A Victory in the Fight Against Zoning Loopholes

City to Pull Permits for Extell’s UWS Supertower

The Department of Buildings (DOB) has filed an Intent to Revoke its prior approval for a 39-story, 775 foot tall tower at 50 West 66th Street. Extell, the developer, first filed for a 25-story, 260 foot mixed-use structure back in 2015. However, post-approval amendments gave way to the Snohetta-designed tower with a 160 foot “mechanical” void at the base whose construction began in late 2017. Now, the DOB’s Manhattan borough commissioner has indicated that the inclusion of this excess empty space is “not customarily found in connection with residential uses.” The developer has 15 days to respond.

This reversal comes as a welcome surprise as the DOB had previously rejected a zoning challenge filed by Landmark West!, local Upper West Side residents, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal in November 2018.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewerapplauded the DOB’s decision to revoke the previously-approved building form. In a statement last night she said, “By ruling that a mechanical space with a floor-to-floor height of 160 feet is not an ‘accessory use’ allowed under zoning, DOB correctly interpreted both the letter and the intent of the City’s zoning code. This is a victory not only for the Upper West Side, but for communities all over the city that find themselves outgunned by developers who try to bend or break zoning rules for massive private profit.” The Borough President, our local Council Members Ben Kallosand Keith Powers, and the Manhattan delegation of the City Council have long supported the efforts of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side and other advocacy groups in the fight against zoning loopholes.

50 West 66th Street is just one of many recent plans to create residential “buildings on stilts” that utilize void spaces excessive floor-to-ceiling heights, and other loopholes that serve as workarounds to the City’s Zoning Resolution. So far, it is unclear whether the West 66th Street decision will have a direct effect on the proposed building at 249 East 62nd Street, on the East Side, just steps away from the Treadwell Farm Historic District. In May 2018 the DOB approved the use of a similar mechanical void of 150 feet, but the West Side reversal signals a new perspective from the agency.

At a town hall meeting last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to addressing the issue of exempt mechanical voids, but thus far, there have been no proposed amendments to the zoning resolution put forth by the Department of City Planning (DCP). DCP Chair Marisa Lago has publicly stated a package of solutions will be proposed by Summer 2019, despite the administration’s earlier commitment to enact a change by the end of 2018.

rendering: 50 West 66th Street

Rendering of previously approved design for 50 West 66th Street. Credit: Snøhetta

NY1 News Anchor Pat Kiernan

NY1 News Anchor Pat Kiernan discussing the DOB’s decision on this morning’s news

Rendering of proposed design for 249 East 62nd Street. Credit: Rafael Viñoly Architects

Rendering of proposed design for 249 East 62nd Street. Credit: Rafael Viñoly Architects