New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Curbed City Council resolution supports aggressive state bills to cap ceiling heights by Caroline Spivack

City Council resolution supports aggressive state bills to cap ceiling heights

Last month the City Council voted to strengthen restrictions on excessive mechanical spaces used to beef up building heights. Now, a pair of council members are throwing their weight behind state efforts to make it even harder for developers to exploit those spaces.

Manhattan Council members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers have introduced a resolution backing state legislation that would place aggressive limits on ceiling heights to curb cavernous mechanical voids. It’s a necessary step to discourage overdevelopment in some of the city’s densest areas where there’s no shortage of luxury skyscrapers, says Kallos.

“We don’t need more buildings for billionaires, we need new affordable homes for everyday New Yorkers,” Kallos said. “We are fighting overdevelopment at every level of government, whether through city zoning, the city’s building code, or state legislation.”

The recent zoning amendment, introduced by the Department of City Planning (DCP) and approved by the council, caps mechanical spaces at 25 feet before they eat into a building’s allowable footprint, but the zoning changes weren’t as comprehensive as some community advocates would have liked. Though DCP has pledged to study and potentially introduce changes to address mechanical voids in commercial districts, unenclosed voids, and “gerrymandered” zoning lots.

To push those limits further, legislation introduced in the State Assembly and Senate goes beyond regulating void heights and seeks to discourage developers from building any floor with ceilings higher than 12 feet. The bills would also count unclosed spaces—balconies and terraces—towards a building’s total floor area. If passed, the state bills would take effect across the city, unlike DCP’s zoning amendment, which only applies to certain districts.

The state bills will no doubt face fierce push back from the real estate industry if they move forward—architects and engineers say mechanical spaces at similar heights would pose a significant challenge for builders. But preservationists and community activists say it’s necessary for state lawmakers to build off of the city’s efforts to truly crack down on existing zoning abuses.

“These parallel approaches are both necessary as part of a comprehensive policy to limit the zoning abuses contributing to overdevelopment,” said Rachel Levy, the executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. “I applaud our State Legislature for furthering the discourse on this issue as part of the effort to support community character and livability.”

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