New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Curbed Mechanical void loophole closed by City Council vote by Caroline Spivack

Mechanical void loophole closed by City Council vote

The City Council voted to close a zoning loophole that has allowed developers to boost building heights with excessive mechanical spaces—but it’s only the first step in addressing the issue, say lawmakers.

The zoning amendment that passed chiefly caps mechanical spaces at 25 feet before they eat into a building’s allowable footprint. The council approved the change after months of debate between neighborhood advocates calling the measure too lenient and industry experts decrying it as too restrictive. But lawmakers have their sights set on additional changes that could make it even more of a challenge for developers to abuse loose zoning language.

“We are taking a significant step towards stopping developers from getting around zoning to give billionaires views instead of building the affordable housing New Yorkers need,” said Council member Ben Kallos, who represents Midtown East and the Upper East Side, during Wednesday’s vote. “This is only a start and we need to go much further.”

One way lawmakers aim to do so is by holding the Department of City Planning to its pledge to study and potentially introduce changes to address mechanical voids in commercial districts, unenclosed voids and “gerrymandered” zoning lots.

Still, some council members feel the zoning amendment only takes baby steps toward resolving a problem that in one controversial Upper West Side building developed by Extell Development led to a 160 foot mechanical space—which may be grandfathered in if the building has completed foundational work.

“This particular building is only bringing in 121 apartments. It’s doing nothing for affordable housing and the new zoning will only lower the height of that building by six floors—instead of an 80-story building we have a 74-story building,” said Council member Helen Rosenthal, who said she was “very disheartened” by the “disappointing” zoning change.

The zoning change will go into effect immediately after a five-day review period for Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to the Department of City Planning.


Get involved to make your voice heard.

Get monthly updates with the information you need to make a difference.