Say no to drugs: Pfizer building upzoning draws ire

Community board member calls site's zoning a "glaring exception" to the proposal's spirit

<em>From left: 235 East 42nd Street and outline of proposed Midtown East rezoning area</em>
From left: 235 East 42nd Street and outline of proposed Midtown East rezoning area

If The Pfizer Headquarters On East 42nd Street is redeveloped, it may get out of paying for some public improvements required under the Midtown East rezoning proposal.

The building is a unique case under the City Planning Commission’s Midtown East rezoning proposal, which was released last month. The site currently has a different allowed floor area ratio (FAR) — 10 — than surrounding buildings, which have an FAR of 15. The proposal seeks to change this to make the building at 235 East 42nd Street, along with two other buildings on the site — 801 Second Avenue and 219 East 42nd Street — uniform with the rest of the district. The problem is that this means the Pfizer building isn’t considered as “overbuilt” as it would if it kept its current FAR of 10.

Many buildings in Midtown East are now considered “overbuilt” because they were constructed before 1961 and don’t adhere to the current zoning rules. This hasn’t encouraged property owners to update their building stock because they’d likely be forced to replace their buildings with smaller space. Under the proposal, these buildings can rebuild their overbuilt square footage as-of-right in exchange for a yet-to-be determined contribution to a public realm improvement fund. The contributions are dependent on how much square footage is considered overbuilt.

Enter the Pfizer headquarters: With an FAR of 10, it’s overbuilt by about 295,900 square feet. With an FAR of 15, it would be overbuilt by 107,607 square feet. Presumably, this means that Pfizer would pay less to the public improvement fund if it chose to rebuild its existing square footage or not pay the fund at all if it chose to just build up to the allowed FAR of 15.

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During a public meeting about the rezoning Thursday, Stefano Trevisan, member of Community Board 5, called the site’s upzoning a “glaring exception” to the spirit of the rezoning proposal. He and Terrence O’Neal, member of Community Board 6, pointed out that the city would be increasing the Pfizer building’s FAR to 15 for free.

“There’s no justification for this unless the building owner is required to contribute to the fund for public realm improvements,” O’Neal said.

If the rezoning goes through, at total of 813,391 square feet of office space could be built on the Pfizer site (which currently has 672,462 square feet of office space). To reach that maximum space, the company would need to buy additional air rights from landmarked sites in the district. The rezoning could add 6.5 million square feet in additional office space to the area.

During testimony at Thursday’s meeting, representatives for the Real Estate Board of New York argued that property owners with “overbuilt” buildings shouldn’t have to contribute to the improvement fund at all.

“In the case of these buildings, there should be no contribution into an improvement fund for rebuilding the overbuilt portion of these structures since these conditions were created under FAR controls and caused by government action,” a spokesperson said.

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