FRIENDS Weighs in on City and State Proposals to Close Zoning Loopholes  

Schematic massing diagrams depicting 249 East 62nd Street. Left: Based on plans filed in 2017. Right: Under the constraints of a proposed bill to alter New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law. Credit: George M. Janes and Associates.

The public discussion around the urgent need to close zoning loopholes that are contributing to overdevelopment continues to play out in the press, most recently in aLetter to the Editor that appeared today in Crain’s New York Business by FRIENDS’ Executive Director Rachel Levy. The letter clarifies that while the City’s proposal to close the mechanical void loophole is a small step in the right direction, its narrow focus radically misses the mark. Levy suggests an alternate path for reform through amendments in the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL) that FRIENDS has supported. Proposed amendments in the State Legislature would provide a more comprehensive solution to a wider range of zoning loopholes that even Crain’s has questioned. They set a hard cap on “free” mechanical spaces up to 5% of the total building, count open-air voids as floor area, limit free mechanical floors to 20 feet and force buildings with unusually tall ceiling heights to count those areas as floor area multiple times. Significantly, the amendments would not hinder affordable housing, which rarely uses such tactics.
Read FRIENDS’ Letter to the Editor: “No a-voiding this loophole: How to stop unexpected towers,” by Rachel Levy, Crain’s New York Business, April 8, 2019.
As the MDL amendments continue to gain support, the City’s action to discourage mechanical voids will progress this week with a vote by the City Planning Commission (CPC) scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th. This proposal is the first of a multi-stage effort at the city level to curtail the exploitation of non-occupiable mechanical void space in residential and mixed-use towers city-wide.

This text amendment was reviewed at a CPC public hearing on Wednesday, March 13th where the proposal was met with significant commentary from a wide variety of stakeholders. While real estate industry representatives pushed for expanded allowances, the proposal was met with near universal agreement among community-based and city-wide advocates that the thresholds must be tightened from the proposed 25 feet of “free” mechanical space separated by a minimum of 75 feet in height. Read FRIENDS’ testimony and recommendations HERE.

Following the CPC’s review session on March 25th, the CPC now appears poised to vote on revised text amendment language that may further weaken the proposal by expanding the 25 foot threshold to 30 feet. The proposal will then move on to the City Council for discussion and a future vote, where there will be a second opportunity to amend the proposal. At that stage it will once again be critical to lean on our elected officials to shape modifications to the current proposal and make crystal clear the issues we expect to see addressed in DCP’s second action later this year. 


City Planning Commission Vote
on the Residential Mechanical Voids Text Amendment
Wednesday, April 10th, beginning at 10:00 am
120 Broadway, Concourse level

Agenda HERE. Livestream of the proceedings will be available HERE

Read More: 

FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Advocacy Alert, March 8, 2019 DCP’s Full Zoning Text Amendment Application, Certified by CPC on January 28, 2019
Summary of the proposal, with a map of impacted areas, prepared by Council Member Ben Kallos 
“Plans for ‘condo on stilts’ halted over fire safety concerns, says DOB,” by Caroline Spivack, Curbed NY, March 8, 2019.  
City drafts rules to crack down on height-boosting loopholes,” by Joe Anuta, Crain’s New York Business, January 25, 2019.