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Multi-Board Task Force on East Midtown Rezoning

Resolution on Zoning Text Changes Sought by the Department of City Planning for the Vanderbilt Corridor

At the monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, December 11, 2014, the Board passed the following resolution with a vote of 33 in favor, 0 opposed, 1abstaining:

WHEREAS, The Department of City Planning (DCP) seeks to rezone a five block area bordered by Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues and 42nd and 47th Streets; and

WHEREAS, DCP seeks to amend (application N 150127 ZRM) sections of the zoning resolution for the Special Midtown District to facilitate commercial development, pedestrian circulation and allow greater opportunities for area landmarks to transfer their unused development rights; and

WHEREAS, DCP seeks a City Map change (application 140440 MMM) to transform the block of Vanderbilt Avenue between East 42nd and East 43rd Streets into a Public Place; and

WHEREAS, The goal of the proposed zoning changes is to strengthen East Midtown's global competitiveness in the 21st Century; and

WHEREAS, An additional goal of the proposed Vanderbilt Corridor is to improve pedestrian circulation and access to transit, including East Side Access; the Vanderbilt Corridor would be located above the future concourse of the Long Island Rail Road, which will be 50 feet below the buildings on the west side of Vanderbilt Avenue; and

WHEREAS, CB5 and CB6 agree that these parcels between Vanderbilt and Madison should be examined and the goal of reinvigorating the area around Grand Central Terminal is necessary and worthy; and

WHEREAS, This proposal will have significant transit, planning, and economic impacts that may set a precedent beyond this defined area; and

WHEREAS, Under the new proposal, DCP mandates that any new development would be subject to a special permit with full public review, and stipulates that public improvements must precede the completion of added density with no Temporary Certificate of Occupancy granted before public improvements are completed, and that responsibility for public improvements are now the required domain of the developer, with no monetary transaction between a developer the City and the MTA; and

WHEREAS, Under this new application, many of the previous objections have been addressed in that there are specified public realm improvements, and all development is under a Special Permit with full public review; and

WHEREAS, While we are appreciative of the ongoing East Midtown visioning process and the Steering Committee that was created under the leadership of Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Dan Garodnick, we believe the planning of the Vanderbilt Corridor should be a part of the Steering Committee conversation; and

WHEREAS, A compelling case has not been made for separating out the entire five blocks of the Vanderbilt Corridor from the review of the greater East Midtown area; and

WHEREAS, In the Vanderbilt Corridor, we propose the following:

  1. Infrastructure and the Public Realm

As whatever agreements are established between SL Green and the City at One Vanderbilt will set a precedent for all future agreements in the Corridor and East Midtown, a comprehensive plan identifying all the infrastructure and public space needs in the area is essential prior to the completion of ULURP;


  1. Sustainability and the Environment

Any development facilitated through the proposed discretionary special permits must be designed to perform to 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1, 2010 and as determined by the methodology prescribed in the most current New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC).


  1. Daylighting

We are concerned that the requested modifications to the Special Midtown District Height and Setback regulations (Daylight Compensation and Daylight Evaluation) are excessive, radically lowering daylight levels in Midtown to pre-1916 pre-zoning daylight levels (Daylight Evaluation score is negative 62% [-62%] v. 75% of the sky left open); that this reduction in daylight is not adequately addressed by either DCP or the DEIS; and that the magnitude of reduction in daylight will set a precedent for future development in East Midtown;


  1. Preservation

LPC must determine which sites in the Corridor and in the Greater East Midtown area are considered historic resources and worthy of designation, and those that are deemed landmark-worthy should be calendared prior to the completion of ULURP, and we further request that any new buildings proposed in the Corridor, whether development rights are purchased or not, be reviewed with respect to their compatibility/harmonious relationship to Grand Central Terminal;

  1. FAR Bonus Size

We are concerned that the criteria for granting of the special permit for a Grand Central Public Realm Bonus (GCPRB) of up to 15 FAR is undefined  unlike, for example, what is required for a Covered Pedestrian Space and that there must be more specific design guidelines; and

WHEREAS, Vanderbilt Avenue is considerably narrower than Madison Avenue and the intersecting side streets, we are deeply concerned about the "canyon effect" if a series of 30 FAR buildings were to be permitted along the Vanderbilt Corridor, which, other than at 42nd Street, front on only one wide street and we are also concerned what effect such a canyon of 30 FAR buildings will have as it relates to environmental concerns not only at the Corridor but in the greater midtown area; and

WHEREAS, Additionally, the Vanderbilt Corridor, as proposed could have a detrimental effect on surrounding historic and visual resources for the following reasons:

WHEREAS, We are concerned that public space currently required but unbonused by the Special Midtown District could be credited toward the Grand Central Public Realm Improvement Bonus; and

WHEREAS, Given the efforts to look at East Midtown comprehensively, we will not consider any new proposed rezoning of a similar small scale within the East Midtown Study Area; and

WHEREAS, We are also concerned that the requirement for pedestrian circulation space pursuant to the existing 81-625, Transfer of Development Rights by Special Permit, could be modified and result in a decreased public benefit if not carefully considered as part of an overall development plan; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Manhattan Community Boards Five and Six recommend denial of the Department of City Planning's application N 150127 ZRM unless the following conditions are met:

  1. The text amendment is limited to sites for which the City and MTA have a coordinated plan for improvements to the public realm; and
  2. The text amendment provides guidelines for what type of improvements may merit a given FAR percentage increase for the affected zoning lots; and
  3. The text amendment requires that any building granted a Grand Central Public Realm Improvement Bonus be designed to perform 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1, 2010 and as determined by the methodology prescribed in the most up-to-date New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC); and
  4. The East Midtown Steering Committee must fully consider the five blocks between 42nd and 47th streets and Vanderbilt and Madison avenues in their decision making; and
  5. The text amendment be specific in requiring LPC to issue a letter in support of the harmonious relationship to the Grand Central Terminal for any proposed building; and
  6. The text amendment specify that a site 
    1.                                 i.            fronting on more than one wide street;
    2.                               ii.            overlooking the Grand Central "air park";
    3.                             iii.            adjacent to a subway station;
    4.                             iv.            with access to the pedestrian circulation system of Terminal City and other sites;

could potentially merit the full 15 FAR bonus pursuant to the proposed GCPRB, but sites not meeting these criteria would not qualify; and be it further

RESOLVED, These conditions are necessary to recommend approval and therefore unless and until these conditions are met, we recommend denial at this time.

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