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Old Posted Jun 11, 2019, 4:18 PM
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How To Game The Zoning Codes To Build Supertall Skyscrapers

How To Game The Zoning Codes To Build Supertall Skyscrapers


June 11th, 2019

By JAMES S. RUSSELL

Read More: https://www.citylab.com/design/2019/...hadows/589393/

Quote:
Manipulating the intricate zoning code of New York City has long been a badge of honor among a small cadre of developers. — Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.

- As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. — Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy. With dozens of buildings topping 900 feet springing up in Manhattan and even Brooklyn, New Yorkers have taken umbrage at empty space that exists only for the purpose of giving billionaires bragging rights.

- New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories. — Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights. A look at three of the most brazen offenders reveals just how creative lawyers can be in gaming the city’s zoning.

- A residential development containing 39 stories of apartments not far from the western edge of Central Park rises 775 feet, the equivalent of a 75-story tower. A project of Extell Development, founded by Gary Barnett, it relies on a 161-foot-high volume above a mechanical floor. — The architecture firm Snøhetta partially swathed the void in glass to make the empty space look lived-in. Barnett, who has made a specialty of boosting the height of apartment floors, was able to assemble a very large site by buying several low-rise buildings and merging their lots into a single parcel. He piled most of the assembled permissible square footage onto the tower, which occupies a part of the site permitting the greatest density. The tactic is called “bulk packing.”

- Hines interests used a similar but more aggressive site-assembly strategy to develop a 750,000-square-foot tower that includes a 40,000-square-foot addition to the adjacent Museum of Modern Art. It used what’s called a zoning-lot merger, which unites the two sites only for zoning purposes. — It paid MoMA to move unbuilt zoning square footage (called air rights) onto the development site. Hines’s legal team convinced city officials that it was okay to use a rule that allows the purchase of unused air rights above adjacent historic landmarks to move those rights almost 500 feet from St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue through the “adjacent” MoMA site. — Through its zoning-manipulation legerdemain Hines has been able to triple the square footage the site alone would permit to surmount the MoMA space with 145 condominium apartments, reaching a total height of 73 stories at 1,050 feet.

- The design is by far the most distinctive of the city’s new crop of Supertalls. Its dark metal and tinted-glass facade, spiderwebbed with diagonal braces, evokes the brooding Gotham of super-hero comics. It tapers dramatically from both its 53rd and 54th street sides as it rises, reflecting successive setbacks required by the zoning from its earliest days. These “sky planes” assure that at least a minimum of daylight reaches the street. They also have the effect of capping the height once the setback lines from the two streets converge. — If Nouvel used the zoning envelope for expressive ends, Extell’s 1,550-foot-tall colossus on West 57th Street the street known as “Billionaire’s Row” for its oligarch-attracting supertall towers seems to defy it. Its elaborate development-rights assembly generates a structure 32 percent larger than otherwise would have been permitted, contends the Municipal Arts Society, a development and planning advocacy group.

- It not only bought air rights from the adjacent Art Students League, Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture daringly cantilevers a considerable amount of the tower over the Beaux Arts-style landmark to move its bulk out from behind 220 Central Park South, a limestone-clad tower, a mere 953 feet tall, that would otherwise block Extell’s gold-standard views up the length of the park. — Central Park tower rises about 600 feet higher than 220 Central Park South, its 179 condominiums lofted by a seven-story 300,000 square foot Nordstrom flagship store and what the Municipal Arts Society claims is 350 vertical feet of mechanical voids. But wait. The sky planes that converged at the Nouvel tower should also have similarly limited the height of the Central Park Tower.

- Opponents of bloated buildings have found little support among city agencies the Department of City Planning and the Department of Buildings which both seem to bend over backwards to approve designs, even those of questionable legality and safety. The permit to build the Extell building on West 66th was revoked only after the development watchdog Landmark West pointed out that escapees and firefighters could be trapped if a fire stair filled with smoke. There would be no place of refuge as the stair passed through the mechanical void, equivalent to 16 stories. (After plan alterations, the permit was restored.) — Legislation is moving slowly through a divided city council that would modestly curtail the mechanical-void abuse. Zoning-lot mergers and other transfers of development rights may be addressed by pending state legislation that faces uncertain odds.

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50 West 66th Street







53 West 53







Central Park Tower







One Vanderbilt


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  #2  
Old Posted Jun 11, 2019, 4:25 PM
Crawford Crawford is offline
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The developers aren't "gaming the zoning codes". That's pretty much NIMBY propaganda to frame the issue in a misleading manner. They're following the law.

Also, the article is mostly wrong. The vast majority of NYC has building heights, this isn't a new issue (you could have written more or less the same article 30 years ago but there wasn't the same demand for opulent in-town living spaces) and NIMBYs have always been whining that developers are using "dirty tricks".
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2019, 4:31 PM
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Gaming the system ≠ breaking the law

They're following the law but that doesn't mean it's not extremely convoluted. It took almost two decades to gather the rights to build some of these towers. If the goal of the code was to prevent monolithic structures then it failed spectacularly.
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Old Posted Jun 11, 2019, 5:59 PM
manchester united manchester united is offline
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Will be it possible in a next future to see high buildings also at Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan? I absolutely hate that hole of low buildings in Midtown Manhattan!
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  #5  
Old Posted Jun 11, 2019, 6:47 PM
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Originally Posted by manchester united View Post
Will be it possible in a next future to see high buildings also at Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan? I absolutely hate that hole of low buildings in Midtown Manhattan!
The NIMBYs downzoned that area, so you'll have to get a powerful mayor who can push through all the inevitable whining and lawsuits.
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Old Posted Jun 12, 2019, 4:56 PM
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As others have mentioned, it's NYC's zoning that's the problem. It's ineffective and not leading to desired outcomes. It's too easy to blame the developers when they're only following the rules. Why don't we ever see an article about how NYC's zoning code is the problem?
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