Support for East Midtown rezoning

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The proposal would allow for greater commercial development in the area


  • Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer gave a brief introduction before discussion of the East Midtown proposal. Photo: Andrew Goldston

Since 2001, only five new buildings have been constructed in the area known as East Midtown. Four years after it was first proposed, a rezoning of East Midtown hopes to change that by removing barriers to redeveloping outdated buildings and providing incentives to create more modern office spaces. At a hearing last Thursday night, business owners, residents and members of the East Midtown community lent their support to the plan as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Dan Garodnick and the East Midtown Steering Committee were on hand to consider their feedback.

The rezoning would affect 475 buildings from East 39th to East 57th Streets, between Second and Fifth Avenues. If passed, the new zones would permit as-of-right density increases in certain locations and would allow qualifying landmarked sites to transfer their development rights. Improvements to transit and public spaces — such as pedestrian plazas and shared streets — in the district are also part of the plan.

Most of the hundred or so people in attendance were in favor of the rezoning, with some caveats. Rob Byrnes, president of the East Midtown Partnership, advocated for the inclusion of the east side of Third Avenue in the rezoning, and asked that more community input be considered throughout the process. “We do think there needs to be substantial outreach on the public realm improvements,” Byrnes said. “There should be no surprises in this process.” Representatives from the Real Estate Board of New York, Community Board 5, the Municipal Arts Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy were among others to tentatively express their support. Joe Rosenberg, director of the Catholic Community Relations Council, called it a “rare opportunity.” “This rezoning is not only essential for the future of Midtown East, but also to provide landmarked houses of worship with the means to preserve their properties,” he said, specifically mentioning St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between East 50th and 51st Streets.

A few people, however, were opposed. The Yale Club, which sits on Vanderbilt Avenue between East 44th and 45th Streets, objected to the proposal’s inclusion of shared streets, a program that allows pedestrians to walk wherever they choose on certain streets and disallows cars from exceeding five m.p.h. “Such a restriction of vehicular access would have a very significant adverse impact on the club by impeding access by emergency vehicles and club guests, including many seniors and people with disabilities,” said Neil Hohmann, vice president of the Yale Club. “No details of the shared streets program are included in the Department of Transportation’s presentation materials.”

Kathy Thompson, a resident of Turtle Bay and member of its neighborhood association, said the rezoning proposal overstates the commercial influences and understates the residential aspects of the area. “This shows the neighborhood to be made up of more commercial buildings than it actually has, and to look less like the neighborhood like it really is,” she said, accusing the plan’s architects of working from a “remote viewpoint.” Thompson asked that the east side of Third Avenue, as the westernmost border of the Turtle Bay neighborhood, be excluded from the rezoning.

Community Boards 5, 6 and 8 will have until March 13 to review the proposal, after which time it will go to the borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at

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