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Air Rights, Swapped for Schools

Air Rights, Swapped for Schools

New York Times 12/16/2007


The thought of shrieks from playgrounds during recess may till now have distanced developers from choosing sites near schools. But with buildable city lots in such short supply, they now appear willing to reconsider.

Two Manhattan buildings are to rise close enough to schools that they will almost seem part of campus: the Azure, at 33 East 91st Street, and a condo-rental at 250 East 57th Street.

And if the schools and apartments end up looking similar, it’s because the same developers are to build both, under deals hammered out with city’s Educational Construction Fund, a division of the Department of Education.

Created in 1967 but dormant for some time, the fund works to ease overcrowding in schools by leasing unused air rights over low-slung buildings, in exchange for new classrooms.

In the past 40 years, the fund has added 18,000 school seats, said Jamie Smarr, its director, adding that the two new projects alone will create 2,700. “We’re getting $300 million of new construction out of this,” he said, “and none of it is going on the city’s books.”

The Azure, which broke ground in September, will be a “co-op with condo rules,” which means subletters won’t require board approval, said John Caiazzo, a vice president of the DeMatteis Organizations, based in Elmont on Long Island. It is a developer of the 32-story tower, along with the Mattone Group of College Point, Queens.

The Azure’s L-shaped lot had been home to Public School 151, which closed in 2000. The new structure, with 80,000 square feet across five floors, will serve Middle School 114, whose 350 students are now shoehorned into a nearby elementary school. It is set to open in September 2009, Mr. Caiazzo said.

The Azure’s 127 units will range from 600-square-foot studios to 1,970-square-foot three bedrooms, he added. Priced from $713,000 to $3.7 million, the units went on sale in October, though “only a few contracts have gone out.”

Mr. Caiazzo played down concerns about noise; the school’s 40-foot-wide recreation area will be away from apartments, he said.

In fact, proximity might be a plus. “We’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about people moving here, so their kids could attend that school,” he said.

The high-rise at 250 East 57th Street, as designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is an angular 59-story glass tower over a retail base. Its offering plan still requires state approval.

But David Lowenfeld, a principal with World-Wide Group, its Manhattan-based developer, envisions a total of 320 units, from studios to three-bedrooms. Sixty percent will be condos, priced at $1,500 a square foot, he said.

The 1.5-acre site now houses P.S. 59 and the High School of Art and Design, which faces Second Avenue. For the 2011 school year, the schools will have roomier new quarters. The elementary will triple in size, and the high school will grow 40 percent, Mr. Smarr said.

First, though, World-Wide Group must build P.S. 59 a temporary facility; It is currently under construction on East 63rd Street.

But what about noise from P.S. 59’s future rooftop playground? “This is the middle of New York,” Mr. Lowenfeld said. “People are used to noise.”