For Immediate Release
January 3, 2017
Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471
Proposal to encourage new state-of-the-art office space to keep NYC competitive, facilitate
transit upgrade to six midtown subway stations, an improved pedestrian experience, and support historic preservation
Initiative projected to generate up to 28,000 new permanent jobs and 23,000 construction jobs in the next two decades
January 3, 2017 – Public review was officially launched today for zoning changes in Greater East Midtown, creating capacity for new, modern office buildings and mechanisms for major transit improvements, public realm investments and preservation of some of East Midtown’s most iconic landmarks. The proposed 78-block East Midtown Subdistrict would enable the development of new Class-A commercial towers, solidifying East Midtown as a world class business district that offers modern amenities and a range of office types. Buildings would be able to achieve higher density provided the developments support enhancements to the area’s public realm by providing transit improvements and/or purchasing unused floor area from the district’s landmarks. The proposed zoning would provide a predictable framework for the area property owners and the public.
The proposal covers the area roughly between the east side of Third Avenue and the west side of Madison Avenue, from East 39th Street to East 57th Street.
City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod said, “The Greater East Midtown area is the city’s premier business district. It generates approximately 10 percent of the city’s entire real estate taxes so it is essential that it continues to maintain its status as a world class economic magnet. This rezoning will not only facilitate development of the type of quality office towers that will attract a range of employers to East Midtown, but it also will produce 21st century transit and pedestrian upgrades – specified in the zoning text as a prerequisite to development – to ensure that the district can accommodate all who work, stay and pass through it in an enjoyable and livable environment. The creation of this proposal builds upon a unique and collaborative process that will result in benefits for Greater East Midtown as well as the city as a whole. I want to thank City Council Member Dan Garodnick and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for their leadership of the East Midtown Steering Committee which not only identified planning priorities for this critical area, but also forged a consensus-driven, solution-oriented vision for the future.”
The initiatives that emerged from the city’s focus on East Midtown and the Steering Committee’s work—Vanderbilt Corridor, now adopted, and the current East Midtown proposal, respectively—provide increased predictability regarding the scale and general location of development, an improved landmark preservation framework, and greater certainty surrounding public realm improvements and how they’ll be funded. These were specifically cited by the public as issues in the city’s 2013 East Midtown rezoning effort, which was withdrawn at the City Council. In response to the 2013 proposal, the community and its elected officials advocated for a more consensus-driven planning framework and robust approach to improving the area’s public realm.
The current East Midtown zoning proposal is designed to remedy the fact that existing zoning in the area hinders development of the type of new modern office buildings that many commercial tenants desire. It would provide specific means for upgrading transit connections and the above grade public realm. It also would facilitate the preservation of landmarks that have been unable to monetize landlocked development rights by permitting transfers of their unused air rights district wide. It would enable owners of older buildings that are larger than current zoning permits to rebuild them to modern standards. And it would accomplish these goals at private expense while increasing tax revenue to the city through greater development capacity.
The Greater East Midtown proposal would establish a Special Subdistrict in which density would be permitted based on locational criteria, with the densest developments appropriately located near transit and along wide streets. Although the existing zoning districts would remain largely unchanged, property owners may achieve additional density as-of-right if they pursue one of three mechanisms linked to desired outcomes for the district.
1) Key Transit Improvements
In “Transit Improvement Zones” near transit hubs (Grand Central; Fifth Avenue/51st St; Lexington Avenue/53rd St), new developments would be allowed to exceed current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) provided they undertake critical pre-identified improvements to subway stations in or near the district. Density increases would be linked to the scope and public benefit of the improvement.
The stations and improvements were selected in close consultation with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) based on commuter volumes, congestion points and their potential to enhance capacity between the platform and mezzanine or street. The six stations, which collectively serve 13 subway lines daily, include:
- Lexington Ave/53rd and 51st St (E,M,6)
- Lexington Ave/59th St (N,Q,R,4,5,6)
- 5th Ave/53rd St (E,M)
- Rockefeller Center/47th-50th St (B,D,F,M)
- Bryant Park – 5th Ave (B,D,F,M,7)
- Grand Central (4,5,6,7,S)
As with the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning, occupation of any floor area derived from mandatory transit improvements is contingent upon the improvement’s completion. These important improvements, which complement the MTA’s ongoing work in and around the district, are enabled by the city’s rezoning.
2) Historic Preservation
The zoning proposal would permit property owners to purchase unused development rights from landmarks throughout the district on an as-of-right basis, a departure from current regulations under which a landmark may only transfer floor area to adjacent purchasing sites, or directly across the street via special permit. Acknowledging the importance of the broader area’s historic character, this greater flexibility would increase the market for area landmarked buildings to sell their unused development rights, and thereby raise funds for their continued maintenance. New developments in Transit Improvement Zones would also be allowed to use these provisions, but would have to complete transit improvements before exercising this option.
Fulfilling a key commitment to the East Midtown Steering Committee, the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission voted to designate a dozen buildings in East Midtown as landmarks at the end of last year, in advance of the public review process for this rezoning proposal. The designation of these landmarks brings the number of individual landmarks designated in the area to 50.
All told, it is estimated that the proposal would unlock approximately 3.6 million square feet of unused development rights from landmark structures that currently have limited to no ability to transfer these rights.
Twenty percent of the sale value of these development rights transfers, or a minimum contribution based on the value of development rights in the area, must be contributed to a Public Realm Improvement Fund. This Fund will be overseen by a nine-member governing group that will prioritize, select and allocate funds to public realm improvement projects.
3) Rebuild “Overbuilt” Buildings
Buildings built before 1961 in the proposed Subdistrict That exceed the FAR allowed by today’s zoning would be permitted to re-use all of their existing floor area in a redevelopment on the site without requiring 25 percent of the current building be retained, as is the case under current zoning regulations. Four of the projected 16 developments are already built to higher densities than permitted under current regulations, and would be able to rebuild to their existing density as of right. These buildings could also utilize district-wide landmark transfers and—as applicable—transit improvement mechanisms to achieve their maximum permitted FAR.
Any overbuilt floor area that gets re-built would also be subject to a specific contribution into the Public Realm Improvement Fund.
Sites that make use of the proposed zoning framework to achieve more than the base FAR through any of the three mechanisms described above must be located on a wide street or avenue. New buildings must comply with environmental standards in order to reduce their greenhouse gas output. To prioritize new office use, developments earning higher density are required to provide at least 80 percent of the building’s floor area for commercial use. New hotel space, either through enlargement, conversion, or new construction, would require a special permit, in order to ensure that the space meets the unique needs of the area’s businesses.
Greater East Midtown would extend retail continuity provisions to side streets and require sidewalk widening with new development. The special district would permit restaurants and observation decks to be located in mixed buildings above residential floors provided they have separate elevator access.
Public Realm Improvements
In recent years, every discussion of Greater East Midtown has focused not only on the urgency of improving conditions below ground for commuters, but on the need to upgrade the area’s public realm with pedestrian friendly public open spaces and a circulation network that allows people to easily access those spaces, transit, and their workplaces and institutions by foot.
The city’s Department of Transportation has been working with the East Midtown Steering Committee and local stakeholders to develop a menu of potential above-grade improvements. Above-grade and below-grade improvements will comprise a Concept Plan that will be controlled, prioritized, and funded by a nine-member governing group through the Public Realm Improvement Fund as development occurs. The governing group would reserve the right to modify the Concept Plan, adding and removing projects based on criteria in the zoning text.
Among Concept Plan potential improvements that further the city’s Vision Zero policy to enhance pedestrian safety:
• pedestrian plazas, which have been successfully implemented across the city;
• “shared streets” like those piloted in Lower Manhattan last summer and another of which is planned for Fordham Plaza in The Bronx; and
• sidewalk and crosswalk enhancements at key bottlenecks on wide thoroughfares, such as bulb outs that provide more room for pedestrians to wait at intersections and for buses.
Greater East Midtown On The Numbers
The Greater East Midtown zoning is expected to facilitate roughly 16 new office buildings over the next 20 years to refresh the outdated office stock and reverse anticipated declines in office and retail space as well as employment, according to the proposal's Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Without the action, despite the growth of population and jobs elsewhere in the city, East Midtown's employment growth could stagnate. The proposed action could create up to 28,000 new permanent jobs and over 23,000 construction jobs in the next two decades.
Greater East Midtown accounts for approximately 10 percent of the city's property tax revenue. Projected development in the area of roughly 6.5 million incremental square feet of commercial office space, is expected to result in billions of dollars in new tax revenue to the city in the coming decades. In addition, based on the 20 percent contribution rate and mandatory below-grade transit improvements that developers in subway-adjacent areas would make, new development in East Midtown could deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in public enhancements in East Midtown over the next two decades.
Greater East Midtown represents the second phase of a two-track strategy to strengthen the nation’s largest and economically most significant central business district, following the 2015 approval of the Vanderbilt Corridor, which is already bearing fruit. That five block initiative has so far enabled the development of One Vanderbilt, a 57-story office tower under construction across from Grand Central Terminal that is contributing more than $220 million in transit and pedestrian enhancements and will add nearly $50 million in real estate taxes alone annually to the city’s coffers.
Manhattan Community Boards 5 and 6 now have 60 days to review the Greater East Midtown proposal, after which it will go to the Borough President and the Manhattan Borough Board, the City Planning Commission and the City Council as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). For additional details on the zoning proposal or the ULURP time table, please visit the DCP website.