Midtown East committee: Let landmarks sell their air rights

City would take a cut of each transaction to fund public improvements

St. Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown

Midtown East landmarks like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Bartholomew’s Church and Central Synagogue will be able to market 3.5 million square feet of air rights if a steering committee’s recommendations are approved.

The East Midtown Steering Committee released an anticipated rezoning report Thursday recommending that designated landmarks be permitted to transfer unused development rights across the entire Midtown East neighborhood.

The report offers two options for increased zoning in the district, with the first allowing developers to acquire additional square footage by investing in nearby public transportation like subway platforms.

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The second option would allow owners of landmarked buildings in Midtown East to sell unused air rights throughout a new, expanded zoning district. While those development rights might be sold at market rate. The city would take a “significant percentage” of each transaction, however, to fund “public-realm improvements.”

The report estimates that 19 landmarked buildings in Midtown East alone offer 3.5 million square feet of development rights that can’t be used. St. Patrick’s, St. Bartholomew’s and Central Synagogue have angled for years to be allowed to sell those rights.

While saying they “applaud” the steering committee’s recommendations, the three religious institutions released a joint statement expressed concern “that the high assessment on [air rights] transfers proposed in the Committee report greatly diminishes the rezoning’s twin objectives of promoting development and historic preservation.”

The City Planning Commission and other city agencies will next weigh the steering committee’s proposals, and it would enter the city’s formal zoning process if approved. – Rey Mashayekhi

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