City Planning Says It Is Not Rushing Midtown Rezoning, Though It Has Good Reason to Act Fast

138913011 City Planning Says It Is Not Rushing Midtown Rezoning, Though It Has Good Reason to Act Fast

They want more to look at. (Getty)

Earlier this week, Councilman Dan Garodnick called on the Department of City Planning to slow down the planning for the new Midtown East rezoning that would add possible a dozen new skyscrapers to the Manhattan skyline. The argument was that with such an important rezoning—the city’s fate as a competitive marketplace hangs in the balance!—more time was needed to consult all the parties and get the plan right.

For essentially the same reasons, the department is now arguing that it cannot wait. Time is of the essence to get these new projects underway.

In an email statement (in full below, with highlights by us), the department argues that developers need time to to assemble their sites and start building when the restriction preventing new projects before 2017 lapses. Previously, the department had argued that it was not as though all these new buildings would be built overnight, but rather this was a long-term plan that would take decades to fully develop. This raises the question of whether waiting six more months to debate the plan, as Councilman Garodnick and the local community boards are asking for, would really hurt the plan.

“We want to make sure that there is certainty, and we also want to make sure this is done right,” Councilman Garodnick said in a statement. “The proposal has merit, and allowing a few more months to what will be a decades-long process would help ensure that all issues are vetted and considered.”

The department remains eager to finish this before the end of the Bloomberg administration, though it must also be careful not to anger the Council, which after all has final say on all rezonings.

The purpose of the East Midtown rezoning proposal is to secure the area’s future as a premier business district by encouraging the development of a small number of new, state-of-the art Class A office buildings over the next two decades. Recognizing the fundamental importance of East Midtown to the City’s economic future, the Mayor has made this rezoning a priority for the Administration.

Under the proposed timeline for this project, the first new buildings are not likely to come online until later this decade or next, but this can only happen if we set in place zoning mechanisms now. Adopting a predictable zoning framework in 2013 is a necessary prerequisite for the development of new high-end commercial buildings over the long term. In the near term, property owners need certainty and predictability to make significant financial commitments that will ultimately lead to these new developments. It takes many years to assemble sites, and yet more time to decant, demolish, and prep the site for development. Having the new zoning in place within 2013 will provide the certainty and predictability necessary.

With these new developments will come much needed improvements to both the on‐street and below ground pedestrian networks. We are proposing that major new office towers be required to contribute to a fund for specific and targeted transit and pedestrian improvements in and around Grand Central Terminal that will reduce subway congestion points, increase capacity on platforms and transform Vanderbilt Avenue into a signature pedestrian gateway

As with all of our projects, we have been carefully analyzing the area and meeting with area stakeholders, including the community boards, to discuss the issues and proposed policy solutions so that an appropriate long‐term zoning framework for East Midtown can be created. There is ample time to complete all the necessary review and analyses for this project, and we are committed to continue working closely with the community and other stakeholders as the process moves forward.

Some have compared East Midtown to Hudson Yards, saying that the Hudson Yards rezoning took years before it entered the public review process. East Midtown is a vastly different proposal than the Hudson Yards rezoning, which contemplated a complete transformation of the area equivalent to adding half of downtown Boston’s office space floor area. This was in addition to new streets, parks and open space, more than 14,000 apartments, an expanded Javits Center, a Sports and Convention Center and the extension of the #7 subway. In East Midtown, our proposal is much more targeted—it builds on the existing character of the area and is designed to facilitate a substantially smaller amount of new development.

Any delay of this proposal means uncertainty for East Midtown. Given the importance of East Midtown to the City—for its jobs, tax base, and its critical transportation role—we must put into place a new regulatory framework that strengthens, not stymies, East Midtown’s continued competitiveness on the global stage.