Midtown East air rights proposal is extortion, good-government advocates say

August 28, 2013 11:13AM

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is essentially extorting developers by forcing them to pay for transit improvements under his Midtown East rezoning plan, a good-government advocacy group said.

The City Club of New York claims Bloomberg is playing an illegal game of “zoning for dollars” with his proposal to sell air rights to developers for about $250 per square foot if they want to put up office towers that are taller than zoning rules allow. The money would go into a fund for transit improvements.

The club told the New York Times that the law required a close connection between what the city requires of a developer — such as widening a sidewalk or renovating a subway station — and the burdens created by the developer’s project. But what Bloomberg was doing was essentially creating a system where developers have to pay cash to enlarge their buildings, the group said.

Michael Shilstone, a spokesperson for the City Planning Department told the newspaper that “there is no requirement that the amount of these voluntary payments by owners and developers be calculated based on the ‘impacts’ caused by the development.”

Shilstone added that the plan was consistent with incentives that have been offered to developers since 1961, which have allowed for the construction of public interest buildings such as plazas, subway stations and affordable housing units. [NYT]  – Hiten Samtani