The Department of City Planning (DCP) has proposed modifications to its East Midtown rezoning proposal in response to specific concerns expressed by local stakeholders during the public review process. On sites that are eligible for redevelopment under the rezoning, the changes allow new office developments to include 20% residential use, a mixed-use approach that has been a goal of community leaders. In addition, in response to concerns expressed by landmarked religious institutions, the Department is proposing giving all landmarks located in the northern section of the zoning area increased flexibility to transfer their unused air rights. The modifications also address concerns about hotels in two ways: first, by reducing the amount of hotel use permitted on individual sites to 20% of the new development in order to reflect that the primary goal of the rezoning is to encourage office development; second, by allowing sites currently occupied by large hotels to rebuild their hotel square footage in the new development, in recognition of the importance of full service hotels to Midtown and the economy. More detail on each of these proposals, as well as other changes, is provided below.
These proposed modifications are incorporated in an “A” text application. The “A” text application would expand the scope of the original application in response to stakeholder input. The City Planning Commission will hold its hearing August 7th on both the originally proposed zoning text and on the “A” text modifications. View the proposed "A" text amendment.
Changes in the modified “A” text include:
1) Changes to Allowed Uses on Sites Utilizing Zoning Incentives
- Under the existing proposal, only fully commercial (office, hotel and retail) buildings qualify for zoning incentives, provided the site meets certain “Qualifying Site” criteria of a minimum site size of 25,000 square feet and 200 feet of frontage on a wide street.
- The Department received recommendations that new developments should allow for a mix of residential use to complement commercial uses in the new buildings and contribute to the vitality of the area.
- In order to provide for this mix of uses, without undermining the proposal’s chief goal of incentivizing modern office development, City Planning is proposing to modify the proposal to allow up to 20% of a building’s floor area as residential use as-of-right. That percentage of residential use could be increased up to 40% through a Special Permit process (full ULURP).
- As with commercial uses in new major developments, developers must make contributions to the District Improvement Fund in order to take advantage of zoning incentives. The rate for contributions for residential floor area will be established by a separate appraisal from the appraisal previously conducted for commercial floor area, and the contribution rate for a development will be based on its ratio of residential and commercial use.
- During the process, concerns were also expressed that allowing hotel use to occupy the entirety of a new development would undermine the proposal’s chief goal of incentivizing modern office space.
- In response, the modified proposal would restrict as-of-right hotel use to 20% of the floor area of a new development. The remainder of the new building could be developed as hotel only through a Special Permit process (full ULURP) that determined such a use did not conflict with the goals of a predominantly office district.
- A number of large full service hotels currently exist in the rezoning area and are a vital component of the area’s strong commercial identity. The modified proposal would allow development on sites that now include a hotel use to have the opportunity to fully rebuild their hotel space on site. These sites would be exempt from the 20% limitation mentioned above.
- In sum, the modified proposal would restrict non-office uses to 20% of any new development, facilitating a better mix of uses, while requiring 80% of a new development to be dedicated to office use. Increases in the mix of non-office uses would only be allowed by Special Permit.
2) Creation of a Northern Landmark Transfer Area
Under existing zoning rules, city landmarks may only transfer unused floor area to ‘adjacent’ lots, defined as lots which either adjoin or are across the street or catty-corner from the landmark. Transfers are made through a special permit process.
- In 1992, the City Planning Commission recognized the unique relationship between Grand Central Terminal and its surrounding area by allowing for the transfer of unused floor area from the Terminal to sites within a broader geographic district, known as the Grand Central Subarea.
- Having received recommendations from stakeholders– and in recognition of the unique ensemble of iconic landmarks that exist and contribute to the character of the area to the north of Grand Central Subarea -- the revised proposal would create a new Northern Subarea similar in nature to the Grand Central Subarea.
- The Northern Subarea would stretch from 48th and 49th streets in the south to 57th Street in the north, from Third Avenue in the east to the East Midtown subdistrict’s western boundary east of Fifth Avenue, and encompass major landmarks such as St. Patrick’s cathedral, St. Bartholomew’s Church, Central Synagogue, and Lever House.
- Starting in 2019, these landmarks would be allowed to transfer unused development rights to Qualifying Sites as-of-right up to their maximum permitted FARs (21.6 FAR on Park Avenue and 18 FAR and 14.4 FAR in Other areas).
- As is the case in the Grand Central Subarea, a minimum contribution to the District Improvement Fund would be required before a landmark transfer could be made, to ensure that the use of the new zoning incentives results in a contribution to neighborhood infrastructure. This contribution requirement would apply to the first 3 FAR for sites on Park Avenue, and half of the FAR increase in other areas.
- In addition, transfers to sites that do not meet the Qualifying Site size and frontage requirements could be permitted by discretionary action subject to public review, similar to what is allowed today in the Grand Central Subarea.
- These changes are designed to create an appropriate balance between offering landmarks greater opportunities and flexibility for transfer of development rights to a broader area beyond ‘adjacent’ sites -- thus facilitating the continued maintenance of their properties -- and ensuring that the District Improvement Fund will be funded to make area-wide subway and pedestrian network improvements.
3) Modification of Qualifying Site Requirements Through Discretionary Review
- The original East Midtown proposal limited zoning incentives to “Qualifying Sites” - sites with a minimum of 200 feet of frontage along a wide street and a minimum size of 25,000 square feet.
- The Department received recommendations that the fixed nature of these site criteria could in some cases impede development of viable office sites.
- The modified proposal creates greater flexibility by allowing a site that meets the 25,000sf site size requirement and at least 75% of the frontage requirement to apply for a waiver to use the zoning incentives.
- To receive a waiver through discretionary review, the applicant must demonstrate that the site can still accommodate a viable office development on the site utilizing the existing height and setback controls. The waiver would be granted through an Authorization process that includes referral to the local community board.
4) Other Clarifications and Adjustments
- Rooftop uses: In response to community concerns, the modified proposal would facilitate the activation of top floors of mixed-use buildings with uses like observatories and restaurants, by modifying “stacking rules” which prohibit non-residential uses above residences.
- Qualifying Site clarifications: The proposal clarifies that existing buildings are permitted to remain on a Qualifying Site, as long as the minimum cleared site requirements are achieved. It also clarifies that Qualifying Sites can maintain the bonus floor area from existing bonus plazas without proportional contribution into the DIB as long as such spaces are maintained as part of a new development.
- Damage and Destruction: The modified proposal clarifies that the underlying Damage or Destruction provisions of Zoning Section 54-40 continue to apply in the Subdistrict.
- 53rd Street /51st Street Stations: The “A” text revisions to the proposal would maintain the same overall amount of development anticipated under the original proposal, but would alter the mix of uses. As a result, further study of the Lexington Avenue/53rd Street and 51st Street station complex would need to be undertaken once East Side Access is operational to determine if improvements to this station warrant priority as a DIF project as development occurs over the long term.
- Park Avenue Height and Setback Controls: The modified proposal adjusts height and setback controls along Park Avenue to better relate to the street’s overall width. Today, building rules are calculated based on a 100 foot wide street width, despite Park Avenue being 140 wide. The proposal will adjust to allow buildings to account for the 140 foot width.
- Boundaries clarification: The modified proposal provides further clarification as to the applicability of the regulations for sites located on or divided by the Subdistrict’s boundaries, as well as its Subareas.
The changes to the plan in the A text are consistent with the principle of providing zoning incentives to promote the development of a handful of state-of-the-art , sustainable commercial buildings over coming decades so that East Midtown’s office stock remains attractive to a broad range of businesses, including major corporate tenants. The mix of uses are anticipated to further enhance the attractiveness of the area, expand the City’s tax base, add thousands of permanent jobs in East Midtown and fund improvements to the subway and pedestrian network in the area.
Overview | Background & Existing Conditions | Proposal
"A" Applications | EIS | Public Review | Public Realm Visioning Process