Conceptual image depicting all the proposed sites of the East Midtown rezoning fully built out. Courtesy CityRealty
After Mayor Bloomberg’s failed 2013 attempt, the city has released its long-awaited Midtown East Rezoning plan, a controversial upzoning of the area bound by Madison and Third Avenues and 39th and 50th Streets, which would encourage taller, more modern office towers in an area that many feel is no longer attracting commercial tenants.
According to Crain’s, their proposal, the first step in the formal rezoning process, would allow the tallest buildings around Grand Central, increasing the maximum density by 30 percent. Along Park Avenue and near subway stations north of the Terminal, density would be increased, too. The proposal also will permit owners of landmarked buildings to sell their air rights across the district, rather than just to adjacent properties like the current law dictates.
More details ahead
Image of One57 © Wade Zimmerman courtesy of Agence Christian de Portzamparc (ACDP)
“For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell.”
Most folks outside the architecture and real estate industries are likely to believe that putting up a new skyscraper is simply about finding an empty lot to build up. However, those in the know understand that it takes much more than a stretch of space and a good engineer to lock in neck-craning heights. So, how do developers squeeze ever more building onto small lots? Two words: air rights.
Ahead we will go through the history of air rights in New York City and how imaginative but completely lawful interpretations of zoning laws have opened up the city skyline to crazy tall towers like One57 and 432 Park (“You can be really creative the way you snake your way around the block,” says Thomas Kearns, Partner at Olshan Law Firm). We’ll also find out just how much owners of Manhattan’s precious air space can squeeze out of developers that want to build big.
LEARN MORE ABOUT AIR RIGHTS IN NYC…
Photo via Wiki Commons
Less than three months ago, the Blackstone Group and Ivanhoe Cambridge’s colossal purchase of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village went public. At the time, it was revealed that as part of the $5.46 billion deal Blackstone would reserve 4,500 of the complex’s 11,200 apartments for middle-income families for the next 20 years, with an additional 200 units set aside for low-income tenants. But what’s just come to light is the $625 million worth of air rights that came along with the buy. The majority of the roughly one million square feet will be transferred elsewhere, but about 250,000 square feet will remain within Stuy Town. As the Post first reported, “These include 200,000 square feet for a community facility, 25,000 square feet for residential and 25,000 square feet for commercial use.”
More details this way
The restored façade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral © 6sqft
“Is that St. Patrick’s Cathedral?” asked the passerby.
“Yes. It’s just been cleaned.”
“So that’s why I didn’t recognize it. I was looking for something gray.”
To the pleasure of all, St. Pat’s has emerged from its cocoon and it is brilliant to behold. Scaffolding is still up inside the cathedral, sharing the space with worshippers; and work may go on through the rest of this year. It is an enormous building, after all, occuping a full city block between 50th and 51st Street, and Fifth and Madison Avenues. On the outside the building was always impressive; now it is magnificent. It makes one think of the panoply and power of the Church, stately processions, gorgeous robes, bejeweled crosses and cardinals’ rings, incantations of the priests and congregation extolling the glory of God.
It also makes one think of the cost—$177 million—and wonder how far that money would go to aid the poor and feed the hungry of the earth, traditional missions of Christianity. Not very far, maybe, since world hunger is not assuaged by one meal. But to be a glittering promise of sublime afterlife for millions—that is conceivably worth it.
What’s next for St. Patrick’s?
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, via Wiki Commons
With declining memberships, it has become a common issue among New York City religious institutions that they’re land-rich but cash-poor. To solve the problem, religious leaders are turning to the sale of air rights, allowing developers to build on unused land or above the existing structure or altogether transferring the rights to an adjacent property. It’s the latter trend that’s become the center of debate with St. Patrick’s Cathedral, along with other landmarked institutions, as they’re looking to change the air rights rules to allow transfers to properties that are not directly adjacent. The Wall Street Journal takes a close look at this trend and a city plan that would allow East Midtown landmarks to sell their air rights to sites that are several blocks away.
More details ahead
In the ongoing battle to provide more affordable housing to New Yorkers, the city has drawn up a new proposal that might just get developers clamoring to build more below-market units. The Economic Development Corporation has issued a request for proposals from developers who would, in exchange for no-cost air rights, provide a permanently affordable housing program that maximizes the number of units available and their affordability.
Find out more here
- Someone is building a luxury residential building next to the AirTrain station. The Crossing, as it’s called, will host 580 units with roof terraces and a 24-hour doorman among other amenities. [DNA Info]
- “No Picket Fence”. New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s are increasingly looking for appealing rentals as opposed to buying, and developers are responding. [NYT]
- Extell will pay $24.7 million to the Park Avenue Christian Church for their air rights in order to bring a new residential tower at the site of the church’s parish. [TRD]
- Here’s a colorful plan to turn the Coignet Building neighboring the Gowanus Whole Foods into an opera house. [Curbed]
The Crossing sited along the AirTrain (left); Outdated white picket fence dreams (right)
When Extell Development, Hines and JDS Development Group tapped into air space along West 57th Street to push their projects to well above 1,000 feet, preservationist groups were up in the arms. Their outrage prompted The Municipal Art Society, a non-profit whose mission is to “fight for intelligent urban design, planning and preservation through education, dialogue and advocacy”, to create a new map showing just how much untapped development potential exists in the square footage above every property in Manhattan.
More on how the map was developed