Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Pols set to give Vornado a big gift
A now-defunct bill sought to give Vornado Realty Trust control of city parkland in Rego Park, Queens, and allow the firm to build an apartment building closer to an adjacent green space than would otherwise be allowed.
The legislation, introduced by Queens Democrats Toby Ann Stavisky in the state Senate and Jeffrion Aubry in the Assembly, indicates that Vornado is testing the waters for an apartment complex more than five years in the making near the Rego Park Mall, which the firm also developed.
However, little information was available in the bill or from its sponsors to indicate how much the park property would be worth and whether the public improvements and the space Vornado would need to dedicate toward a school in its new building would have been a fair trade for taxpayers.
Vornado’s property shares a border with a park containing Lost Battalion Hall—a once puzzle-piece-like boundary that was straightened out by separate parkland-swap legislation in 2011. Since that time, the developer has planned to eventually erect a residential tower on the site.
Should Vornado opt to build apartments facing the park, it would normally have to set them back at least 30 feet from the property line. The legislation, however, would have authorized the city to give Vornado ownership of the air over a portion of the park. While not the same as purchasing unused development rights (also called air rights), through the complexities of the city’s zoning code, it would have eliminated the 30-foot setback rule.
Vornado would thus have been allowed to build closer to the park, if not right up against it. In exchange, Vornado would have given the city a similarly sized light and air easement over its own property, agreed to potentially pay for park improvements and included space for a prekindergarten in whatever structure it ends up erecting.
The offices of neither Stavisky nor Aubry could detail how the bill came to be, though it was likely introduced at the behest of lobbyists Vornado hired to push the issue in the first half of 2016, according to state records. Because it did not pass by the end of the legislative session in June, it would need to be reintroduced next year to ever become law.