New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Crain's New York City fast-tracks crackdown on buildings on stilts by Joe Anuta

City fast-tracks crackdown on buildings on stilts

Zoning rules currently allow developers to build mechanical floors with extraordinarily high ceilings, which boosts the height of a building without changing the number of apartments contained within. Stacking units on top of a hollow pedestal gives the apartments better views and makes them more expensive. Extell's project at 36 W. 66th St., for example, has proposed a mechanical room with 160-foot ceilings.

The city initially had said it would regulate mechanical voids by the end of 2018. However, at the behest of City Council officials, the Department of City Planning said last month that it was expanding the scope of the changes to cover more areas of Manhattan, and the more comprehensive set of rules would be ready by the spring.

But in yet another turn, several sources told Crain's that the department and the council are now looking to institute the rules in two stages.

Because City Planning had nearly finished the regulations covering the Upper East and Upper West sides, those likely will be introduced to the public review process first, potentially as soon as this month. In part, this decision was made after consulting with groups such as Landmark West and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, which have been vocal opponents of so-called mechanical voids and want to try to stop a project by Extell and another project on East 62nd Street that have incorporated them in their designs.

"Advocacy from the community had a large role in getting us to a resolution that will finally close this needless loophole," said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who has been a vocal opponent of the voids. "Ultimately there was a lot of pressure to get this done on the time line that was originally proposed by City Planning and the mayor."

At some point after the initial set of rules enters the public review process, City Planning likely then will write up a second set of regulations that would cover the rest of Manhattan.

The planning department did not address the time line for implementing the rules, saying only: "We are working on solutions to address the issue of excessive mechanical voids, and no date for referral has been scheduled." Whether the rules will succeed in stopping Extell's tower is unclear. If Gary Barnett is able to build a certain portion of the building under the existing rules, for example, his project would be grandfathered in.

Last week the Department of Buildings issued an intent to revoke permits for the proposed spire, citing the 160-foot mechanical void. The developer has until later this month to respond.

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