Voiding the Voids on the Upper East Side

City Planning Commission to certify new text to close the excess mechanical void loophole

FRIENDS has been sounding the drum about the mechanical void loophole for over two years, along with sustained joint efforts from civic-minded advocacy groups like Landmark West!, the Municipal Art Society, Carnegie Hill Neighbors, and CIVITAS, as well as invaluable and tireless support from our fellow local champion, Council Member Ben Kallos.

For years, our City’s residential neighborhoods have suffered from the construction of out-of-scale buildings that loom 500, 600, even more than 700 feet above the street level. These heights have been achieved by developers gaming the system through “innovative” loopholes that exploit gaps in New York City’s Zoning Resolution (ZR). Currently, there are no laws limiting the amount of so-called “mechanical voids” that aren’t counted as zoning floor area. This has led to the construction of artificially bolstered residential units practically on stilts which capture relatively higher sale prices than units further from the sky.

On Monday, January 28th, the Department of City Planning (DCP) will present a Zoning Resolution text amendment to the City Planning Commission (CPC) for certification. The DCP text is intended to curtail both the scale and frequency of these voids in R9 and R10 and equivalent zoning districts for residential towers. The proposed text amendment intends to discourage excess mechanical void space by counting voids larger than 25 feet in height. It is also intended to discourage the clustering of multiple voids by counting voids located within 75 feet of each other as zoning floor area. These rules will apply to residential buildings as well as mixed-use buildings with less than 25% commercial space.

Once certified, the proposed text will be presented to the City Council and Borough President as part of the public review process, and a CPC public hearing is expected later this year. DCP also plans to present a second text amendment later this year that will address a broader geographic scope.

Our work, and the work of our partners and elected officials, on this issue is far from complete, but the pending certification of this text amendment is a poignant signal that the voices of our residential communities have been heard and we will be one step closer to closing the loopholes that lead to out-of-control development.

Department of City Planning Certification Review Session:

Monday, January 28th, 2019
120 Broadway (Concourse level), New York, NY, 10271
1:00 p.m. Unable to join us downtown? A livestream of the meeting will be available here.

Read More:
  1. City fast-tracks crackdown on buildings on stilts,” by Joe Anuta,Crain’s New York Business, January 22, 2019.
  2. How Luxury Developers Use the ‘Void’ to Build Sky High,” by Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times, January 24, 2019.
  3. City drafts rules to crack down on height-boosting loopholes,” by Joe Anuta,
    Crain’s New York Business, January 25, 2019.
Image Credit: Department of City Planning

Image Credit: Department of City Planning