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UPDATE: 931 First Avenue Is Anybody Home?
By Bill Huxley

Could another residential skyscraper be built near the United Nations, only a few blocks from Trump World Tower? Don't bet against it. Con Edison is selling its Waterside steam plant and attached office building located on First Avenue between 38th and 41st Streets, as well as a fuel-oil storage facility on 35th Street. Together the properties cover about nine acres, calculated to fetch $200-300 million. At that price, developers will be bent on maximizing their returns. Translate: residential towers.

Determined to prevent a fait accompli, concerned neighborhood associations, including MECA*, Murray Hill and Tudor City, have joined with local condo boards to form the East Midtown Coalition for Responsible Development. Like our own coalition to protest the Trump building and to push for zoning reform, their aim is to discourage construction that violates the spirit of NYC zoning, overtaxes the infrastructure, and damages the local environment.

Their strategy includes hiring a land-use planner to advise them and to support design alternatives to dense residential development. Fred Arcaro, MECA president, notes that the campaign to defeat such massive projects will be costly; a land-use planner alone costs $40,000 to $50,000. At stake are quality of life and the investment value of nearby residential properties.

Although the coalition's wish list includes such low-rise favorites as parks and playgrounds, cultural and educational facilities, a convention or conference center, restaurants, and retail stores, they are more likely to see residential towers rising on this prime piece of river-view real estate. At this writing, several developers are bidding on the site.

However, the road to developing the Con Ed property is a long one, sure to keep us guessing at every turn. The 35th Street parcel is zoned for manufacturing, and a request to change zoning must go through ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), a process that includes public hearings, and environmental impact studies. Also, demands for a complete review of the city's arcane zoning law are being heard at City Hall. Stay tuned. What happens to our neighbors to the south affects all midtown residents.

*Manhattan East Community Association

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