New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

City Council Must Make Mechanical Voids Rules Stronger After City Planning Vote Says Council Member Kallos

Diagram of Voids Text Amendment

“We need more affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers, not more super tall towers for billionaires propped up on empty mechanical voids.

“I am deeply disappointed that after every Community Board and nearly a dozen elected officials in Manhattan spoke out for fewer and shorter mechanical voids, that the City Planning Commission would disregard the community, evidence from their own experts at the Department of City Planning, and vote in favor of taller buildings for billionaires.

“The City Council must overturn what the City Planning Commission has proposed by reducing the heights of mechanical voids. I've done it before and I will do it again.

“Thank you to Department of City Planning for proposing a solution to stop super tall towers for billionaires propped up on empty mechanical voids. It is a step in the right direction and should have been made stronger instead of weaker by the City Planning Commission.

“I will continue working with Department of City Planning Chair Lago on a follow up actions to protect more of our city and close more loopholes.

Background

The Department of City Planning's text amendment to close the mechanical voids loophole follows years of advocacy from Council Member Ben Kallos and community groups.

Since his election, Council Member Kallos has invested in local planning groups like Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts earmarked funds for planning, research, and education around zoning and land use. These grants helped fund their report released on October 7, 2015, “The Upper East Side – A Framework for the Future of Five Neighborhoods.” The report recommended: “Restrict the Height of Buildings to 210 Feet” and “Limit Zoning Lot Mergers.”

Council Member Ben Kallos has held forums on overdevelopment on July 23, 2015, June 8, 2017, and June 14, 2018 (video), with another planned for 2019.
 
On June 30, 2017, Council Member Ben Kallos sent a letter advocating for DCP to “close loopholes” including mechanical voids and floor-to-floor heights. Later that year on October 20, 2017, Council Member Kallos, Friends of the Upper East Side, and George Janes met with Department of City Planning to present their proposal to close loopholes.
 
Council Member Kallos invited Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts to ask a question at a Town Hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio on January 17, 2018. In response to Friends’ executive director Rachel Levy’s question, Mayor de Blasio and City Planning Chair Marisa Lago committed to fixing loopholes. On March 15, 2018, Council Member Kallos asked City Planning Chair Lago at a Budget Hearing about progress on closing loopholes where she promised to have a proposal by the end of the year.
 
Buildings with voids are being planned or built throughout Manhattan. Council Member Kallos has supported a community appeal to stop a skyscraper alleged to be in violation of the zoning text, which features a 34-foot void to help make it the tallest building on the East Side of Manhattan north of Trump Palace. On July 17, 2018, Kallos held a press conference with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and community advocates to bring attention to the voids and other zoning loopholes.
 
On Friday, January 25, 2019, the Department of City Planning sent a letter to Council Member Ben Kallos a proposed a zoning text amendment that would regulate excessive mechanical voids within residential buildings in high density residential districts citywide (N 190230 ZRY) planned for review and certification by the City Planning Commission (CPC) on January 28, 2019.

During the month of February, Council Member Kallos toured nearly every Community Board in Manhattan to share the importance of a proposed zoning text amendment from the Department of City Planning to stop supertall buildings that abuse empty voids to gain height solely to build apartments for billionaires. Council Member Kallos developed a map of areas that were already protected, would be protected, and remained in jeopardy that he revised with the City Council Land Use Division complete with a one pager that was distributed throughout the borough of Manhattan complete with petition.

Eight of ten of community boards along with over a dozen elected officials in Manhattan that would be impacted have placed their support behind a zoning text amendment limiting the use of excessive mechanical voids in buildings with suggestions for improvements. The two community boards that disapproved did so conditionally only if improvements requested are not made.

On March 13, 2019, Kallos presented testimony to the City Planning Commission on behalf of nearly a dozen elected officials throughout Manhattan in support of the zoning text resolution with improvements that included Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, State Senators Liz Krueger, Jose Serrano, Robert Jackson, Assembly Members Richard Gottfried, Harvey Epstein, Daniel O'Donnell, Dan Quart, Robert Rodriguez, and Rebecca Seawright, and City Council Members Diana Ayala, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera.

Today, April 10, 2019 the City Planning Commission voted to approve the text amendment without including the recommendations of the community boards and elected officials and in fact weakened the proposal allowing exempt mechanical space from a height of 25 feet up to 30 feet.

The City Council has already scheduled a hearing for this zoning text amendment on April 16, 2109 at 9:30AM in the City Council Chambers where the public is invited to testify.

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