For nearly three years, a Chinese developer has been quietly reshaping Queens’ skyline.
ZD Jasper’s glossy rental towers and luxury condominiums first popped up in Long Island City in 2019 and have since mushroomed east, with forthcoming projects stretching toward the firm’s headquarters in Great Neck, Long Island.
But now the developer is reversing course, jumping the East River and sinking its teeth into Manhattan’s Far West Side with three planned residential buildings and a development-ready site all within a stone’s throw of each other.
Jasper Wu, the firm’s chief financial officer, declined to comment on what ZD Jasper has in the works. But public records offer a glimpse.
On Ninth Avenue, between West 37th and West 38th Streets — a stretch within earshot of Lincoln Tunnel artery Dyer Avenue — the developer filed plans late last month for two residential properties.
The firm bought the development site, at 501 and 489 Ninth Avenue, from Pinnacle Group for $48 million in May, in a sale that included four adjacent lots and, critically, about 12,500 square feet of their air rights, property records show.
“It’s a bit of an unusual situation there because they basically have two development sites at either end of the block with the air rights parcel in the middle,” said Frank Chaney, a zoning and land use attorney with Rosenberg & Estis.
With that extra room to go vertical, ZD Jasper will put up a 12-story building with 63 units to the north of the block and an 11-story structure with 59 units to the south.
Typically, a project site can only nab another building’s air rights if two properties are side-by-side. There are exceptions, such as in the Theater District, where rights can transfer district-wide, and for landmark buildings, whose owners can snag rights from across the street.
Some developers play the long game, buying building after building on a block until they connect the parcel they aim to develop with the air rights to enlarge the project.
That route, seemingly taken by ZD Jasper on Ninth Avenue, is famously favored by developers such as Gary Barnett. The Extell Development head spends years acquiring plots until he has enough rights to build the project he wants.
Coincidentally, another of ZD Jasper’s acquisitions this year is a product of Barnett’s strategy.
In March, ZD Jasper paid $52 million to Extell for three abutting lots between West 36th and West 37th Street along the sunken Dyer Avenue: 430 and 434 West 37th Street and 429 West 36th Street.
Barnett finished scooping up the sites in 2011 for $44 million and in 2014 reached an agreement to nab $30 million of Port Authority-owned air rights that stretch over Dyer Avenue, space he would seemingly use to service a residential project.
It’s unclear whether Extell ever acquired those rights. According to a Port Authority press release, the deal was subject to the approval of the Department of City Planning.
A spokesperson for Extell did not respond to a request for comment.
However, property records for the parcels show no record of a zoning lot merger, which is how rights transfer ownership “nine out of 10 times,” according to Chaney.
And 2018 renderings released for a Barnett-backed project on the lots — a 32-story building with 420 units — never came to fruition.
Though ZD Jasper filed demolition plans in early September for the buildings on the site, the firm has yet to submit new building plans.
Still, some back-of-the-envelope calculations point to a less ambitious project than Barnett had planned.
The site comprises two lots on the west side and two buildings on the east. The buildings, which rise three and around four stories, eat up 28,592 square feet of built space, according to PincusCo. In total, the parcels hold 90,302 additional square feet of air rights.
Raze the existing buildings and that frees up nearly 119,000 square feet of buildable space. Divide that by the square footage of all three lots — 19,750 — and it shakes out to space for a six-story building.
Or, if ZD Jasper builds on only half the lot, saving a portion of it for parking, say, that allows for 12 stories.
That also happens to be the height of the third project to hit the developer’s Far West pipeline.
In December, the firm picked up an industrial building at 439 West 36th Street for $15 million, property records show. It filed permits for a 12-story residential building with 52 units at the same address on Sept. 30, the same day it submitted plans for 501 Ninth Avenue.
Because ZD Jasper filed new building documents for both projects months after 421a expired, it’s unlikely either will be rentals, which usually don’t pencil out without the tax break.
Instead, it appears, there will be a crop of new condos coming to the Far West Side.