Vote Expected Next Month On Plan To Rezone 73 Blocks For New Skyscrapers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been thinking big even as his time at City Hall nears its end, pushing the City Council to approve a rezoning plan that could bring a new generation of skyscrapers to the area around Grand Central Station.

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As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, city planners believe the buildings of Midtown East are showing their age, and they are falling out of favor with A-list tenants.

“It’s been frozen in time, because we downzoned this area,” said Director of City Planning Amanda Burden. “There’s been only one building built in the last 20 years. That’s not right, and that will hurt our economy for the long run.”

Burden is one of the architects of an ambitious effort to rezone 73 blocks of Midtown East to make it much easier for developers to build modern skyscrapers.

For instance, at the corner of 42nd Street and Madison Avenue, SL Green Realty Corp. wants to tear down a group of short, dowdy buildings and replace them with a 65-story glass and steel tower.

“It will refresh the area, and keep it attractive to world-class companies,” Burden said.

But at a Tuesday City Council hearing, opponents complained that the rezoning plan will squeeze more people into already crowded streets and subways. They want a plan to improve infrastructure before opening the door for skyscrapers.

“The plan was developed with the landlords and developers in mind as a first priority,” said Terrence O’Neal of Manhattan Community Board 6.

Critics also believe the administration is trying to rush the rezoning through the City Council, in order to burnish Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy before he leaves office in about 70 days.

“This whole ‘chicken little, the sky is falling if we don’t do it in this administration’ does not convince us,” said Lola Finkelstein of Community Board 5.

State Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) protested the plan earlier this month, saying the city needs to slow down and get it right.

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“This is the heart of Midtown. This is the historic Grand Central area, with so many residents, commuters, phenomenal historic buildings,” Krueger said on Oct. 1.

And, Krueger went on, the city cannot rush the plan through because Mayor Michael Bloomberg is “on a timeline for checking out of City Hall.”

Hoylman called the plan “quacking from a lame duck administration.”

“The plan is riddled with exceptions and outright gifts to the real estate industry – a fire sale on air rights far below market value; exceptions that allow certain well-connected developers to build early,” he said. “We need a seismic shift in the goals of this plan. The public needs to be paramount.”

The lawmakers also said the current proposal would leave $363 million on the table that could instead be used for transportation improvements.

But the plan has strong support from many construction unions. The leading candidates for mayor also have been generally supportive.

The Bloomberg administration has been trying to sweeten the pot, convincing developers to foot $100 million for improvements around Grand Central if the plan is improved.

The area up for rezoning is bounded by East 39th Street on the south, East 57th Street on the north, Second and Third avenues on the east, and a line 150 feet east of Fifth Avenue on the west.

A vote on the plan is expected in November.

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