Rezoning Effort to Stop Supertall Towers Earns Support from Manhattan Elected Officials and Community Boards During Public Review
New York, NY – An effort to limit excessive empty spaces such as mechanical voids to prop up buildings to give billionaires better views received widespread support from elected official and community boards in Manhattan during the public review period that ends March 8. 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. The Department of City Planning has publicly noticed the next step in the process a public hearing for members of the public to testify on March 13, 2019.
Recent advances in construction technology combined with a real estate market incentivizing apartments for billionaires led to buildings like 432 Park, which got 25% of its supertall height by exploiting the mechanical voids loophole. Voids are large spaces in a building meant to house mechanicals, but when abused are mostly empty and used to add height to the building because they currently do not count as zoning floor area. Rafael Viñoly, who designed 432 Park, also proposed 249 East 62nd, which has a base of 12 stories and 150-foot mechanical void to raise up 11 stories above. 50 West 66th Street proposed a 161-foot mechanical void to reach a height of 775 feet.
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.
Elected officials throughout Manhattan have joined together in support of the zoning text resolution. The proposed solution to discourage developers from abusing mechanical voids has also gained the support of 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.
COMMUNITY BOARD RESOLUTIONS
Community Board 1 – Support with suggestions
Community Board 2 –Conditional disapproval
Community Board 3 – Support with amendments
Community Board 4 – Support
Community Board 5 – Conditional disapproval
Community Board 6 –Support with amendments
Community Board 7 – Support with recommendations
Community Board 8 – Support with suggestions
Community Board 9 – Support with suggestions
Community Board 11 – Support
Community Boards throughout the borough of Manhattan were supportive of the Department of City Planning's Proposed Text Amendment to close the Mechanical Voids loophole. An overwhelming condition suggested by Community Boards was that the proposed zoning resolution should close other known zoning loopholes. These include outdoors spaces under buildings (terraces), buildings on stilts, and accessory or other building uses with vast floor-to-floor heights. A common request was an expansion of the neighborhoods covered by the proposed amendment. Community Boards also called into question if spaces of as little as 75 feet between voids are appropriate.
The text amendment will:
- Discourage Tall Voids: Voids taller than 25 feet will count as zoning floor area.
- Discourage Clustering to Pad Building Height: Voids within 75 feet of each other will count as zoning floor area.
- Prevent Voids in Mixed-Use Residential Buildings: Non-residential mechanical space will be subject to the same 25-foot limit if non-residential uses occupy less than 25% of a building.
“The borough of Manhattan has spoken and it is time to put a stop to super tall building propped up to give billionaires better views while they leave our parks and entire communities in their shadow,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Thank you to community boards throughout Manhattan for welcoming me, their thorough engagement, lending their expertise and supporting this vital zoning text amendment to help stop unpredictable super tall towers.”
“Throughout the East Side of Manhattan, we’ve seen the arrival of new buildings that discard existing rules by taking advantage of zoning loopholes. At a time when we should be having a serious conversation around housing and density, these projects undercut these efforts. Thank you to Council Member Kallos, my colleagues, and all the groups who want to restore clarity to our zoning,” said Council Member Keith Powers.
“Developers should not be able to manipulate zoning legislation to benefit wealthy clients at the expense of the community. The result is overtall buildings with empty spaces in the middle that serve no real purpose. It’s a misuse of the exemption and results in poorly designed buildings. I applaud Council Member Kallos for his diligent work to discourage developers from abusing mechanical void loopholes, and I am proud to support the zoning text amendment designed to stop the development of supertall towers in Manhattan,” said Congress Member Carolyn Maloney.
“Maintaining livable communities requires rational development where everyone plays by the rules. We cannot allow developers to sidestep size restrictions in order to fill our neighborhoods with supertall towers for absentee billionaires. It is vital that we close the mechanical voids loophole. The current proposal before the Department of City Planning is an important step in the right direction,” said State Senator Liz Krueger.
“We must do everything we can to close the mechanical void loophole, which has been exploited by those who would put profit over the quality of life of all New Yorkers. As we face the affordability crisis, developers are wasting space in one of the most densely populated cities in the world to make penthouses for the ultra-rich. The people of our city deserve sufficient light and air, free of shadows over our homes, parks, and playgrounds. Many thanks to my colleagues in government for their commitment to protecting the character of our neighborhoods,” said State Senator Jose Serrano.
“Senator Jackson, who represents developer hot-spots in Inwood and Washington Heights as well as parts of Harlem, the Upper West Side, Hell's Kitchen, and Chelsea, said: "I support Council Member Kallos' proposed zoning text amendment to close the mechanical void loophole. This loophole has long been exploited by developers serving not the working people of New York City, but their billionaire clients who often do not even occupy these super-tall buildings. This zoning text change will have a salutary effect for our communities in Manhattan by counting FAR fairly. It represents an important step toward reining in predatory developers,” said State Senator Robert Jackson.
“Loopholes in our zoning law are frequently exploited by developers who run roughshod over residential neighborhoods and install out of scale skyscrapers with penthouses that billionaire moguls scoop up in an effort to outdo each other. Closing these loopholes is an understated but critical part of the fight to ensure that we preserve the middle class enclaves that help our city become more affordable for all,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein.
“Our community has spoken and what we have heard is a resounding ‘no’ to supertalls and the overdevelopment of our neighborhoods,” said Assembly Member Dan Quart. “I thank Council Member Kallos for his leadership on this issue.”
“The abuse of building tower regulations must be confronted. For too long, developers have been using loopholes to build “too tall” buildings which overshadow us all. I am proud to join my fellow elected representatives in this rezoning effort and call for more sunlight-in the regulations and on our streets,” said Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.
Beginning on January 28th 2019 through March 8th, 2019, a public hearing process was open at the Community Boards, Borough Boards, and before the Borough Presidents. During that time, Community Boards had an opportunity to hear the Department of City Planning’s (“DCP”) proposal for closing the loophole allowing for excessive mechanical voids.
The DCP proposal comes after Council Member Ben Kallos wrote to the DCP in June 2017 asking for them to close the loopholes. In October 2017, he joined Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts (“Friends”) for a meeting with DCP to share their research and proposal on this issue. In January 2018, Mayor de Blasio made a commitment to closing the voids loophole at a town hall hosted by Council Member Kallos. The Mayor’s statement and position on the issue came in response to a question posed by Friends. In July 2018, Friends and Council Member Kallos worked with Borough President Gale Brewer and LANDMARK WEST! to form a borough-wide coalition to close the loopholes.