New York’s Mayor Bloomberg is pushing for an updated zoning code for Midtown Manhattan which will affect the blocks around Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building, and north toward the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Lever House. This new code, called Midtown East, would replace existing building height restrictions and allow high-rise towers to soar in the 70-block area currently outfitted with older buildings of lower stature. If Midtown East is approved, developers would be able to build twice the size now permitted in the Grand Central area, bringing an estimated 16,000 employees in a neighborhood that now has 230,000 office workers.
In such a densely populated area of Manhattan, what will be the urban implication of allowing building heights to soar past their current height regulation? While the potential to increase the real estate value is a driving force for such an initiative, will this financial gain outweigh the drawbacks of new stresses that will be placed upon existing infrastructure and city functioning? The Bloomberg administration feels that such an initiative is needed to maintain the Grand Central area as “one of the premier business addresses”; however, the community is not as fast to support the idea and regard the proposal as just another example of Bloomberg’s latest attempts to make his mark on the city before his years in office are through.
More after the break.
It is expected that these new zoning regulations would allow newer buildings, following updated environmental standards, to replace certain existing structures and dramatically increase FAR levels. The plan would allow owners to acquire air rights to build as high as 900 feet in the area immediately surrounding Grand Central, and upwards of 700 feet around Lexington and Madison avenues and East 39th and East 49th streets.
Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents building owners and developers in the city, explained, “They’ve identified the fact that we’ve got, on average, 73-year-old buildings in the most important commercial district in the world, and we need to allow for new growth over the long term in that area.”
There would be some restrictions to building taller – for instance, projects would need to obtain a special permit which would be limited to key sites where developers would then be required to fund improvements to pedestrian areas and transit hubs.
Yet, is there a demand for such prime real estate? The Times argued that skyscrapers with just as reputable locations, such as a 40-story office tower at 11 Times Square, are still not filled. And, some are worried that a new zoning code of this magnitude will simply undercut existing plans such as the World Trade Center site, and Hudson Yards on the West Side on Manhattan. Perhaps that is why this new zoning code would not go into effect until 2017, as so to eliminate any competition between Downtown or the West Side.
Midtown East Zoning still has a far way to go before it is approved, including a complete an environmental review and approval process by the New York City Council. Currently, the community board is voicing concern over the urgency of this plan, as it has left many questions and concerns unanswered.
What do you think of the potential new zoning code? We’ll keep you updated as to its progress in the weeks to come.