MetLife plans 16-story tower in LIC

By Dustin Brown

Community Board 2 resoundingly approved a rezoning application last week that would allow MetLife to build a 16-story tower behind the Queens Plaza facility it plans to begin occupying within the next month.

The move would enable the Manhattan insurance company to bring 2,000 employees to Long Island City.

The proposal, submitted jointly by the insurance giant and the land owner, Brause Realty, calls for a subtle change in a rezoning measure approved in July by the City Council that would put the entire MetLife property within a zone where the highest-density development is permitted.

Although the community board members expressed some concern that the proposed facility did not include enough parking and would create problems with traffic flow on Queens Plaza, all but one voted in favor of the plan. It was sent ahead for comment by the borough president and the City Planning Commission before it goes before the City Council for approval.

Although the building is technically located within the lines of Community Board 1, which borders CB 2 along the center of Queens Plaza, both boards are offering comment on the plan because of its potential impact on both areas. CB 2 covers Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Maspeth.

MetLife plans to begin moving employees this month into the Bridge Plaza Tech Center, a loft structure on the north side of Queens Plaza formerly known as the Brewster Building, a historic site where airplanes and the Rolls Royce were once manufactured.

Although the Tech Center is in an area permitting the tallest structures possible under July’s rezoning, an adjacent property north of the building straddles the boundary line, which would limit MetLife’s expansion on the site to 12 stories and 211,000 square feet.

The proposal calls for the zone’s boundary to be moved north to include the entire property, which would enable the expansion to rise 16 stories and hold 275,000 square feet of floor space, allowing the company to move nearly 300 more employees into the new facility.

The application is being pushed through the process “at breakneck speed,” CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said, because MetLife officials hope to begin work on the expansion by January.

MetLife is to be the first major corporation to move into Long Island City since the City Council passed the resolution that rezoned 37 blocks of the neighborhood to allow for high-density mixed-use development, a measure intended to eventually transform the area into the city’s next major business district.

With 2,000 employees slated to move into the facility once the proposed addition is completed, MetLife would be the largest corporate presence in the neighborhood following Citibank, which has occupied its 50-story office tower since 1989.

Although Leslie Nickel, a development planner who led the presentation for MetLife, acknowledged that “it must be unusual to ask for a change in zoning” so soon after it was enacted, company officials stressed their desire to bring jobs into Long Island City and maintain a strong presence in New York.

“We felt it was very important to keep our employees in New York City,” said Joseph Reali, a senior vice president and tax director at MetLife.

The Tech Center is capable of housing 950 people; the expansion would bring the number of MetLife employees in Long Island City up to 2,000.

Board members approved the application with two recommendations designed to prevent worsening of traffic conditions in Queens Plaza — parking for 200 cars on-site or within a block of the facility, and a cut-out driveway that would allow cars and taxis to pull up to the building without jamming traffic in the surrounding streets.

“MetLife is going to be positive in the neighborhood,” Conley said, “and we want to make sure that it’s an overall success for everyone.”

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