In general, I think of Manhattan below Central Park as perhaps the freest place in America in terms of land use restrictions. There are no minimum parking regulations, zoning variances are relatively easy to get, and FAR restrictions are relatively generous. Historical preservation designations sometimes limit redevelopment, but other than that, developers have a relatively free hand to…develop.
That is, unless you’re talking about building a tall skyscraper within 17 blocks of the Empire State Building:
The owners of the Empire State Building, Anthony E. and Peter L. Malkin, even want a 17-block no-go zone surrounding their 1,250-foot tall tower. This would prevent Vornado Realty Trust, which wants to erect the new building on Seventh Avenue, or any other developer, from putting up a similarly oversize building in the zone.
The City Planning Commission has already approved Vornado’s plan for a tower, called 15 Penn Plaza, opposite Pennsylvania Station. It would be 56 percent larger than what would ordinarily be allowed, in keeping with the city’s desire to promote high-density development close to transit hubs. But Community Board 5, whose district includes the area, did not approve. A committee at the board said the developer had not provided a rationale for such a large zoning bonus, especially since it did not have a tenant and might not build for years.
While we at Market Urbanism are generally not fans of tying density bonuses to private improvement of public infrastructure, we should note that part of the quid-pro-quo for the government allowing the building is that the developer make improvements to Penn Station “worth more than $100 million,” which would be lost if the project is not approved.
Edit: I may have overstated the freeness of Manhattan’s land use situation – see the comments section for a more nuanced and enlightened discussion of the barriers to development in America’s densest neighborhoods.
Edit II: Reason has prevailed, and the project was approved.