take advantage of the rezoning.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally announced today that she opposed the city’s proposal to rezone East Harlem; the rezoning would bring more high-rise residential development to the area.
In a detailed report, Brewer cited the proposed concentrated density along Third and Park Avenues, a lack of new affordable housing units, and a failure to preserve existing affordable housing units as reasons for rejecting the proposal. She also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for not taking into account the concerns raised by Community Board 11.
"We are left with an incomplete picture of what the impact of this application will be and how we can ensure the better future for the community promised by the applicant," Brewer wrote. "Ultimately, the current proposal falls short in both the land use and the programmatic categories."
The rezoning proposal would allow the buildings in a 96-block stretch of East Harlem to be built higher in order to incentivize development in the neighborhood. Consequently, according to Brewer, the plan would enable building forms that would tip the balance towards market-rate development and not affordable housing.
The proposal has incited backlash and controversy from the neighborhood’s residents; a Community Board 11 meeting in June descended into chaos when residents stormed the stage. Locals fear that rezoning will only expedite the rapid gentrification that is spreading.The rezoning is part of Mayor de Blasio's broader push to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
But East Harlem, while a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing, has been steadily losing its affordable housing stock. About 80 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood live in some form of regulated housing and approximately 12,000 households that face severe housing needs, according to the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (ENHP).
The ENHP was submitted to the administration in 2016, supported by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brewer, and focused on a bottom-up approach to de Blasio’s plan.
“Here, the community gave extensive, thoughtful and informed input, but the administration could not see its way to support significant elements of the community’s recommendations, which forces me to recommend a disapproval of the application,” Brewer said.
Although Brewer’s lack of support is non-binding, the plan is expected to undergo changes before making its way to the City Planning Commission and City Council.
Following several key revisions, Midtown East’s rezoning plan was unanimously approved by both the City Council Land Use Committee and the subcommittee on zoning and franchises today.
The rezoning of Greater East Midtown has been in the works for five years and has been making its way through the public review process. The plan, which hopes to rejuvenate and attract businesses back to the area, will pave the way for more than six million square feet of new office buildings. It allows developers to increase the floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of their buildings, provided that they either make specific transit infrastructure improvements or buy landmarked air rights.
Several amendments were made to the proposal during the zoning committee meeting before it was approved.
A hotly contested topic, the sale of air rights from landmarked buildings, was one of the main changes. The mandatory public contribution decreased to $61.49 per square foot, down from $78.60 since it was last presented to the City Council, according to The Real Deal. The money from those sales will go towards a public realm improvement fund that will deal with aboveground infrastructure, and the city has committed $50 million to kick-start the fund.
“This is what we call a fair compromise,” Councilman David Greenfield said at the land use meeting, defending the decision to lower the air rights minimum. “When everyone around the table is not happy, it means we probably got it right.” The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) had asked for a much lower minimum, claiming that even with the new minimum, the price point was too high to attract and induce deals.
Under the revised plan, five blocks from 46th to 51st streets along Third Avenue will be left out, following opposition from Turtle Bay residents who said that their neighborhood was mainly residential and should be excluded. Other changes include the requirement that for any building larger than 30,000 square feet, developers must improve Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS). This will bring an estimated 16 new POPS to the area.
Transit infrastructure improvements were specified in this new proposal as well—if developers choose to go this route, they will have to create new street-level exits and widen staircases for subway stations in the area. The city estimated that $500 million will go towards these improvements.
Councilman Daniel Gardodnick, one of the project’s main supporters, proclaimed “East Midtown is back,” on the steps of City Hall after the subcommittee approved the vote. "This is a plan that will re-establish East Midtown as the crown jewel of our business districts, as an economic engine for our city and and will strengthen its future for many years to come.”
The full council, which usually adheres to the committee’s decision, is expected to meet for the final vote on August 9.