|Grand Central Terminal|
Grand Central Terminal is one of New York's historic landmarks and a major transportation nexus, serving over half a million people each day. The access provided by Grand Central Terminal helped grow the East Midtown area into one of the largest job centers in NYC. East Midtown contains 70 million square feet of office space and 200,000 workers, as well as many of the City's iconic buildings and landmarks.
|East Midtown Rezoning Area|
The City is in the process of two new major transit projects that will bring even more commuters through Grand Central. To complement the new transportation infrastructure, the City has proposed a dramatic plan to reshape zoning in East Midtown. The plan creates a streamlined zoning process that will fund a dedicated pedestrian improvement program, encourage higher densities, and promote the creation of new iconic environmentally sustainable buildings. It may not be Transit Oriented Development in the strictest sense, the plan is the City's latest effort to make sure transit and development are harmonious and mutually reinforcing.
East Midtown concentrates transit service and office space together, making it some of the most valuable real estate in the City. However, the area has been unable to attract new developments recently, with only two new building permits in the last decade. The office building stock is on average over 70 years old, and the modern buildings needed to compete in the global real estate market are in short supply. Additionally, the pedestrian environment in the area surrounding Grand Central Terminal is insufficient for the high volumes of people that use the sidewalks and tunnels. The rezoning plan for East Midtown encourages new and innovative commercial buildings, and allows for higher densities while promoting pedestrian improvements. The plan emphasizes the mutually-reinforcing relationship between a strong commercial base to continuing transportation investments. The plan provides the land-use complement to the East Side Access rail project and the Second Avenue Subway project, scheduled to be completed in 2019 and 2016 respectively. If approved, the new zoning would "sunrise" into effect July 2017.
The rezoning plan sets up an earned as-of-right zoning framework. Like many zoning plans, the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) acts as the principal regulation for building size. The FAR is the ratio of the total building floor area to the area of its zoning lot.
This system works by setting a base maximum FAR, and allowing developers to increase the allowable FAR through contributions to a District Improvement Fund and by purchasing rights from a historic building. Developers on qualifying sites (generally, that span a whole block face) will be able to build to a max of 14.4 to 24 FAR, depending on location within the East Midtown zone. The highest densities are allowed in the area immediately around Grand Central Terminal, with lower densities further away and on mid-block lots. This process will not require any special permits, and should be much more streamlined for developers than the process it replaces.
|Earned Density Zones in East Midtown|
Even higher FARs of 30 will be allowed with a special permit (subject to full public review) available to "superior buildings" that add distinctive design elements to the skyline and meet higher sustainability standards.
|Special Superior Building Density Zoning|
Key to program is the District Improvement Fund (DIF) whereby developers can pay a flat rate to increase their allowable density, and this money is invested in area-wide pedestrian improvements that the city has prioritized. The DIF will fund a number of pedestrian environment improvements, including usual streetscape design elements. It will also focus on the expansion of the sidewalks serving Grand Central, as well as the below-ground pedestrian network. Some of the pedestrian choke points reverberate throughout New York's transportation system, causing crowding on platforms that leads to increased subway dwell time and results in slowdowns throughout the subway network. The plan also makes it easier for the owners of historic buildings to sell their unused FAR potential, as another way for developers to increase their earned FAR.
|Transfer of Development Rights Explained|
The East Midtown plan creates a more predictable, welcoming zoning environment for developers while also ensuring smart investments to improve the local streets. One of the goals is to increase new development, but some are concerned that the plan will result in the destruction of too many of the older buildings in the area. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement was recently released, and the public comment period is open. Only time will tell how successful NYC is at creating a more responsive zoning system that links land-use and transportation.
Read more of the plan on NYC.gov:
Learn about the concern for historical buildings:
See East Midtown's buildings up close and personal in this gallery: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/of-buildings-around-grand-central-2-views-special-or-just-old/
Thanks to Brett Lezon for editing this post.