The East Midtown Steering Committee’s mission is to identify planning policies to enhance East Midtown’s economic competitiveness, public spaces, transit facilities and historic resources so it continues to be the premier office district for the New York region.
Mayor de Blasio established the East Midtown Steering Committee in May 2014 to develop a new planning framework for the future that will inform re-zoning, capital commitments, funding mechanisms and other policy decisions affecting East Midtown’s commercial core. He asked Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Manhattan City Council Member Daniel Garodnick to serve as co-chairs. The Steering Committee studied a 92-block Study Area between East 39th Street And East 57th Street from Fifth Avenue to Second Avenue. Its zoning recommendations cover a 73-block subset of this area.
The Steering Committee includes representatives from ten stakeholder groups that are fairly evenly distributed among three types:
- local Community Boards,
- business and real estate interests and
- citywide civic and labor organizations (including landmarks preservation groups).
Its first meeting was held on September 30, 2014. During the following nine months the East Midtown Steering Committee met 19 times to inform itself of the issues, hear from outside stakeholders and subject matter experts, consider alternative planning proposals, and arrive at preliminary recommendations. Two drafts were issued internally during June and July, followed by a conference call meeting on July 30 to discuss final feedback. Meetings lasted two to three hours and were nearly perfectly attended.
Not all of the listed guidelines represent the position of every member group on every issue, nor should they be read that way. The Steering Committee’s achievement is that each of its members has concluded that this package of recommendations is balanced and reasonable and that together will advance the overlapping goals that the Committee was asked to advance. In that sense they incorporate the most important views of ALL stakeholder groups.
Executive Summary of Recommendations
The East Midtown Steering Committee supports invigorating the East Midtown office district by encouraging as-of-right higher density and modernized office development in appropriate locations if accompanied by both:
- significant, timely and assured upgrades to transportation networks and public open spaces (the “public realm”) in accordance with an adopted concept plan and an ongoing, consultative implementation process; and
- preservation of important local historic resources. The Steering Committee believes that any rezoning should provide more certainty as to both the development permitted as-of-right and the public realm improvements that would accompany any increase in density.
LAND USE AND DENSITY
Sites in East Midtown should be entitled to achieve increasingly higher maximum Floor Area Ratios (FARs) depending on the number of site-specific criteria that are present. The criteria fall into two categories: (1) connectivity or immediate proximity to transit; and (2) extra air and light as a result of a variety of factors such as frontage on wide streets and avenues.
Additional FAR should be earned — first by making specified transit improvements (especially to the extent that they are set forth in the Zoning Resolution pursuant to an area-wide plan), and then either through plaza bonuses and/or through air rights transfers from designated Landmarks in East Midtown (“Landmark TDR”).
Designated Landmarks in the area should be permitted to transfer their existing unused air rights throughout the entire district. Landmark TDR should be permitted as-of-right under the Zoning Resolution, and a significant percentage of the sale of each transfer would be made as a contribution into an “Improvement Fund” for area-wide public realm improvements, with a per square foot minimum contribution.
Overbuilt sites (where FAR exceeds that now allowed by zoning) should have the ability to build back to their existing FAR as-of-right without transfers or bonuses, if they contribute into the Improvement Fund at a prescribed rate.
All the above should be as-of-right if done in accordance with prior plans approved under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) addressing both transit and the public realm.
Current regulations should remain in place to preserve light and air; these should be studied by the New York City (NYC) Department of City Planning (DCP) in cooperation with the stakeholders on the Steering Committee, to determine whether any modifications are appropriate for higher density office development on small lots. If the project cannot be completed within height and setback and related regulations, a Special Permit would be required.
To encourage predominantly office buildings through these new mechanisms, sites should be subject to a hotel Special Permit, and a maximum amount of permitted residential floor area in connection with both new development and reuse of older office buildings.
New development taking advantage of the added FAR should also be required to meet a higher environmental standard.
IMPROVEMENT FUND AND PLACEMAKING
Revenue secured through Landmark TDR should be held in the Improvement Fund.
A “Governing Group” with appointees of the Mayor, local elected officials, and representation by Community Boards and other stakeholders should set planning and project management priorities, as well as the use of funding for specific projects once available.
Parameters should be employed to ensure funding for both above- and below-grade improvements over time. One priority is to amplify and celebrate Grand Central Terminal as the centerpiece for East Midtown. Key corridors should receive special attention for placemaking and pedestrian improvements.
The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) should calendar and designate as Landmarks as many historic resources as it deems appropriate and do so no later than the certification date of the rezoning of Greater East Midtown.