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Rethinking Midtown East Redevelopment

E.Midtown_after_rezoningThe Department of City Planning’s East Midtown rezoning proposal, which would encourage the development of some of the largest buildings in NYC in a neighborhood already dealing with severe transit challenges and congested streets, is seeing some much needed change. Over the last year, MAS has been joined by area stakeholders, preservation groups, Dean of Yale’s Architecture School Robert A.M. Stern, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times Editorial Board, New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson, Wall Street Journal’s Julie Iovine, 7 of Manhattan’s 12 Community Boards, Councilmember Garodnick, and virtually all elected officials in the area in encouraging the Department of City Planning to re-think many critical elements of the proposed plan. Recently, some concessions have been made. In June, the City hired a group of consultants to undertake a community planning process to gather ideas for the future of East Midtown’s public realm. Last month, City Planning released a series of changes to their proposal. One change would allow residential use in new buildings rather than strictly commercial, while another gives landmarks a larger area in which to sell their unused development rights. Perhaps most notably, Mayor Bloomberg recognized in a recent Daily News article that East Midtown’s dire lack of public amenities threatens the neighborhood’s future as these features are becoming increasingly important to businesses. The Mayor announced that more needed to be done to help make Midtown more desirable and vowed to “advance funding for some of the mass transit and open space improvements in East Midtown immediately upon passage of the rezoning.” The details of this commitment remain murky, despite the fact that the City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal in September. At the public hearing held by the Commission on August 7th, MAS joined concerned community members, numerous elected officials, transit advocates and many others in testifying on the numerous outstanding issues in the proposed rezoning. The issues include the need to preserve critical buildings, make transit and public space improvements before new development occurs, ensure a fair price for publicly controlled development rights, create real public engagement moving forward and fundamentally more appropriately balance private gain with public benefit. You can read our detailed testimony here.  For over a year, MAS has consistently and diligently raised these issues, which are discussed in detail in our report released earlier this year, East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future. MAS will continue to advocate for a more civically inspired plan for East Midtown. The proposal heads to the City Council for review in September and October, which will present the next best opportunity to make significant changes to this plan. Please check back for more on this important issue in the coming weeks.