Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and who has been a champion of strengthening restriction on voids, called for the city to limit mechanical spaces to no more than 40 feet in these areas, broaden the scope of its review, and to narrow possible exemptions for mixed-use buildings. The issue is especially crucial because excessive voids fill buildings with empty space rather than housing, said Kallos.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has scrapped a controversial private development on an Upper East Side public housing complex after fierce pushback and a lawsuit against the project.
NYCHA withdrew its application for a 50-story building on a playground at the Holmes Towers development it had planned with Fetner Properties. The building was intended to be the first of NYCHA’s 50/50 projects—rental towers built by private developers on public housing property—and was set to rise 530 feet above East 92nd Street with 339 apartments.
Curbed City Council resolution supports aggressive state bills to cap ceiling heights by Caroline Spivack
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 point of city planning is to have predictability and we have a zoning text that has been under attack by people looking for loopholes, and the newest is these gerrymandered lots,” says Upper East Side City Council member Ben Kallos, who requested the study and has staunchly advocated for the city to crack down on the practice. “The point is to restore the predictability.”
In a May 13 letter to Marisa Lago, the director of the DCP, Kallos suggested applying lot restrictions already in place for residential properties to all zoning districts, with a certification process for instances where carving out a tiny lot is legitimate. In low-density neighborhoods zoned for single-family, detached homes, for instance, the minimum lot area is 9,500 square feet and the minimum lot width is 100 feet. Another solution could be creating a “Minimum Distance Between Lot Lines” restriction, Kallos suggested.
Curbed Amendment to close zoning loophole ‘misses the point wildly,’ says city council committee by Caroline Spivack
In a notable exchange with Council member Ben Kallos, who represents a swath of Manhattan’s east side, Hsu-Chen acknowledged that although the city tweaked the revision to cap voids at 30 feet it would support the council if it amended the modification back to the 25 foot cap.
“We would support the City Council modification,” said Hsu-Chen. “The city planning commission did take into consideration input from expert practitioners and made the modification, but we believe 25 feet would be sufficient.”
DCP acknowledged that its research did not identify buildings where an additional five feet would have been crucial for the function of a void, but said it opted to include the extra space to “future proof” buildings in case of innovations in equipment that require additional space. Though the agency did concede that additional zoning changes could be made later to accommodate such innovations.
The Tuesday review of the zoning change was the first leg in the final obstacle—the City Council—the revision must face before it can be enacted. Kallos told Curbed he anticipates a successfully push for the amendment to be scaled back to its original 25 foot cap.
“I believe we should have widespread support,” said Kallos. “I anticipate that amendment will be the case.”
“Until they have been demonstrated to be safe, novel designs such as vast void areas must be evaluated by the FDNY,” the letter reads. “Due to the nature of such different design elements and any review processes surrounding aspects of this size, we feel it is critical to involve the FDNY prior to the approval of such building plans.”
Kallos said he is pleased with the “starting point” zoning amendment the city has brought forward, but is “very disappointed that the Department of Buildings has been engaging behind closed doors to close one loophole while it opens another” in terms of open air voids. He said it ultimately boils down to ensuring that first responders can access those living above excessive voids in case of an emergency.
“Tragedies happen, fires happens, and it’s going to be up to our first responders to rescue whomever is in this building. I don’t think it’s right to ask a first responder to climb 150 feet or more of steps just to get where people might be who need saving,” said Kallos.
Levy echoed the Council member’s concern and said the city has a duty to give these structures extra safety scrutiny.