- Last Updated: 3:34 PM, February 11, 2013
- Posted: 5:42 PM, September 21, 2012
Up-zoning the district near Grand Central Terminal is vital to the city’s future, a way to ensure that Manhattan’s most desirable commercial zone can compete in the future with global capitals like London and Shanghai.
But unless you’re a property owner or a land-use lawyer, the topic can put you to sleep faster than anything they sell at Duane Reade.
That’s where Realty Check comes in.
Let’s explain in English what the Department of City Planning (DCP) has in mind — and clear up misconceptions in the press over the past week. Stay with us, because after the baby steps, it gets more interesting:
1. What is it? If approved by the City Council, the plan would allow developers to build larger buildings in certain parts of Midtown — like between 39th and 57th streets and between Second and Fifth avenues.
2. Why is it necessary? Current zoning permits new structures to have a floor-area ratio (FAR) of only 15 — which is smaller than many of the buildings that already exist because the area was down-zoned in 1961, after they were constructed. The city urgently needs modern new office towers, but nobody’s going to put up such small ones that are now allowed in Midtown’s precious heart.
3. Whoa! — 383 Madison Ave., which opened in 2000, doesn’t look like one of those smaller buildings. In fact, the former Bear Stearns headquarters, now part of JPMorgan Chase, was indeed built to up-zoned specifications in the late 1990s-2000.
In techno-speak, it has a 21.6 density rating, or FAR. How was that possible with a limit of 15?
“An arduous process,” says DCP East Midtown project manager Frank Ruchala. It included going through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), buying air rights and negotiating with the MTA and the city — an exception to 1961 down-zoning permitted under a 1992 Grand Central Subdistrict, which was supposed to liberate properties from the 15 FAR rule but almost never did.
The new zoning is supposed to make things less “arduous.”
4. All right, how much bigger could new buildings be under the new proposal? From slightly larger (18 FAR) to much larger (30 FAR), depending on where in the district they are.
5. But I’ve seen maps showing one big district with no FAR subdivisions. They were maps of the DCP’s “study area.” In fact, the district to be up-zoned is chopped into distinct sub-zones.
And it’s been shrunk from the boundaries shown in the Wall Street Journal last week. Rezoning on Third and Lexington avenues would apply only as far north as 54th Street, not 57th Street, and no longer east to Fifth Avenue but to Madison.