After a tentative blessing, Stringer applauds a Midtown East delay

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Scott Stringer. (via Scott Stringer)
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Despite his "conditional approval" for the East Midtown rezoning project, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer defended the opponents who helped defeat the proposal, in a radio interview on Wednesday morning.

"Clearly the negotiations didn't work," Stringer, the incoming city comptroller, told Brian Lehrer on WNYC. "We have a lame duck mayor, we have a new generation of leaders coming into the government. These negotiations usually were rubber-stamped by the City Council time and time again."

He said mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and the yet-to-be-determined new City Council speaker must rank rezoning East Midtown a priority to increase commercial space in the area surrounding Grand Central.

"We have to look at how we change skylines so that we can be competitive on the world stage, but always remember that there is a balance which is about meeting the needs of the local residents," Stringer said. "We have to do better with transportation infrastructure commitments, whether it's the bonding issues, making sure that if we're going to rezone that developers also—this is not considered a giveaway, but there is real balance economically.

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"The city has to benefit as well as those developers and the community has to benefit. Part of this is making a balanced view that was obviously not attained during these negotiations."

In August, Stringer, in his capacity as borough president, approved the project with several conditions, including a commitment from the Bloomberg administration to pay for improvements to the 4/5/6 subway lines at Grand Central at the outset of construction.

At the time, Stringer said the subway improvements would increase capacity by 1,100 people hourly on the Lexington line, which he deemed a priority if the Bloomberg administration were to allow for more office and commercial space in the area surrounding Grand Central.

"I am confident that if the community, elected officials and the administration continue to work together, we will reach a positive consensus on these and all other community concerns," Stringer said when issuing his approval. "The administration's current commitment to fund Grand Central improvements will not only accommodate the 16,000 new jobs to be created by this proposal, but will benefit all New Yorkers who rely on East Side transit."

On Tuesday evening, Bloomberg's proposal died when Councilman Dan Garodnick, whose district includes most of East Midtown, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, another Manhattan Democrat, announced they could not reach a deal.

The joint statement was a blow to the outgoing administration, which has proudly redeveloped vast swaths of the city to improve aesthetics and invite economic growth.

In a statement Tuesday evening, the mayor said he would withdraw the application.

"This will unfortunately cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed subway and street improvements and $1 billion in additional tax revenue, as well as tens of thousands of new jobs that would have been created," the statement read.

The mayor pointed out the city would have required developers pay into a fund for transportation improvements and open space.

"We have a financing agreement in place to pre-fund $100 million in mass transit and public space improvements before any new development could begin, but that funding was predicated on future development, which now will not occur," the statement continued.

De Blasio said East Midtown should be rezoned "to allow the creation of a world-class 21st-century commercial district," but said the city "cannot afford to hand over the right to develop some of the most valuable real estate in the world without ensuring real and fair benefits for the people of New York City."

De Blasio pledged to address unanswered questions "including how to build the infrastructure needed to accommodate the additional density created by the rezoning and how to ensure that new development rights are appropriately priced to create the best possible value for the city."