Community Board wants Waldorf Astoria conversion to include more residential rooftop space

The Waldorf Astoria renovation is slated to convert about 56% of the building into residences.  Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The owner is seeking to be excused from requirements designed to ensure residents in industrial areas have access to open space.

The Waldorf Astoria renovation is slated to convert about 56% of the building into residences. 
The Waldorf Astoria renovation is slated to convert about 56% of the building into residences.  Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Waldorf Astoria owner needs to consider more than one type of green in its renovation plans, the community board says.

Manhattan Community Board 5 is pushing the City Planning Commission chair not to excuse the owner, Anbang Insurance Group, from rules requiring that those converting commercial buildings into residences include open space on the roof for tenants. In areas that were once industrial or manufacturing hubs, the regulation aims to ensure tenants have access to a minimal amount of open space where it may otherwise be limited.

Some park advocates also view the provision as a way to curb foot traffic in crowded parks by providing alternative recreational areas.

The measure typically requires owners to open up half of the roof space to tenants and their guests. But Anbang Insurance Group is asking Planning Commission Chairwoman Marisa Lago to sign off on design plans that would earmark about 20.3% of the towers’ roof space for recreation.

“Community Board 5 has reached a critical level, where we cannot accept anything that doesn’t comply with our zoning regulations, without anything," said Layla Law-Gisiko, the acting chair of the board’s Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee, who suggested the developer could be excused from the requirements by contributing to the Central Park Conservancy.

The developer indicated it did not want to donate to the Central Park Conservancy when asked by a Community Board 5 committee, according to Law-Gisiko. The board voted earlier this month to reject Anbang Insurance Group’s plans.

In a presentation shared with the community board, the owners said it should not be held to the 50% standard, since the landmarked hotel is not being completely converted into residences. When finished in 2021, the building is slated to include a renovated lobby with retail space, three floors of ballrooms and event space, eight stories of hotel rooms and 33 floors for condos. The 350 homes would amount to about 56% of the building, once the $1 billion renovation is complete.

Anbang Insurance Group should reserve at least 28% of the roof space for recreation, since that would be 56% of the traditional 50% requirement, Law-Gisiko argued.

Instead, Anbang Insurance Group argued in its presentation that sloping surfaces, mechanical equipment and other hurdles limited it to using 20.3% of the total roof space for recreation.

Its plans call for splitting nearly 16,500 square-feet of open space between rooftops on the eighth and 20th floors. Greenery, benches and tables would round out areas designed to accommodate a total of 470 tenants and hotel guests on both of these terraces. 

“As we advance plans for the careful preservation and revitalization of the Waldorf Astoria New York, Anbang has worked closely with the Department of City Planning to maximize the amount of rooftop open space that is feasible given the building’s iconic Art Deco design,” Andrew Miller, Anbang International Group’s executive director of real estate, said in a statement.

Developers skirting rooftop open space requirements has become an issue in midtown, according to Lynn Kelly, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks. She noted that the nonprofit advocacy group ranked the Council District covering Waldorf Astoria as 49th out of 51 districts in terms of parkland per 1,000 residents.

“In a city as dense as New York, and that is only becoming more so every year, it is increasingly important to identify ways of creating new open space. The city is suffering from both a lack of open space and limited access,” Kelly said in a statement.

The Department of City Planning declined to comment on the specifics of Anbang’s application, which will likely be reviewed in the coming weeks. The agency generally reviews structural hurdles when weighing these types of applications, according to Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for City Planning.

“This zoning provision requires that a certification decision be based on the feasibility of constructing viable open space for building residents on the roof of a commercial building that is being converted to a residential building,” Raynoff said in a statement. 

Ivan Pereira