Midtown East Rezoning Update

Midtown East Rezoning Proposal by SOM

The latest progress in the effort to modernize Midtown East – via the Commercial Observer – involves several key steps that could transform the district into the world’s tallest neighborhood. The amendments to the original plan would allow churches – most notably, St. Patrick’s Cathedral – to sell their unused air rights to new buildings anywhere in the re-zoned area, while also permitting residential space. Changes to the proposal have also made the requirements for FAR bonuses less stringent, reducing the required street frontage of new projects.

While the unused air rights from the religious institutions are the most obvious cause for elevating height ambitions, the shift in allowing residential space is most significant. Buildings may now be up to 20% residential, with certain situations permitting 40% – this is in stark contrast to the neighborhood today, which is completely dominated by office space. Additional residential will help balance the scales, allowing for vibrancy day and night.

Besides transforming Midtown East into a 24-hour neighborhood, residential space will dramatically alter the forms of towers set to rise with the up-zoning. Prior to the recent boom, office buildings had long been the standard for New York supertalls; the Empire State Building, the Chrysler, the World Trade Center, up to the New York Times Tower and the Bank of America Building. While One57 is the first residential supertall in the city, 432 Park Avenue, Torre Verre, and 225 West 57th Street are also set to rise.

432 Park Avenue is the most relevant, given its location within the rezoning area. The tower’s unprecedented height-width ratio shows the demand for views – and with the re-zoning, Midtown East could sprout skyscrapers that are even taller. Prior to the new amendment, the re-zoning could have easily resulted in a range of relatively monotonous 800-1,200 foot goliaths, hampered in creativity by the ultimate overarching demand for huge and unfettered office floorplates. Many new towers will have 1 to 2 million square feet of space; for perspective, 432 Park will have roughly 500,000 square feet, showing the flexibility of residential space.

With the possibility of mixed-use towers, residential would naturally be on top, given the insatiable demand for super-expensive real estate – the diversity of purpose and the sky-high costs for obtaining development rights should guarantee some stellar architecture, while the insane demand for views in the current luxury market should push the new skyscrapers to unprecedented heights. The FAA has a national limit of 2,000 feet, so anything passing that is unlikely, but preliminary visions for the Midtown East rezoning definitely support the notion that New York’s tallest could soon rise in the neighborhood, and the latest amendments affirm it.

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