MetLife seeks to change zoning for LIC building

By Dustin Brown

Only a month before MetLife is scheduled to begin moving more than 1,000 employees into a historic Queens Plaza building, the insurance company is pressing for a zoning change that would allow a major addition to the existing facility.

Meanwhile in Woodside, Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley has proposed another zoning change to prevent a single-family home in Woodside from being replaced with 36 residential units. The change would protect the neighborhood from overdevelopment, he said.

The MetLife proposal would amend a zoning resolution the City Council passed in July to open 37 blocks of Long Island City for high-density mixed-use development, which was designed to transform the area into the city’s fourth major business district.

Officials at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company announced earlier this year they planned to transfer more than 1,000 employees to the Bridge Plaza Tech Center, a historic building on the north side of Queens Plaza, where the new zoning allows for development at the highest density.

MetLife was the first major company to plan a move into Long Island City in the wake of the rezoning.

The company now wants to build an addition facing away from Queens Plaza on land sitting along the north side of the L-shaped Tech Center, said John Young, director of the Queens office of the Department of City Planning.

But MetLife is pressing to construct a bigger building than the zoning allows.

If the parcel were located only 100 feet closer to the center of Queens Plaza, the addition could have 275,000 square feet of floor space, Young said. But the site sits just outside that area, meaning the new building can only cover about 211,000 square feet under current regulations.

“We created within the zoning package a hierarchy of zoning designation, and the highest density and the highest development areas were at the Court Square and Queens Plaza subway nodes,” Young said.

MetLife officials filed applications last month with the Department of City Planning asking for an adjustment of the boundary line to include the rear of the Tech Center in the higher-density area, so the insurance company can build a larger addition than the current zoning map permits.

MetLife officials did not return calls for comment.

The proposed zoning change must go through a seven-month review process — with comments submitted by the local community boards, the borough president and the City Planning Commission — before it goes before the City Council for a vote.

While MetLife is pushing for expanded development in Long Island City, Conley is fighting to limit development in a Woodside neighborhood he said cannot accommodate a major jump in housing.

At its meeting last Thursday, members of Community Board 2 gave Conley permission to start an application process calling for the down-zoning of three blocks in Woodside — 61st through 63rd streets north of 43rd Avenue. The move was prompted by word that a 63rd Street property where one house now sits would likely be sold to a developer, who would be allowed under current zoning to raze the building and replace it with 36 residential units.

“What we’re trying to do is protect the neighborhood,” said Conley, who fears major development of the site would put considerable pressure on traffic, parking, sanitation and the schools. “There’s a big quality-of-life impact, and the neighborhood’s not prepared for that.”

The new zoning would call for lower-density development and only permit about 12 units to be constructed on the site.

Conley said he is putting the proposal “on a very fast track” and hopes it will be approved in about a month.

“We believe there is enough time to get this action in to protect the neighborhood from greedy developers,” Conley said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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