NYC Council votes to close mechanical void loophole

May 30, 2019

Rendering of 50 West 66th Street; courtesy of Binyan Studios/ Snøhetta

The New York City Council on Wednesday voted to close a zoning loophole that has allowed developers to fill multiple floors of a tower with mechanical equipment without counting the floors as part of the building. The so-called mechanical void loophole enabled taller residential towers, and therefore higher, more expensive units, without actually creating more housing. The amendment approved by the Council will count mechanical voids taller than 25 feet as zoning floor area, as Crain’s reported.

In February, the Department of City Planning released a study showing how current zoning regulations exclude mechanical floors from zoning floor area calculations. Because there were no height limits set on the mechanical floors, some developers were able to build tall buildings with more apartments on higher levels.

The study came in response to an outcry from local advocates and public officials, who found developers exploiting the loophole at buildings, including 50 West 66th Street. The Upper West Side project from Extell initially called for the 775-foot tower to include a 160-foot void and two additional 16-foot mechanical floors. The developer revised the plan last month to instead include two 64-foot mechanical spaces and a 48-foot void; the Department of Buildings approved the amended plans in April.

“Today, by strengthening and passing the proposal to limit the height of mechanical voids to 25 feet, we are taking a significant step forward toward stopping developers from getting around the zoning to give billionaires views instead of building affordable housing for New Yorkers,” Council Member Ben Kallos said in a statement Wednesday.

Kallos called it a “start” but said he expects City Planning to go further when they study voids in commercial districts, those that are unenclosed, and “gerrymandered” zoning lots. On the Upper East Side, DDG’s 180 East 88th Street created a four-foot zoning lot to claim the property did not actually face 88th Street in order to scoot around zoning rules.

Opponents of the 668-foot tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue claimed its developer also gerrymandered the zoning lot. But a judge this month rejected a request to halt construction at the building as the city reviews the plan again.

City Planning is currently conducting a study related to these additional loopholes and will share the results with city officials by August. After a five-day review period for Mayor Bill de Blasio, the zoning amendment will go into effect.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who has also advocated for the closure of these loopholes, on Wednesday tweeted: “Today the City Council approved a zoning amendment that will restrict the use of the mechanical void loophole, which developers use to build too-tall towers! It’s about time– and I look forward to City Planning’s examination of voids in other areas, out late this summer!”

[Via Crain’s]


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