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MAS Submits Comments on East Midtown Environmental Review

The public review of the proposed East Midtown re-zoning began last month with a scoping hearing for the environmental review.  The purpose of this hearing is for the Department of City Planning (DCP) to gather input on the issues that need to be carefully studied in the environmental impact statement.

DCP’s website has a comprehensive description of the environmental review process.

The East Midtown re-zoning has the potential to transform one of the most important parts of New York City, roughly from 40th Street to 57th Street between 5th and 2nd Avenues.  The proposal would significantly increase the density in the most densely developed part of New York City and raises many profound questions about the future of Midtown and New York City.  MAS’s letter to DCP highlights these important issues and concerns.

Many of these comments were echoed by the elected officials and other advocacy groups who testified at the hearing including Council Members Garodnick, Lappin, and staff from the Borough President and Public Advocates office in addition to four different Community Boards (1, 4, 5, 6).

Among many issues, MAS urged the Department of City Planning to:

1)      Revise the development scenario.  DCP believes that the proposal will generate an additional 4.4 million square feet of development, we believe this analysis undercounts the potential development that could occur and therefore underestimates the environmental impact of the proposal.

2)      Allow for mixed-use development.  In its current form, the DCP proposal does not allow for mixed use development in buildings which would benefit from the re-zoning.  This approach disregards what has made many New York City neighborhoods so successful: a mixture of people, uses, and buildings.

3)      Protect key buildings.  East Midtown has an incredible architectural history but unfortunately many of those building aren’t protected and this re-zoning threatens them. There needs to do a careful historic resource analysis and landmark those buildings which are an essential part of the history of New York and the character of this neighborhood.

4)      Explore new open space opportunities.  In the most congested neighborhood in New York City we need to find ways of improving the pedestrian experience, including widening sidewalks, creating new open spaces, re-thinking the Park Avenue median and setting back buildings, which would allow for more space at the ground floor.

5)      Improve overwhelmed infrastructure. The 4/5/6/7 subway lines are some of the most congested in New York City. Careful planning must include careful plans to improve infrastructure.  This neighborhood defined transit oriented development with the creation of Grand Central Terminal but the transit needs must keep pace with development otherwise we will have a district that is overcrowded and unpleasant to move through – not a recipe for continued economic success.

6)      Examine the impact to the development of Hudson Yards & Lower Manhattan.  Taxpayers are spending enormous sums of money to re-develop Ground Zero and its connected infrastructure as well the development of the 7 train to Hudson Yards.  The public investment in infrastructure is vital to ensuring the success of these projects.  However, if development occurs more slowly than is expected in these areas as result of investment being drawn to Midtown, the public may end up paying significantly more to build this infrastructure.  The impact of this proposal on the city budget and the success of those areas needs to carefully analyzed and described.

This re-development plan for Midtown has far reaching implications for the millions of people each year who work, visit, live in this neighborhood and the Department of City Planning is advancing it in an incredibly fast timeframe.  In response, MAS has brought together a group of stakeholders to discuss the implications of this proposal as we work to develop a collaborative and holistic vision for the future of Midtown.