In this week’s episode of MetroFocus, anchor Rafael Pi Roman interviews Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), on the proposed rezoning of the East Midtown neighborhood.
East Midtown is comprised of approximately 78 blocks bounded by Second and Fifth avenues on the east and west and 57th and 39th streets on the north and south. It is centered around Grand Central Terminal and includes other landmarks such as the Chrysler Building, St. Bartholomew’s Church and The Waldorf Astoria. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed rezoning the neighborhood as a way to spur development and help it retain corporate tenants.
The area is home to 80 million square feet of office space, 14 Fortune 500 companies and around 250,000 jobs, according to the NYC Department of City Planning. Its last period of significant growth was in the 1980s and eighty-percent of the buildings are more than 50 years old.
“The zoning of the area is very dated and times have changed,” Cipolla told MetroFocus. “The zoning prohibits any development. There’s no consideration about how to improve the common realm. There’s no thinking about how to increase density, which is going to happen because of the east side access project that will be completed in a few years. It seems like it’s very appropriate that East Midtown be looked at with a fresh perspective.”
The proposed zoning changes would allow for new development in the area, and MAS has suggested amendments to the city’s plan that put more emphasis on mixed-use development, protecting key buildings and creating more usable public space.
Cipolla emphasized that while MAS applauds the city’s decision to reevaluate and hopefully improve the East Midtown area, precautions must be taken to ensure that livability increases along with density and development.
MAS isn’t the only organization that would like the city to alter the rezoning plans. Several major religious institutions plan to ask the city to change the boundaries of the included area so that they will have the opportunity to cash in on the sale of unused air rights, reports the New York Post.
Several politicians, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assemblyman Dan Quart and state senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman, have also voiced concern about the city’s plan in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, republished by the New York Observer. Public hearings about East Midtown are planned for later this spring.
“A high quality and holistic rezoning of East Midtown will mean a more vibrant and livable East Midtown,” concluded Cipolla. “There’s a lot about that side of town that is not so great. After 6pm there’s a lot missing, its dark, its empty. So a successful rezoning would incentivize a more livable and beautiful East Midtown. That would be the big win.”