City Planning Approves One Vanderbilt Project With Modifications

Architect's rendering of One Vanderbilt Place and Grand Central Terminal. Image credit: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

Architect’s rendering of One Vanderbilt Place and Grand Central Terminal. Image credit: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

The application seeks to rezone five blocks along Vanderbilt Avenue to permit construction of a new commercial tower.  On March 30, 2015 the City Planning Commission approved SL Green’s proposal to build One Vanderbilt, a 1,450-foot commercial tower, and establish the five-block Vanderbilt Corridor.  The building will be located on the block adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, bounded by East 42nd Street to the south, East 43rd Street to the north, Madison Avenue to the west, and Vanderbilt Avenue to the east.  The rezoning will affect the west side of Vanderbilt Avenue between East 42nd and East 47th Streets to facilitate commercial development and designate Vanderbilt Avenue between East 42nd and East 43rd Streets as a public place for pedestrian use.  As a part of the rezoning and construction proposal, SL Green will invest $210 million in transit and infrastructure improvements to Grand Central.

On November 17, 2014 Manhattan Community Board 5 and Community Board 6 held a joint hearing on the proposal and each later voted to recommend denial of the application.  On January 28, 2015 Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended approval with conditions to improve pedestrian flow and energy efficiency at One Vanderbilt.  On February 4, 2015 the Commission held a public hearing with strong showings for and against the proposal.  Supporters of the proposal described the necessity of upgrading and modernizing commercial real estate in East Midtown as would be permitted by the rezoning, the benefits of the proposed transit improvements, the eventual LEED Gold status of the final building, and the increased flexibility for landmarked buildings outside the Grand Central Subarea to transfer unused development rights to sites.  Opponents to the proposal raised concerns the proposal devalued Grand Central’s unused development rights, even to the point of comprising an unconstitutional taking of property.  Representatives from Midtown Trackage, owners of the Grand Central site, argued allowing a FAR bonus for public realm improvements discouraged developers from purchasing landmark transfers on the open market in favor of negotiating a less-costly deal with the City for transit improvements to the detriment of landmark preservation.  Representatives from Community Boards 5 and 6 raised concerns the proposal opened the door to a “canyon” of 30 FAR buildings fronting on narrow streets.

In its final report, the Commission praised One Vanderbilt as an “exceptional” proposal accomplishing many of the City’s goals for the area, providing new sustainable office space to the area and improving the function of the Lexington Avenue subway line.  The Commission was also receptive to testimony the project could be improved at street level, and adopted Borough President Brewer’s configuration suggestion to have the main office lobby on Vanderbilt Place, a secondary entrance on Madison Avenue, retail space along East 42nd Street and Madison, and a dedicated entrance to a proposed observation deck on the northwest corner of the site.  The Commission also required the special permit to mandate SL Green maintain the onsite improvements, including the transit hall connection between One Vanderbilt and Grand Central Terminal, and the Vanderbilt Place public plaza.  The MTA will maintain the offsite improvements to the subway complex.  The Commission found the public benefit from the proposed improvements warranted the proposed bonus floor area, stating the MTA’s East Side Access project would further overcrowd Grand Central Terminal and the Lexington Avenue subway without the infrastructure improvements involved with One Vanderbilt.  The Commission also favored the inclusion of Vanderbilt Place as a new high-quality public space in an area that lacks such spaces other than Grand Central Terminal.

The proposal will go to the City Council for further consideration and is scheduled to go before the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on April 13, 2015.

CPC:  Vanderbilt Corridor (140440-MMM, 150127-ZRM), One Vanderbilt Avenue (150128-ZSM, 150129-ZSM, 150130-ZSM, 150130(A)-ZSM) (Mar. 30, 2015).

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014)

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