The Real Deal New York

REBNY wants to upsize Midtown East rezoning

Officials, public sound off on proposal
By Kathryn Brenzel | September 22, 2016 06:52PM

From left Midtown East rezoning area, Dan Garodnick and John Banks

From left Midtown East rezoning area, Dan Garodnick and John Banks

The Real Estate Board of New York has a few issues with the proposal to rezone Midtown East. Namely, the organization thinks the buildings should be bigger, the residential restrictions are unnecessary and the city should take as small a cut as possible from air right sales.

Representatives from REBNY spoke at a meeting discussing the rezoning Thursday, where they asked the New York City Planning Commission to consider an additional 10 percent in floor area to as-of-right buildings throughout the district. The current proposal, which was released in August, could already add 6.5 million square feet in additional office space to the area.

REBNY also said limiting residential construction in the district was “unnecessary.” The organization took issue with the proposal’s condition that residential development can only take up 20 percent of total FAR.

“Our members are concerned that the 20 percent cap is insufficient to support new commercial development,” one representative said during the meeting. “Allowing for a greater amount of residential development would serve as a catalyst for commercial development.”

Another issue that came up, cited by REBNY and others, was the sale of air rights at landmarked buildings in the district. Representatives for the Archdiocese of New York and the Central Synagogue — both of whom own substantial air rights in the district  — expressed concern over the city’s plan to take a cut of these sales for public improvements. As part of the proposal, the city will take a yet-to-be determined percentage of the sales based on square footage — which would go to the city’s “improvement fund.” Buildings that fall within the rezoning area can either buy air rights or contribute to specific infrastructure projects to benefit from the rezoning.

Any assessment associated with air rights transfers, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese said, “should be sized so that it does not undermine the intent of the transfer provision as originally envisioned: to provide significant relief from the high cost of maintaining landmark buildings and to assist in their overall preservation.”

REBNY said the city’s cut of the air rights proceeds should be kept as low as possible.

Terrence O’Neal, of Community Board 6, said that the East side of Third Avenue should be removed from the rezoning proposal, saying that it would subject Turtle Bay and other nearby residential areas to buildings “even more out of character” with the neighborhood.

Council member Daniel Garodnick, a big proponent of the rezoning initiative, noted that several details of the proposal remain unclear — such as what infrastructure projects will be funded by the rezoning and if the air rights sales can be used to incentivize residential development. Garodnick was part of a mayoral steering committee that recommended that the air right sales shouldn’t be used for such development.

“The big picture here is that East Midtown needs a rezoning, it needs a jolt,” he said. “I believe that this proposal is on a path to achieving those goals, though a number of important details remain to be worked out.”