A Manhattan judge has overturned a zoning rule passed last year that would have permitted developers to build considerably higher structures along a stretch of Eighth Avenue through the purchase of air rights from Broadway theatre owners. Judge William P. McCooe of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan cited the city's failure to conduct an environmental impact study in relation to the rezoning proposal, which could result in many new, taller buildings along Eighth Avenue from 42nd Street to 57th Street.
McCooe chided the city's analysis that the rezoning would not have a significant effect on the environment, saying such a conclusion "strains credibility, especially in light of other determinations that an EIS was required for considerably smaller projects."
Put forth as a needed boost for the Broadway theatre industry, the Department of Planning's zoning proposal would have allowed theatre owners to sell the "air rights" to their landmarked low-rise buildings to developers who wished to build along Eighth Avenue between 40th and 57th streets in excess of current zoning laws. A portion of the money theatre owners would cull from such a windfall, meanwhile, would be deposited into a Theatre Fund, intended for the upkeep of landmark theatres and the development of new plays. It would also be used by the Broadway Initiative Working Group -- a coalition of theatrical management and union groups. Additionally, theatres who sell development rights would have to commit their properties to theatrical use for a period of 25 years.
While backers of the plan argued that its passage is crucial to the survival the Broadway theatre, one of the city's most vital industries, opponents have expressed worries about the effect, both economic and environmental, such development would have on the surrounding neighborhood.
According to the New York Times, no air rights have been sold in the area since the City Council passed the rule last August. Most prominent among the parties that waged a long and bitter fight against the zoning proposal last year was the Clinton Special District Coalition, the formation of which was inspired by the city's plan. Antonia L. Bryson, the lawyer for the Clinton Special District Coalition, which brought the suit, told the New York Times, "The judge recognized that it was well-nigh absurd," she said, "to render a change in the amount of development that could take place in the most congested area in the biggest city in the country without doing an assessment of the effect that would have on the surrounding area and neighborhoods."
--By Robert Simonson