On August 8, the City Council passed the Midtown East Rezoning intended to promote commercial development in the 78-block area stretching north-south from 57th to 39th streets and east-west from Third to Madison avenues. Councilman Dan Garodnick was the main sponsor of the bill.
Midtown East is critical to the city’s economy. It produces 10 percent of its real estate taxes and hosts a weekday workforce of 250,000. A zoning update is seen as vital for the future. Locally, the area needs to keep up with development on the far west and lower end of Manhattan. Globally, the city seeks to maintain its place among essential world business locations.
To achieve this, new office buildings, designed for the digital age, are needed to replace and complement old buildings. The city hopes that the new zoning will help add 6.5 million square feet of office space to the existing 60 million in the area. This will also call for modernizing the Lexington Avenue subway’s overburdened and aging infrastructure. Under the new zoning, developers will be required to pay upfront to improve subway entrances and create wider stairways.
Based on and copied, in part, from “The Future Is Looking Up for East Midtown”, Editorial Board, The New York Times, August 8, 2017, and “New York City Council Approves Rezoning Plan for Midtown Manhattan”, by Patrick McGeehan, August 9, 2017, The New York Times.
As term limits decree, Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick will soon leave office. Having had his support over the course of three terms, the Turtle Bay Association’s board and the residents of Turtle Bay are sorry to see him go and wonder about his future plans.
Dan’s leadership has helped steer actions and decisions affecting many core issues, including health, safety and ethics. He recently introduced or helped enact laws promoting safety at construction sites, disclosure by landlords of a building’s energy efficiency to potential buyers and renters, and reporting and oversight of NYPD surveillance technologies. The large, green trash cans, with the TBA logo, that now sit at corners in the neighborhood embody his commitment to our community; a grant from Dan made them possible.
Perhaps his most far-reaching achievement has been his role as prime sponsor of the East Midtown Rezoning, recently passed by the City Council. It is the result of complex negotiations and compromises among politicians, developers, religious institutions and civic groups, on a tangle of issues, such as landmarks, the price of air rights and improvement of the Lexington Avenue subway’s aging infrastructure.
The TBA itself was among the many interested parties. We protested part of the rezoning, which allowed development of tall commercial buildings along the east side of Third Avenue. This would enable office towers to encroach farther on residential areas, and block sunlight from the streets. Dan heard us and carved out the section between 46th and 51st streets from the rezoning. His willingness to work extra-hard for his constituents has been a hallmark of his term in office, and will make a lasting difference to Turtle Bay.
As for what’s next, Dan says, “As a life-long New Yorker, it has been an honor to represent Turtle Bay in the City Council over the past 12 years. But I’m not going far – I plan to stay involved and engaged, and stand ready to support my neighbors now and in the future.”
On November 7, citizens of District 4 will vote on Dan Garodnick’s successor. We look forward to building a relationship with our new council member, and also to watching Dan as he continues his extraordinary leadership in whatever he chooses to do next. The Turtle Bay Association wishes him all the best of luck.
Morning Star Café
949 Second Avenue (50/51)
New York, N.Y. 10022
There are good reasons why family-owned Morning Star Café has been a favored destination for almost twenty years. This classic Greek (and thoroughly New York- American) diner attracts a crowd of residents, nearby workers, tourists, and late-night and early-morning diners who count on freshly prepared and delicious food, generous portions, friendly service and a huge menu to choose from at any hour when hunger strikes.
The family Vavilis is a classic New York immigrant success story. Steven Vavilis came here from Greece when he was 17, with no English and no restaurant skills. Joining relatives already in the restaurant business, Steve learned the trade. In 1998, he and his brother Michael opened Morning Star Café, naming it after their sister Ploumou whom Steve had always called his “Morning Star.” Steve Vavilis passed away in 2015, and his son George is now at the helm, upholding the tradition of good food and good service launched by his father and uncle.
If you’re not yet a Morning Star regular, I recommend becoming one. In the morning, choose from time-honored breakfast dishes. At mid-day, lunch features six fresh soups, classic burgers, sandwiches, salads, French fries and home fries that deliver satisfaction, as do the full dinners of fish, steak, roast chicken, pasta and Greek specialties. At Sunday brunch you can select from a list of 40 omelets, or design your own. If you like a drink with your meal, Morning Star also offers a selection of beer and wine. Personally, I like the desserts. I recently enjoyed the happily not-too-sweet apple pie with a cinnamon-scented crumb topping. And you don’t need to look at the clock; you can have whatever you want, at any hour – eat in, take-out, or order for delivery.
Morning Star Café has been featured in Time Out New York, and on the websites Yelp and Facebook, where happy customers have posted many positive reviews.
The Greenacre Foundation has mobilized the “Fight for Light” on behalf of Greenacre Park to preserve the park’s sunlight. The goal is to prevent the onset of shadows that would darken the space in the afternoon if development of several taller buildings is permitted, to the south, through adoption of the proposed Midtown East Side Rezoning plan.
Greenacre Park is situated on 51st Street between Second and Third Avenues and is one of only three “vest-pocket” parks in New York City. The singular outdoor space – about the size of a tennis court – was designed for maximum beauty and function by internationally acclaimed landscape architects Sasaki Associates. It has become a beloved haven for those who live and work in Turtle Bay.
First opened in 1971 through the efforts of the late Mrs. Jean Mauzé, the former Abby Rockefeller, the park features a 25-foot-high waterfall sculpted from huge granite blocks, honey locust trees, lush plantings, sunny seating areas with moveable tables and chairs, and an outdoor cafe. The space even accommodates nature; the sight of sparrows indulging in a daily bath where water runs into a granite basin is a delight. Today, the care of the park remains “in the family” in that Ms. Mauze’s granddaughter, Gail Caulkins, oversees its operations as the
President of the Greenacre Foundation. “Greenacre Park has provided innumerable moments of welcome serenity and escape for residents, families, visitors, and local workers,” says Ms. Caulkins. “The sunshine makes an indispensable contribution to the park’s unique appeal.” Fight for Light is focusing on building public awareness of the issue, and includes the launch of a website, the unveiling of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels, outreach to local media, and ongoing communications with city officials.
The campaign is making an impact. Through the efforts of park supporters, Community Board 6 adopted a resolution on March 8 calling upon the City Council to modify the rezoning plan so that the park’s sunlight could be preserved. Advocates also attracted the support of a prominent ally when they were joined by the Municipal Arts Society in pushing for mitigating measures. In a March 7 letter to Community Board 6, the Society said that the neighborhood “cannot afford to allow development under the East Midtown rezoning proposal to cast such an important resource as Greenacre Park in additional shadow.”
And while it is premature to predict the final outcome of the rezoning plan, the message seems to be getting through.
More information about Greenacre Park and the Fight for Light is available at GreenacrePark.org, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Some 60 years ago this fall, a small group of East 49th Street residents got together at Amster Yard, located between Second and Third avenues, to strategize on how they could scuttle a city plan they deemed harmful to the neighborhood. They gave themselves a name – the East 49th Street Association – and after some long, thoughtful strategy sessions, they went on to win their battle: The city halted its plan to broaden 49th Street to make way for more automobile traffic, which would have meant narrowing the sidewalks and uprooting well-established shade trees in the process.
Their success encouraged the group to take on other fights to preserve the neighborliness of the East Midtown area, and before long, residents from blocks north and south of 49th Street had joined the cause. Soon, the designation of “49th Street” no longer seemed appropriate, and the group changed its name to the Turtle Bay Association.
This fall, as the organization marks its 60th anniversary, it can look back with pride at some hard-fought struggles to maintain the area’s residential appeal, a major challenge for a neighborhood located between the United Nations’ six-block complex on one side and the office towers of Third Avenue on the other. Three men have chaired the organization since its founding: James Amster, an interior decorator whose home at Amster Yard became an anchor in the area; then Peter Detmold, whose real estate business specialized in East Midtown brownstones; and since 1972, Bill Curtis, a graphic designer who first moved to Turtle Bay in the 1960s. “The strong leadership of Amster and Detmold during our early years has helped us maintain the influence we still have today,” says Curtis. “The issues may be different, but our goal is the same – to maintain the livability of our East Midtown neighborhood for future generations to come.”
Here are some of the TBA’s most notable efforts through the years:
- In the mid-1960s, the group fought to stop the building of a big municipal parking garage on 48th Street and Second Avenue, and successfully worked to minimize a mammoth expansion of UN and affiliated offices that would have taken over residential areas.
- In the 1970s, in what many consider one of the TBA’s greatest achievements, neighbors stopped a huge Long Island Rail Road passenger terminal planned for the northwest corner of 48th Street and Third Avenue. And the group fought to keep helicopter service—noisy and potentially dangerous—from continuing atop the nearby Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building).
- In the 1980s, the organization was instrumental in the successful effort to limit the building heights in the area by “downzoning” the Beekman Place district and Turtle Bay mid-blocks between First and Third avenues. And it also led the drive to redesign and refurbish Peter Detmold Park.
- In the 1990s, the TBA fought for the reopening of the 48th Street ramp to the FDR Drive, easing traffic on First Avenue. And, in an important move to enhance the neighborhood, it spearheaded the rejuvenation of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and the opening of the Katherine Hepburn Garden.
- More recently, the TBA has been an active voice in monitoring safety issues surrounding high-rise construction in the area, a particular concern in light of a tragic crane collapse on East 51st Street in 2008 that killed seven, including six construction workers, and injured many more. And the organization has worked to assure adequate levels of bus service for the neighborhood, improve the area’s parks and playgrounds, and most recently, has spoken up with its concerns regarding the city’s East Midtown rezoning plans.
“As we enter our seventh decade, we hope some of our past achievements will encourage newcomers in our neighborhood to join our cause,” says Curtis. “The more voices we have speaking up about our concerns, the more effective we can be in assuring that Turtle Bay remains a quality place to live and work.”