New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Upper East Side Patch City Moves To Cut Excessive Mechanical Void Space In High-Rises by Brendan Krisel

City Moves To Cut Excessive Mechanical Void Space In High-Rises

NEW YORK, NY — Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is taking steps to cut down on the development trend of building large mechanical voids in high-rise towers after neighborhood preservation groups and elected officials sounded the alarm on the practice.

The city Department of City Planning submitted an amendment to the city's zoning resolution that would modify how mechanical spaces are regulated in the city's densest zoning districts. Mechanical spaces currently don't count against a development's allowed floor area, which means developers can build them as tall as they want without having to shorten the overall height of a development.

The city's proposal would count any mechanical space taller than 25 feet against a development's allotted floor area, city officials said. Mechanical spaces placed within 75 feet of each other, regardless of size, will also count against floor area. The rules would affect R9, R10 and equivalent zoning districts — which are found in high-density areas such as Manhattan's major avenues.

 
 

"Creating large, enclosed and empty spaces within a building for the sole purpose of making it taller and enhancing views of residents on the top floors is not what was intended by our zoning rules," DCP Commissioner Marisa Lago said in a statement.

Two examples of recent development on the Upper West and East sides were cited as buildings that would be affected by changes to the zoning resolution. The planned 510-foot development at 249 E. 62nd St., which survived a zoning challenge in 2018, will have 11 stories of apartments perched on top of a thin 152-foot-tall mechanical section. This month, the city Department of Buildings began a process to revoke building permits for a proposed 775-foot-tall tower at 50 West 66th Street for a void of the same size.

Both developments drew the ire of neighborhood preservation groups and challenges had the support of local city council members. Representatives from nearly all of Manhattan's city council districts — including Council Speaker Corey Johnson — sent a letter to DCP Commissioner Lago this month supporting closing the mechanical void zoning loophoole.

"We're saying no to empty buildings filled with voids simply to give the 1 percent better views while leaving the rest of us on their shadow," Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos said in a statement. 

Community boards in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — those which include R9, R10 and equivalent zoning in their districts — will have 30 days to review the proposed change to the city's zoning resolution and form a resoultion to support or oppose the change. After community boards vote, the issue will go to the City Planning Comission, officials said.

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