MTA deal allows for the building of borough’s tallest building

By Bill Parry

Developers have a deal in place that will allow them to build the tallest building in Queens, next to the iconic Clock Tower, now that MTA board members voted to sell 478,000 square feet of air rights for $56 million.

When finalized, the agreement reached March 24, will give three parcels of land at Northern Boulevard and 40th Road to Queens Plaza Development LLC, which includes developers Property Markets Group and the Hakim Organization, the proper zoning to build the new 77-story residential skyscraper on Queens Plaza.

The proposed tower would be located at 29-37 41st Ave., along side the Clock Tower building that was “calendared” by the Landmarks Preservation Commission last week.The commission’s unanimous vote ensures that the old building, owned by Property Markets Group, will receive provisional protection until its candidacy for landmark designation is formally heard at a public hearing which could be held as early as April.

Preservationists feared that the Clock Tower would be demolished without the LPC’s action. This week, preliminary renderings by SLCE Architects show the Clock Tower, once the tallest building in Queens when it was built in 1927, and the new skyscraper, will be connected at the base.

The deal for the development rights will also allow the MTA to futher fund repairs on the aging subway system with the windfall going to the 2010-2014 Capital Program.

“Every dollar we are able to secure through real estate transactions helps to reduce the pressure on the fares, tolls and taxes that support the MTA,” spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

According to MTA records, the transaction will allow Queens Plaza Development LLC to increase the size of the tower from 38 stories to 77, adding an additional 512,247 gross square feet on the development site. The additional area represents up to 490 more residential units, bringing the total to 930 apartments.

The MTA acquired the lots in 1987 for use in constructing the East 63rd Street Tunnel Project, which will connect the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal. The land is being used as a staging area for the East Side Access Project. Because of the tunnel network below, the land would be unusable for heavy building projects, thus making it “surplus property” of the MTA.

Not everyone on the MTA board was in favor of the sale because affordable housing is not included in the developer’s plan. If construction begins before the summer, Queens Plaza Development LLC can qualify for tax breaks without the inclusion of affordable housing units.

Property Markets Group and the Hakim Organization did not comment. The deal is expected to be finalized within two months.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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