Midtown East Rezoning Clears Final Hurdle


The City Council today finalized new zoning for Midtown East that will allow private developers to build new office towers and require them to contribute funding for public improvements.

The new land use framework will boost the potential density and height of new commercial buildings along 78 blocks of Midtown, from East 39th to East 57th Streets and from the east side of Third Avenue to the west side of Madison Avenue. The city predicts that the zoning will pave the way for 6.8 million square feet of new office space and encourage the renovation of 6.6 million square feet of older offices into newer, Class A space.

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The proposal has evolved several times since it was first introduced by the Bloomberg administration in April 2012 and subsequently killed by the City Council in November 2013.

City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who helped shoot down the Bloomberg-era rezoning, worked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to draft a new set of recommendations for East Midtown in November 2015. Their updated plan focused on ensuring that developers kicked in funding for key transit and street improvements.

“With this vote, we are breathing new life into New York’s most important business district,” Garodnick said in prepared remarks following the final vote this afternoon. “Not only will we see sensible growth, but the public will benefit from extraordinary new investments in above-ground public spaces and in below-ground subway infrastructure. Better transit, new jobs, top-of-the-line office space: East Midtown is back, full of optimism and open for business.”

The latest version of the zoning entered public review in January, but some new details were hashed out when the City Council’s Land Use Committee greenlighted the plan last month.

The city approved $50 million in capital funds for public spaces, including widening sidewalks and restricting car access on East 43rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, a revamp of Pershing Plaza by Grand Central Terminal, and street improvements along East 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The new Midtown East zoning will allow developers to use extra floor area in new buildings via one of three avenues: tapping into a pool of 3.5 million square feet of unused air rights for landmarked buildings, funding transit or streetscape improvements, or redeveloping an office building that’s built larger than current zoning allows. The rules are based on the rezoning that city crafted for One Vanderbilt. Developer SL Green must perform $220 million worth of transit improvements around the Grand Central Terminal subway station before it can get a certificate of occupancy from the city.

Under the Midtown East plan, developers can only use landmark air rights if they pay 20 percent of the value of the sale of the air rights to the city. After the Real Estate Board of New York and owners of landmark buildings fought the city’s proposed air rights floor of $78 a square foot, the city agreed to lower the minimum contribution to $61.49 a square foot.

“East Midtown’s growth is now directly linked to real-time improvements in its public transit and public realm,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in prepared comments. “In the years ahead, this neighborhood will see major upgrades to subway stations, more expansive space for pedestrians, investments in its iconic landmarks and a new generation of office buildings that will spur good jobs for New Yorkers.”