In order to stay competitive for the long term, the city’s proposal seeks to achieve the following goals:
View the proposed text amendment.
Protect and strengthen East Midtown as one of the world’s premier business addresses and key job center for the City and region;
- Seed the area with new modern and sustainable office buildings to maintain its preeminence as a premier office district;
- Improve the area’s pedestrian and built environments to make East Midtown a better place to work and visit; and
- Complement ongoing office development in Hudson Yards and Lower Manhattan to facilitate the long-term expansion of the City’s overall stock of office space.
To accomplish these goals, the plan establishes a new East Midtown Subdistrict as part of the Midtown Special District and replaces special permit requirements with an “earned as-of-right” zoning framework that provides both for a more efficient and predictable process for commercial development as well as an incentive for public realm improvements.
New Earned As –of-right Framework for Qualifying Sites
This proposal is a targeted plan. Development at increased FARs would only be permitted on “Qualifying Sites” of a minimum size. Within the Subdistrict, these Qualifying Sites are defined as sites with the full frontage along most avenue blockfronts or 200 feet of frontage along 42nd Street, as well as a minimum site size of 25,000 square feet. New commercial buildings on Qualifying Sites could exceed the base 15 FAR in exchange for contributions of $250 per square foot to a proposed District Improvement Fund. The fund would be dedicated to critical transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the area such as additional, relocated or reconstructed stair, ramp and escalator connections within the Grand Central subway station as well as a full range of at-grade public realm improvements.
The maximum FARs that major new developments on Qualifying Sites could achieve under this earned as-of-right framework are:
- Directly around Grand Central Terminal – 24 FAR
- Along Park Avenue – 21.6 FAR
- Other areas to the east and west – 18/14.4 FAR
Sites that do not meet “qualifying criteria” would be governed by existing maximum FARs.
The proposal allows for increases above today’s allowable densities on Qualifying Sites in two ways:
- District Improvement Bonus (DIB): New commercial buildings on Qualifying Sites could exceed the base 15 FAR in exchange for contributions of $250 per square foot to a proposed District Improvement Fund. The fund would be dedicated to critical transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the area such as additional, relocated or reconstructed stair, ramp and escalator connections within the Grand Central subway station as well as a full range of at-grade public realm improvements.
- Landmark Transfer: In the Grand Central Subarea, only after contributing into the District Improvement Fund for a minimum of 3 FAR, Qualifying Sites could purchase additional floor area from Grand Central subarea landmark buildings through an expedited process without special permit review. The Landmark Transfer is described more fully in the Grand Central Subarea section below.
| The Grand Central Subarea:
The City believes that, over the long term, most new development in East Midtown should be around Grand Central Terminal. Given its access to regional rail, the area has the best transportation access in East Midtown and also the largest concentration of its aging office stock.
Grand Central Subarea - View a larger image.
To accomplish this, the rezoning would redefine the existing Grand Central Subdistrict as a new Grand Central Subarea within the East Midtown Subdistrict. The Subarea would be generally expanded one block north to East 49th Street, fully across Lexington and Madison avenues, and south to East 39th Street. Additionally, a Grand Central Core would be included within the Subarea representing the area directly around the Terminal, bounded by East 42nd and 46th streets, and Lexington and Madison Avenues.
For Qualifying Sites within the Grand Central Core, floor area increases would be permitted up to 24.0 FAR from the existing base maximum FAR of 15.0. Use of the District Improvement Bonus would be required in order to increase FAR from 15.0 to 18.0; contributions to the District Improvement Fund (DIF) would be used to ensure that development in the area is accompanied by pedestrian network improvements. Above 18.0 FAR, Qualifying Sites could reach the maximum 24.0 FAR through utilization of either or both of the District Improvement Bonus and the new Landmark Transfer mechanism.
Grand Central Subarea Chart - View a larger image.
For Qualifying Sites within the remainder of the Grand Central Subarea, floor area increases would be permitted up to 21.6 FAR from the existing base maximum FAR of 15.0/12.0. To achieve this maximum FAR would require utilization of the District Improvement Bonus for the first 3.0 FAR (from 15.0 to 18.0 FAR or from 12.0 to 15.0 FAR respectively). Above the first 3.0 FAR, Qualifying Sites could reach the maximum 21.6 FAR through additional utilization of either or both of the DIB and the new Landmark Transfer mechanism.
Additional Subarea Mechanisms and Requirements:
The existing Grand Central Subdistrict contains a number of additional zoning mechanisms and requirements, most of which would be maintained or amended in the new Grand Central Subarea. These include:
- FAR As-of-right Landmark Transfer - The existing Grand Central Subdistrict permits 1.0 FAR as-of-right transfers from the Subdistrict’s landmark buildings via Chair certification. This mechanism would be continued within the expanded subarea to allow opportunity for transfer to sites which are not Qualifying Sites.
Existing Landmark transfer Special Permit - The existing Grand Central Subdistrict permits a transfer of landmark rights within the area bounded by East 41st and East 48th streets, and Madison and Lexington avenues, up to a maximum of 21.6 FAR and modification of height and setback requirements by special permit. The permit would be maintained.
Other Zoning Controls - As in other existing subdistricts within the Special Midtown District, the existing Grand Central Subdistrict contains a series of bulk and urban design requirements tailored to the unique conditions of the Subdistrict. These include special street wall, pedestrian circulation space and loading requirements. These requirements would be modified to ensure appropriate as-of-right development in the area, such as:
- Streetwall requirements – In order to match the high-streetwall character of the area, special streetwall requirements would be required along Madison, Lexington and Park Avenues, as well as along 42nd Street, Vanderbilt Avenue, and the area’s side streets. Such streetwall requirements would include provisions for recesses and articulation that allow for greater design flexibility.
- Modifications to height and setback controls – These controls would be modified to allow as-of-right development at the levels permitted through the new mechanisms, taking into account the unique block configurations found in the area and the high-streetwall character found there.
- Sidewalk widening requirement – While existing streetwall requirements for Madison and Lexington Avenues permit sidewalk widenings up to ten feet along these streets, sites with 200 feet of frontage on wide streets would now be required to provide sidewalk widenings that would translate into sidewalks with a minimum width of 20 feet along these streets. In addition, developments fronting along side streets between East 43rd and 47th streets between Vanderbilt and Madison avenues would also be required to provide sidewalk widenings that would translate into sidewalks with a minimum width of 15 feet along these streets.
- Mass transit access – Developments on sites in the Grand Central Core, where the subway bonus is permitted, or which currently have existing mass transit access, would be required to provide easements for mass transit access. Additionally, if such easement is improved as part of the development, such access points would be able to count toward the required pedestrian circulation space calculations.
- Retail continuity – Existing retail requirements for Madison and Lexington Avenue would be maintained, however a minimum retail depth of 30 feet would be added to ensure usable retail spaces. In addition, new retail requirements would be included for Vanderbilt Avenue to further activate the new pedestrian space at that location, described below. Additionally, Qualifying Sites would be required to devote a minimum of 50 percent of their side street frontage to retail uses.
- Other modifications – Existing Grand Central Subdistrict provisions for building lobbies would be maintained with maximum lobby widths added for Vanderbilt Avenue and side streets between Vanderbilt and Madison avenues. The current Curb Cut requirements would be maintained, but a process to allow for modification due to subsurface conditions would be established. Finally, lighting standards would be added to the Pedestrian Circulation Space requirements.
District Improvement Bonus and Landmark Transfer Applications - The current Grand Central Subdistrict regulations require sites that utilize landmark floor area (either through the 1.0 FAR as-of-right transfer or the existing special permit) to demonstrate as part of their application an LPC report that there exists a harmonious relationship between the new development and the landmark. Under the proposal, this requirement would be modified to apply to all developments adjacent to Grand Central Terminal utilizing the DIB or the new landmark transfer mechanisms described above.
Program for Continuing Maintenance - As under the current Grand Central Subdistrict zoning text, any transfer of development rights under the Proposed Action must include a program for continuing maintenance of the landmark. For Grand Central Terminal, this requirement has been met through an agreement to set aside five percent of transfer proceeds for continuing maintenance of the Terminal.
|Park Avenue Subarea
The East Midtown Subdistrict would include a Park Avenue Subarea, which would encompass the frontage along Park Avenue between East 46th and East 57th streets, for the area within 125 feet of Park Avenue (reflecting the existing 15.0 FAR C5-3 zoning designation).
For the limited number of Qualifying Sites within the Park Avenue Subarea, as-of-right floor area increases would be permitted up to 21.6 FAR from the existing base maximum FAR of 15.0. Utilization of the DIB will be required to achieve this maximum FAR.
Other Zoning Controls - To ensure that as-of-right development takes account of the unique conditions along Park Avenue, the streetwall requirements along Park Avenue in the Grand Central Subarea would also apply along Park Avenue in this Subarea. Other underlying urban design and height and setback controls would continue to apply.
Other areas within the East Midtown Subdistrict include the Madison Avenue and Lexington Avenue corridors, north of the Grand Central Subarea and adjoining midblocks areas. For the limited number of Qualifying Sites within these Other Areas, as-of-right floor area increases would be permitted to increase from existing maximum base FAR of 15.0 FAR to 18.0 FAR along avenues, and from existing maximum base FAR of 12.0 to 14.4 in midblock areas. Achieving this maximum FAR would require utilization of the DIB. Because the buildings in these areas are more modern on average, few property owners are likely to undertake the costly multiyear process of emptying, demolishing and reconstructing buildings.
Underlying urban design and height and setback controls would continue to apply in these areas.
The District Improvement Fund
The District Improvement Bonus mechanism would permit higher maximum as-of-right FARs through contribution to a District Improvement Fund (DIF) dedicated to area-wide pedestrian network improvements. The DIF would provide the flexibility to fund improvements, where needed, as development occurs in East Midtown, rather than having improvements be tied to specific development sites.
The DIF would be focused on City-priority improvements to the pedestrian network, both above- and below-grade. The zoning text establishes the required contribution rate, initially set at $250 per square foot, which would be adjusted annually, and includes provisions for the use and governance of the DIF. These would include the creation of a DIF committee, consisting of five Mayoral appointees including the Chair of the City Planning Commission, which would be responsible for maintaining and adjusting a list of priority district improvements in the East Midtown area over time, and dispersing funds for such projects as contributions to the DIB are made. Public participation would be required in the prioritization process and standards for what types of projects may be funded through the DIF.
To determine a contribution rate for the DIB that reflects the market for commercial development rights in the area, the City commissioned a development rights valuation study from Landauer Valuation & Advisory, a subsidiary of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. View the report.
The proposal also includes a ‘payment-in-kind’ provision that would permit property developers to construct improvements, and receive credit for their expenditure, in lieu of payment into the DIF.
The City has identified certain priority improvements that address the greatest potential needs of the
area as well as those created by the new development, and can most benefit office workers, visitors and residents. The City is also encouraging the public to provide additional ideas for improvements in East Midtown for purposes of the future DIF committee process. Identified priorities include:
|Improvements to the Grand Central Subway Station:
The Grand Central subway station is one of the busiest in the entire system and also has numerous pedestrian circulation issues. In this station, the DIF could be used to construct new connections between the commuter rail facilities and the subway station, a reconfigured mezzanine level, and additional, relocated or reconstructed stair, ramp and escalator connections to the subway platforms of the Lexington Avenue line and the Flushing line from the mezzanine, with early priority items focused on the Lexington line.
Improvements to the Public Realm
In addition to improvements to the Grand Central subway station, the District Improvement Fund created by the East Midtown rezoning would facilitate above-grade improvements over time which would be prioritized with input from area stakeholders.
Drawing from a palette of urban design interventions such as the addition of trees, plantings, benches, curb extensions, lighting, sidewalk widening, and building setbacks, the Department has identified a variety of strategies for greening the pedestrian environment throughout East Midtown. The conceptual designs introduce key elements that make public space effective and enjoyable – shade, places to sit, and places to meet. The vision also includes the potential for transforming Vanderbilt Avenue, a bleak and underutilized street, into a distinguished pedestrian gateway while still allowing for uninterrupted cross town traffic and vehicular access to Grand Central Terminal and other adjacent buildings. The concept includes connecting Vanderbilt Avenue to other streetscape improvements throughout the area.
In response to requests from Council member Daniel Garodnick and the Community board led East Midtown Task Force, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of City Planning (DCP) selected an international team of the Jonathan Rose Company, Gehl Architects and Skanska to lead a public planning and design process to create an East Midtown Public Realm Vision Plan, a blueprint for re-envisioning world-class streets for one of City’s premier commercial districts. The consultant team will lead three public workshops in the spring and summer to facilitate discussions with local stakeholders and identify priorities and preferred approaches to enhance the public realm in this area, with a final vision plan intended for release in fall 2013.
Participate in the Public Realm Visioning Process.
Superior Development Special Permit East Midtown is a place of global distinction and a key part of the City’s skyline. Several iconic towers, including the Chrysler Building, and the Seagram and Lever House towers distinguish and define East Midtown’s character. The plan provides opportunities for new, extraordinary buildings at densities beyond those that would be permitted as-of-right on Qualifying Sites, provided they create significant public benefits.
This provision for a Special Permit for Superior Developments sets a high bar for approval as a condition of allowing new skyline-piercing towers to be introduced into the East Midtown context.
To exceed the new as-of-right framework in East Midtown, a full public review process (ULURP) would be required for developments on Qualifying Sites. The maximum FAR under this special permit would only be granted to buildings that demonstrate extraordinary public benefits and exemplify urban design excellence. The special permit process would determine how much additional FAR is merited.
Up to 30 FAR around Grand Central Terminal and up to 24 FAR on the Park Avenue corridor could be granted through a discretionary review, only for “superior developments” that: make a significant contribution to the skyline, result in a superior site plan and massing, and make significant contributions to the pedestrian network. The buildings seeking additional FAR must also include extraordinary on-site public amenities such as a major new public space (indoor and/or outdoor) and, in the case of sites around Grand Central Terminal, incorporate direct and generous connections to the underground pedestrian network. To be eligible for the special permit for density above the “earned as-of-right” FAR in the Grand Central Subarea, sites must be at least 40,000 square feet. Site size eligibility for the special permit in the Park Avenue Subarea would remain at a minimum of 25,000 square feet.
Existing Non-Complying Buildings
The East Midtown plan also addresses the non-complying buildings that are “overbuilt” relative to current zoning (that is, have more floor area than could be built today), which has been a strong deterrent to the replacement of outdated buildings.
To make redevelopment on these sites more attractive, the plan allows overbuilt buildings on sites of at least 20,000 square feet with Avenue frontage to be redeveloped at their existing FAR, provided the developer contributes to the District Improvement Fund for the amount of built floor area above the existing base FAR. The contribution rate for floor area in overbuilt buildings would be $125 per square foot, 50 percent of the base rate for the District Improvement Bonus described above. The retention of this non-complying floor area in the new development would be permitted by Chair certification. Qualifying Sites using this mechanism can continue to achieve maximum FARs utilizing the DIB, and, in the Grand Central Subarea, the new landmark transfer mechanism as well.
In order to qualify for the additional floor area above the base FAR, new developments would also be required to exceed New York City Energy Conservation Code requirements for energy efficiency by 15 percent, the first such linking of zoning with sustainable standards. This requirement will ensure that East Midtown continues to be a cutting edge district offering commercial buildings that further the goals of the City to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases, while offering businesses economical and sustainable spaces.
The East Midtown proposal is a critical piece of an economic development strategy to ensure the City’s future and continuing growth. Given the significance of East Midtown to the City – for its jobs, tax base, and its critical transportation role—the City has prioritized this new regulatory framework to strengthen East Midtown’s continued competitiveness on the global stage.
Under the plan’s Sunrise Provision, new development may receive building permits beginning in July 2017, augmenting the long-term expansion of the City’s overall stock of office space. This would allow sequencing of development consistent with comprehensive planning objectives in other parts of Manhattan and a zoning framework in East Midtown around which property owners can plan for future development.
Zoning Map Amendment
The rezoning area is currently zoned predominantly as high density commercial (zoning districts C5 and C6) within the Special Midtown District. The area between Second and Third Avenues along East 42nd Street, is entirely commercial in character, with a number of existing office buildings. The Special Midtown District generally follows the boundary of Midtown’s commercial areas and thus this area would more appropriately be located in the Midtown District, and additionally as part of the East Midtown Subdistrict. By incorporating the area into Midtown, the Special District regulations, including height and setback and streetscape requirements, would become applicable. These are more tailored to the needs of the area than the generic 1961 high-density commercial zoning provisions that now apply.
In order to do this, the rezoning would replace the existing C5-2 designations for the block located between East 42nd and East 43rd streets, and Second and Third Avenues with C5-3 and C5-2.5, districts. The C5-3 and C5-2.5 districts will be mapped within the Special Midtown District, and be incorporated into the East Midtown Subdistrict.
The C5-3 designation would be mapped along the East 42nd Street and Second Avenue frontages, which are both wide streets and reflect the typical wide street zoning pattern in Midtown. Midblock areas along East 43rdstreet would be mapped to C5-2.5, reflecting the typical midblock Midtown zoning pattern.