Midtown East rezoning gets unanimous approval from land use and zoning committees

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 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.