3. How One Vanderbilt Got So Tall

Top of One VanderbiltPhoto by Max Touhey

New York City’s zoning rules are based on FAR (floor area ratio) and the designated rules in Midtown at the time would have permitted a maximum massing that would have reached only around 600 feet in height for One Vanderbilt. However, the building benefited from two opportunities — one new and one old. First, SL Green owned the Bowery Savings Bank on 42nd Street, home to Cipriani. The 1961 Landmarks Preservation Law allows the transfer of air rights not just adjacent to a building but up to several blocks away. In 1978, the lawsuit that saved Grand Central Terminal, Penn Central Transportation Co. vs. New York City, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court, affirmed that a landmark building can transfer its air rights anywhere in the vicinity. One Vanderbilt therefore was able to gain 100 feet by the transfer of air rights from the landmarked Bowery Savings Bank about half a block away.

But still, One Vanderbilt was far from achieving its desired height. Mayor Bill De Blasio’s administration agreed in 2015 to rezone five blocks on Vanderbilt Avenue that allowed SL Green to add another 700 feet to the giant tower. The rezoning was first attempted by De Blasio’s predecessor Michael R. Bloomberg, but failed due to concerns that it would worsen the traffic. However, this time, the agreement required SL Green to to aid the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by spending $220 million for transportation improvements around One Vanderbilt and Grand Central Terminal.