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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Department of City Planning proposed Zoning Text Amendment (N 130247 ZRM) and Zoning Map Amendment (C 130248 ZMM) to amend the Special Midtown District of the NYC Zoning Resolution

WHEREAS, The Department of City Planning seeks to rezone a 70-block area surrounding Grand Central Terminal including parts of Park Avenue, together known as East Midtown; and

WHEREAS, The goal of the rezoning is to preserve East Midtown’s global competitiveness in the 21st century; and

WHEREAS, Although CB5/CB6 agree that East Midtown should be studied and the goals of the rezoning are worthy of consideration; and

WHEREAS, The timeline for this rezoning has been beholden to a political calendar and needlessly rushed despite multiple requests from elected officials, community boards, and advocacy groups to slow the process down and allow for a more thorough, complete plan for the future of this vital office district; and

WHEREAS, A truly world-class district must have a truly world-class transit system; and

WHEREAS, A commitment to infrastructure as represented by Grand Central Terminal is what allowed East Midtown to become the premier business district it is today; and

WHEREAS, The proposed rezoning relies entirely on the speculative possibility of future payments into a District Improvement Fund (DIF) to finance infrastructure upgrades that are known and needed today; and

WHEREAS, The proposal’s plan to use the DIF, which is unpredictable and unreliable, to fund critical infrastructure needs does not represent a commensurate commitment to infrastructure that will solidify East Midtown as a globally competitive office district in the 21st century; and

WHEREAS, If a DIF is created as a supplementary revenue source it needs to include an appraisal process for development rights to ensure market pricing and to include a floor which increases over time as well; and 

WHEREAS, This proposal would allow a drastic increase in density in an area the City deemed built-out in a 1982 downzoning which sought to encourage development elsewhere in Manhattan; and

WHEREAS, East Midtown is already one of the densest areas of the developed world with a transit system that is currently overcapacity yet this proposal seeks to add more density with the prospect of future transit improvements coming only after said density has been added; and

WHEREAS, The proposed densities will overwhelm the already overcrowded streets and sidewalks of the area and therefore must be reduced in order to better reflect a coherent and contextual urban design strategy; and

WHEREAS, Although public review is essential for any building in the proposal area above 18FAR (which still represents a 20% increase over the allowable base FAR),  this proposal marginalizes the public’s critical role in the review of land use matters by allowing extremely high FAR as-of-right; and

WHEREAS, Improvements to the public realm meant to be part of this proposal are exceptionally vague with no detailed plan for how, what, and when improvements will be made; and

WHEREAS, The Multi-Board Task Force and others have repeatedly asked for a comprehensive public realm strategy; yet the commissioning of such a plan has only just been announced and is not included in the ULURP application, preventing Community Boards and the Borough President from having the opportunity to comment on it, or to provide meaningful input as a part of their recommendations; and

WHEREAS, The proposal has a narrow and outdated conception of use regulations for a 21st century office district; and

WHEREAS, An allowance for residential and community facility use in all new buildings (capped if necessary) would promote the 21st century paradigm of mixed-use that cities around the world have embraced; and

WHEREAS, A retail or public use requirement for the rooftop of these new buildings would allow greater public interaction with our city’s skyline; and

WHEREAS, Streetwall requirements discourage innovative and architecturally distinctive building design; and

WHEREAS, Although designed to ensure that new buildings resulting from these new zoning rules will be models of sustainable development, building code and environmental guidelines included in this proposal are insufficient; and

WHEREAS, More rigorous and inventive requirements that promote 21st century environmental concerns are included in the attached document; and

WHEREAS, Several eligible landmarks lie within the rezoning area and are either projected or potential development sites and therefore under threat of demolition and, in fact, the very prospect of landmarking these buildings has already prompted  some owners to deface them or strip their façades in an effort to prevent landmarking; and

WHEREAS, Although air rights were conceived by the City to provide a secure funding stream for existing landmarks to maintain the city’s historic resources, landmarks in the area will unduly face increased competition for selling these air rights as a result of the underpriced DIF; and

WHEREAS, The Task Force and others have called for the study of a landmarks transfer alternative that would allow landmarks in the area outside of the Grand Central Subdistrict to float their air rights more broadly; and

WHEREAS, By encouraging new development in East Midtown the City is putting at risk the significant investments it has made in other office districts, including Hudson Yards and Lower Manhattan, investments the taxpayers are still paying for as developers fail to achieve anticipated occupancy goals; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Community Boards Five and Six recommend denial of the Department of City Planning’s proposed Zoning Text Amendment (N 130247 ZRM) and Zoning Map Amendment (C 130248 ZMM), as the amendments may be counterproductive in addressing many of the challenges of East Midtown and as they represent an incomplete and unworthy proposal ill-suited to meet their most basic goal: to ensure East Midtown’s competiveness in the 21st century; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Boards Five and Six also call for greater study and review to produce a more comprehensive, thoughtful strategy to strengthen the city’s most important business district and in the attached statement outline all of the critical issues that need to frame a more civically inspired vision.  

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