Preservation Issues

Tell City Planning to Limit All Zoning Loopholes


-Rendering of 50 West 66th Street - Grey areas show voids - courtesy of West 65th and 66th Streets Block Association and George M. Janes


-Rendering of 50 West 66th Street - Snohetta

UPDATE: February 2019

Void the Voids!
The City Planning Commission will hold a hearing March 13 on its proposal to limit excessive mechanical voids in residential buildings. We are asking you to reach out to City Planning prior to the hearing. Ask them to put real teeth in the proposal and limit the “loopholes” that developers use to bypass zoning regulations and boost building heights.

Here’s how: Tell them to cap allowable mechanical space at 12 feet tall and require mechanical spaces to be at least 200 feet apart. Tell them to eliminate the other ways developers game the zoning laws, such as stilts and large outdoor spaces that are only adding height on top of what can be built legally. Tell them to include commercial buildings. And tell them to make their proposal citywide.

Contact City Planning

The proposal has been going before Community Boards as part of the public review process. Several individual Boards have voted yes, but asked for amendments. The Conservancy made the same plea at a meeting of Manhattan Community Boards on February 21. (read statement) City Planning staff in attendance said they are reviewing the proposed amendments.

The current proposal is addressing just one way developers use “loopholes” to get higher buildings. (proposal) It’s a welcome first step. But City Planning must do more.

In response to constituent concerns about buildings out of context with neighborhoods, some City Council Members and State Assemblypersons are introducing bills to eliminate “loopholes.” We welcome the scrutiny this issue is receiving. New Yorkers deserve certainty and predictability in zoning.

January 2019
City Moving to Close “Voids” Loophole to Developers

After legal challenges from neighborhood groups, and a large public outcry over zoning loopholes that allowed developers to boost residential building heights, the City is finally moving to void “voids.” Developers have built extra high mechanical spaces—some higher than the ceiling at Grand Central—because these spaces have not counted towards the building’s allowable size.

On Monday, the City Planning Department (DCP) proposed making voids that are taller than 25 feet count as part of the building size. This follows a recent Buildings Department warning that it will revoke building permits for a West 66th Street development unless the developer, Extell, could explain why 160 foot tall mechanical space is necessary.

LANDMARK WEST! had legally challenged the Extell proposal, which would be the tallest building in that neighborhood. The Conservancy is part of a large coalition of groups that pressed City Planning to regulate a variety of zoning loopholes that developers have used to boost the height of buildings and erect more valuable apartments with views.

While this is a welcome first step, DCP’s proposal only covers residential buildings and does not apply to the entire City. The proposal is at the start of a public review process. We will update you as it moves along.

August 2018
Void The Voids – Tell City Planning To Act Now For Responsible Development

We need your help to stop a planned 775-foot tower overlooking Central Park that will use more than 200 feet of empty space to get to that height. The proposed skyscraper at 50 West 66th Street is in a special district with height restrictions but the developers have found a way around them: voids.

This week, the focus is on the Upper West Side, but this issue is affecting neighborhoods across New York. These oversized, empty spaces in the middle of “supertalls” boosted the height at 432 Park Avenue, One 57, and other towers. They will continue to artificially inflate buildings, unless the City Planning Department makes a change.

Watch this video to see how this “supertall” will look, just feet away from a historic district.

Community groups, elected officials (see letter) and preservationists have decried these voids and other zoning loopholes in recent months. Some “supertalls” have 100-foot-high boiler rooms and oversized mechanical spaces scattered throughout the buildings.

Please email Marisa Lago, Chair of the City Planning Department, and tell her act now and refuse to allow voids at this and other buildings. The deadline for zoning challenges to 50 West 66th Street is September 9.

Message: Stop Voids Now. Don’t allow a 200-foot void at 50 West 66th Street.

City Planning has said that the agency will study the issue and publish a report by the end of the year. We’re pleased to see them taking that step, but it might be too little, too late. Chair Lago should act now to prevent any more voids.

If built as planned, 50 West 66th would bring midtown “supertalls” to the residential Upper West Side, in the Special Lincoln Square District where height restrictions apply. Allowing this building will encourage future attempts to circumvent restrictions in contextual-zoned areas, National Register historic districts and even City-designated historic districts.

“Supertalls” are a part of New York’s skyline. But they don’t belong in residential areas. Developers shouldn’t be allowed to evade zoning restrictions to achieve them. It’s time for the City to listen to its residents, and end these zoning loopholes.