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Outrageous Precedent: Taking Air Rights from a Park

The tallest building north of 60th street will soon debut in East Harlem, part of a massive project that would redevelop an entire block between Second and First Avenue. In an unprecedented move, the extraordinary height of the development is possible largely because of the transfer of air rights from a park.
At 321 East 96th Street, the development includes plans to build two new high schools, a mixed-income residential tower, and retail space spanning the block between 96th and 97th. The plans also designate 330 units as permanently affordable housing. According to a statement from the mayor’s office, the project would also build the first new high schools in East Harlem in fifty years.
The location is close to the 96th Street Q, and will be a plus for prospective retailers. There’s a lot to like about the proposal. But at the center of it all is a curious little park, and a blatant run-around of existing zoning.
Undesignating parkland
The Marx Brothers Playground sits squarely in the middle of the $1 billion development, and without its air rights the proposed residential tower could not reach its planned 70 stories. For comparison, that’s getting close to the height of the Time Warner Building.
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