New York City May Allow Taller Towers Near Grand Central

Development of skyscrapers taller than the Chrysler Building may be allowed near Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal under preliminary zoning plans presented by New York’s Department of City Planning.

A tower that high -- possibly as tall as 1,200 feet (366 meters) -- would have to go through a city review to assure that it’s a worthy addition to the New York skyline, said Frank Ruchala, the planning department’s east Midtown project manager. The Chrysler Building is 1,046 feet tall. Ruchala spoke last night at a meeting of Community Board 5, which represents midtown Manhattan residents.

The planning department, under an initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is seeking ways to keep Midtown’s east side, home to skyscrapers that house Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., from losing out competitively to London, Tokyo and other financial capitals. A rezoning may affect the value of towers owned by such real estate investment trusts as SL Green Realty Corp., Vornado Realty Trust and Boston Properties Inc.

“As the office stock continues to age, and little to no replacement stock is added, the dynamism of the office market begins to break down,” Ruchala said. “The needs of Class A tenants will begin to get unmet, and they will begin to look elsewhere.”

‘Single Best’

SL Green in November paid about $80 million for a building on East 42nd Street, just west of Grand Central, giving it ownership of the entire block bounded by Madison, 42nd and 43rd streets and Vanderbilt Avenue. It’s “the single best potential development site in the city, if not the world,” Isaac Zion, the company’s co-chief investment officer, said at an investor meeting in December.

The company has no comment on the rezoning initiative, Rick Matthews, a spokesman for SL Green, said today.

Under the city’s plan, properties close to Grand Central, between Madison and Lexington avenues, would be entitled to acquire air rights to build towers as tall as about 900 feet -- about the size of 1 Bryant Park without its spire.

Outside that “core” area, and including the west side of Madison and the east side of Lexington between East 39th and 49th streets, towers of about 700 feet would be allowed. That’s about the size of the former Bear Stearns tower at 383 Madison or the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. building in lower Manhattan.

Such towers would be required to have a full block of avenue frontage, and sit on at least 25,000 square feet (2,300 square meters) of land, Ruchala said. The plan also would allow for new buildings along Park Avenue between East 49th and 57th streets that may be about the size of Goldman’s tower.

Special Permit

To build higher, developers would have to seek a “new special permit to allow extraordinary buildings at key sites,” he said. Developers would be able to exceed restrictions by funding improvements to pedestrian areas and transit hubs and purchasing unused space allowances from area landmarks.

Members of the community board said they were concerned about the impact that larger buildings would have on Midtown streets and train and subway stations that are already congested. Some also said that the plan might put buildings deserving of landmark status at risk.

“Nobody really opposes the basic core, the basic premise, but we need more information,” Vikki Barbero, the board’s chairwoman, said in a telephone interview today. The board wants to know how many new buildings are being considered, she said. “We didn’t even get an answer to that.”

‘Pretty Good’

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents building owners and developers in the city, said most of the plan “looks pretty good” so far.

“The’ve identified the fact that we’ve got, on average, 73-year-old buildings in the most important commercial district in the world, and we need to allow for new growth over the long term in that area,” he said in a phone interview today. “They came out with a bold plan.”

Ruchala said he expected only a “limited” number of buildings would qualify to exceed existing building heights in the area. The changes under consideration would be timed to allow development in the Hudson Yards area west of Midtown to proceed first, he said.

“It is critical that east Midtown’s stature as one of the premier business addresses in the world be maintained over time,” City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden said in a statement. “We are therefore pursuing ways to incentivize over the next 20 years the development of a handful of state-of-the-art office buildings around Grand Central Terminal and north along Park Avenue that will build on the dynamic strength of the area.”

Council Approval

The planning department’s proposal must undergo an environmental review and be approved by the New York City Council. The department expects to complete the process next year. Barbero said the community board is concerned the plan is moving too fast, especially with so many questions unanswered.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News.

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