Posted onJune 12, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Advocacy Alert: Stand with FDNY Union for State Zoning Reform
FDNY Union Pens Letter Supporting State Bill – Tell Our State Legislature You Agree!
On top of undercutting predictable development and the intent of zoning regulations, the inclusion of empty “mechanical” voids in the core of new buildings poses grave safety concerns for New York City’s firefighters and the citizens they protect every day.
That’s why last week the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York penned a memorandum in support of a state bill that would implement a broad framework for reform and help put a stop to the exploitation of the mechanical void loophole.
The powerfully-worded memo states: “It is difficult enough for Firefighters operating inside of high-rise buildings. Access to the fire area and to whatever is on fire is paramount to save lives and to protect Firefighters operating at these fires… While we acknowledge and accept the risks of our profession, we strongly oppose construction methods that are inherently dangerous that for no valid reason increase the threat to the lives of the public and our members… we strongly support this bill which would prohibit the creation of these dangerous phantom floors within buildings in New York.”
Bill A5026/S3820, sponsored by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and Senator Robert Jackson, would use the state’s Multiple Dwelling Law to address excessive void spaces by better regulating building bulk. This bill will complement the work begun via the recently-passed Zoning Text Amendment from the Department of City Planning and championed by our City Council Members, but it must be heard by the close of session on June 19th if it is to pass.
Please call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Housing Chair Steve Cymbrowitz and urge them to bring this important bill to a vote before the session closes on June 19th!
Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie Speaker@nyassembly.gov 518-455-3791 (Albany) 718-654-6539 (District)
Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, Housing Committee Chair Cymbros@assembly.state.ny.us 518-455-5214 (Albany) 718-743-4078 (District)
We are thrilled that the Commission has recognized two of the many sites in Yorkville that speak to the neighborhood’s unique legacy as a home for a wide variety of immigrant communities and the institutions which served their many cultural, religious, and social needs. FRIENDS has enthusiastically supported these designations and we look forward to the recognition (and hopefully designation!) of other buildings in Yorkville.
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Posted onJune 7, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Mechanical Voids Zoning Text Amendment Summary and Impact
The Breakdown: Mechanical Voids Zoning Text Amendment Summary and Impact
On Wednesday, May 29th, the New York City Council voted to amend the Zoning Resolution to cap exempt mechanical void space within new buildings in residential neighborhoods. This text amendment went into effect this week. This ruling is a small but powerful step towards closing commonly-abused “loopholes” and restoring predictability to new construction. So what does this mean?
This zoning text amendment DOES:
Codify a height threshold on “free”
mechanical void space
Currently, the allowable zoning floor area of a building does not include spaces used to house necessary mechanical equipment – such as electrical chases, pipe shafts, centralized HVAC systems– that are crucial for buildings to function. Essentially, developers have abused this giveaway to include excessive “free” floor area that far exceeds what is reasonably required to provide necessary mechanical services to a building. Now the exempt spaces will be limited to 25’, or about twice the height that will reasonably accommodate residential mechanical equipment, spaced out at least 75’ from one another. Though the 25’ threshold is generous, it is far more reasonable than the empty spaces exceeding 100’ within new buildings that do nothing to provide community benefits, affordable housing, or an adequate number of units to address the city’s rapidly increasing population.
2. Begin to address the concerns of neighbors, advocates, and elected officials for a zoning text amendment
The initial Department of City
Planning study that led to the agency’s recommendation for a zoning text
amendment was a direct response to the advocacy of FRIENDS of the Upper East
Side, local elected officials, and advocacy and neighborhood groups. Aiding this campaign was the indispensable
urban planner George Janes, whose technical analysis of the zoning tactics
leading to unreasonably tall towers in residential neighborhoods informed both
the identification of the problem and the discussion of potential solutions.
Council Member Ben Kallos and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have been particularly strong allies in this campaign, providing leadership and support from the beginning. In fact, the first public commitment on this issue came at an Upper East Side Town Hall sponsored by Council Member Kallos. FRIENDS’ Executive Director Rachel Levy’s question to Mayor Bill de Blasio about excessive mechanical voids elicited a pledge from DCP Chair Marisa Lago to analyze mechanical voids and deliver a solution.
Land use processes are invariably
enriched through public influence, and elected officials and advocates showed
up in droves to offer public testimony in response to the DCP proposal released
in January 2019. While testimony reflected that a comprehensive solution will
require further study and more expansive reform, the City has shown its
willingness to foster spirited public engagement in the pursuit of addressing
legitimate concerns raised by groups like FRIENDS.
This zoning text amendment DOES NOT:
Abolish large voids
Void spaces larger than 25’ in height may still be included in a building’s design for engineering or aesthetic purposes, but voids larger than 25’ will count toward the site’s floor area ratio dictated under the constraints of existing zoning. While the inclusion of empty spaces will be permissible, voids will be more difficult to exploit simply as a height-boosting tactic now that the portions beyond 25’ will be counted toward a building’s maximum size. Note that nothing in the new zoning text requires “mechanical” spaces to serve legitimate mechanical uses. In fact, the DCP study on the excessive voids concluded that the average mechanical floors for all towers in the initial study area of high-density residential districts in Manhattan were 12’ tall. The 25’ threshold codified in the new text already provides more than double the space necessary for average building mechanicals, and itself is a kind of giveaway.
2. Hinder in-progress or approved projects
Though the closure of the mechanical void loophole will restore some degree of predictability in future structures, it will not retroactively address completed, in- progress, vested, or approved developments that have profited from this tactic.
3. Fully “void the voids”
It is important to note that this
zoning text amendment will only cover enclosed
mechanical voids in buildings within Manhattan’s
highest density residential districts (R9 and R10 and equivalent). While a powerful
step, the scope of this legislation is quite narrow and focuses only on certain
voids in certain districts. It will also not comprehensively address such other
loopholes as the lack of a codified minimum lot size that prevents developments
from evading zoning requirements, or using mechanical voids in commercial
districts. However, it is an important first step and “foot in the door,” so to
speak, toward the implementation of future measures to ensure predictable
growth and protecting the livability of our city.
So what comes next?
The Department of City Planning has acknowledged that further loopholes need to be addressed by the agency. DCP has committed to completing follow-up zoning studies during Summer 2019 to further expand the geographic scope of the enclosed-voids study into such commercial districts as Lower Manhattan, Midtown, Long Island City, and Downtown Brooklyn. Also this summer, the Department will release results of a study related to the establishment of a minimum lot size for non-residential zoning lots and the impact of tiny, unusual zoning lots. The un-buildable lots issue first came up at 180 East 88th Street, raised by FRIENDS together with Carnegie Hill Neighbors and Council Member Kallos. Advocates and zoning experts believe that a minimum zoning lot size should be mandated in order to limit the manipulation of zoning lot boundaries and mergerssimply to skirt existing zoning regulations.
In addition, in Summer 2020 DCP will release its analysis of unenclosed mechanical voids in residential buildings, such as the 150 foot open-air void at 249 East 62nd Street. These unenclosed spaces are NOT covered by this newly-approved mechanical void action. It is not difficult to see how this leaves a gaping hole in the new zoning as developers will likely turn to unenclosed voids to artificially boost upper floors.
These ongoing commitments are a positive sign of DCP’s
intention to study other loopholes commonly used in the illegal height-boosting
gambits of contemporary buildings. FRIENDS hopes that these studies will yield
future zoning text amendments that will be open to debate and commentary in the
public arena. We strongly intend to continue working closely with our elected
officials to push DCP and the City for more comprehensive and impactful
solutions to these issues. We firmly believe that spirited public discourse,
though often complicated and rarely expedient, does nothing but enrich the
Posted onJune 5, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on New York Times Covers FRIENDS’ Challenge of 1059 Third Avenue
New York Times Covers FRIENDS’ Challenge of 1059 Third Avenue
As reported in April 2019, FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts filed a zoning challenge against 1059 Third Avenue, at the corner of East 63rd Street. Despite the fact that plans were approved in 2015 and construction is well underway, updated 2019 zoning diagrams show that the development relies upon falsified measurements and flagrant zoning violations to achieve its enormous size. The development has exceeded the amount of floor area permitted within this zoning district by nearly 10,000 square feet, or roughly five extra stories on the massive tower. This manipulation, paired with grave safety concerns at the site, illustrates a disturbing disregard for the laws that govern the built environment of New York City. Last week, in a letter to Mayor de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called for an investigation of the Department of Building’s “egregious lapses…at 1059 Third Avenue, that are either vastly incompetent or wholly intentional, which lays bare flaws in the entire plan review process under which the DOB operates.” Borough President Brewer has been instrumental in championing zoning issues and serving as a crucial voice for common sense development. Click HERE to view FRIENDS’ Challenge. Click HERE for more information about the development.
Click HERE to read the full article that was published in today’sNew York Times that details the shameful tactics being challenged by FRIENDS and Borough President Gale Brewer.
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FRIENDS is pleased to offer this extremely limited opportunity to venture behind the scenes at Central Park’s center stage: the Delacorte Theater. We will tour the famed amphitheater, situated on the banks of Turtle Pond with a striking view of Belvedere Castle, that plays host to The Public Theater’s annual “Shakespeare in the Park” series of free performances that have featured the likes of Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Anne Hathaway, Denzel Washington and other celebrated actors. The space was completed in 1962 as the permanent home for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare Workshop that had been touring the city since 1954. The theater, named for Valerie and George T. Delacorte, Jr., has been open seasonally ever since and has hosted more than 150 plays, musicals, and of course, Shakespeare productions — free of charge. Join us for this special chance to learn the history of the Public Theater and to explore back (and under!) stage first-hand.
Tickets are extremely limited so reserve your spot today!
Tuesday, June 25th 10:00 a.m.
Delacorte Theater, Central Park (Enter the Park at 79th Street on the East Side or 81st Street on the West Side)
Free for FRIENDS Members, RSVP Required
To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To become a member or renew, click HERE.
Posted onMay 29, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Breaking! City Council Passes 25-foot Limit to Uncounted Mechanical Void Spaces
As reported in Crain’s New York Business, the City Council has voted today to approve a zoning text amendment that will limit uncounted mechanical void space to 25 feet in new developments in Manhattan’s residential neighborhoods.
This new regulation is a small
but significant step in the right direction towards closing the zoning
loopholes that undercut predictability in new residential developments in
Manhattan. FRIENDS would like to thank our hardworking elected officials Council Member Ben Kallos
and Borough President
Gale Brewer as well as our civic colleagues and fellow
neighborhood advocates for their tireless advocacy on this issue.
Stay tuned for updates as more
information is released.
Posted onMay 9, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Decision Regarding Marx Brothers Playground Issued
The New York Supreme Court has dismissed an Article 78 filed
by the Coalition to Save Marx Brothers Playground comprised of FRIENDS of the
Upper East Side, the Municipal Art Society, Carnegie Hill Neighbors, and
CIVITAS. The challenge sought to overturn the alienation of this city-owned “jointly
operated playground” (JOP) on East 96th Street that would allow the space to be
mined for development rights to bolster the size of a private development owned
by Avalon Bay.
In a joint statement, the members of the coalition have said: “We are deeply disappointed in the Court’s decision to deny our Article 78 petition, and are weighing our next steps. We are emboldened by Justice Kelley’s judgment, however, that Marx Brothers Playground (prior to its alienation), as well as all publicly owned playgrounds under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, are parks protected by the New York State Public Trust Doctrine.” Click HERE to read the full statement.
FRIENDS is grateful for the support of the community who
supported this fight, and who continue to believe in the importance of
protecting our neighborhood’s public open space. The overall area of Upper East
Side, despite being a family-friendly residential neighborhood, is comprised of
less than 1% open or recreational space. This makes all of our parks,
esplanades, POPS and playgrounds all the more precious to residents and FRIENDS
intends to continue to strive for their continual protection.
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Posted onMay 4, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on FRIENDS Files DOB Challenge Against New Tower at 1059 Third Avenue
Last week, FRIENDS filed a zoning challenge to the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) approval of a tower that relies upon falsified measurements and flagrant zoning violations to achieve its enormous size.
The subject site is 1059 Third Avenue, a 30-story tower rising rapidly to a height of 466 feet near the corner of East 63rd Street. It is located at the other end of the very same block where 249 East 62nd Street is set to rise. These two projects will tower over the charming, low-scale Treadwell Farm Historic District and are both being developed by the Orlando-based firm Real Estate Inverlad and Third Palm Capital, based in Dallas.
Designed by Manuel Glas Architects, 1059 Third Avenue first received its zoning approval from DOB in 2015. Despite its plans having been amended and approved by the DOB multiple times, including zoning diagrams most recently filed in March 2019, they still have serious and pervasive errors.
The errors in the drawings allow 1059 Third Avenue more floor area than permitted by zoning and allow the building to skirt the requirements of the tower-on-base form, which requires the tower portion to comply with specific tower coverage and floor area requirements that are not met here.
Most troubling, the building is nearly 10,000 square feet too large for its zoning district. It accomplishes this through a combination of improper floor area deductions taken systematically in the most valuable tower floors, incorrect measurements of gross floor area on every floor over 18, and deductions to which this building is not entitled. The size, pattern, and pervasiveness of the errors in the DOB-approved drawings are of grave concern to FRIENDS.
Though immaterial to the zoning challenge, there are also serious ongoing safety issues at this site. In January a portion of a concrete wall fell onto a neighboring building and a full stop work order has been in place since then.
Taken together, these safety and zoning issues are exceptional and indicate a brazen flouting of regulations that govern development in New York City. That such errors persist so late in the construction process begs questions about the DOB’s competence and the integrity of the system by which building plans are designed and approved. Though drastic, the demolition of portions of the building that do not comply with the law may be the only satisfactory solution in this case.
The Buildings Department is required to respond to Zoning Challenges in writing within 75 days. FRIENDS will continue to share updates as they become available.
Posted onApril 8, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on FRIENDS Weighs in on City and State Proposals to Close Zoning Loopholes
FRIENDS Weighs in on City and State Proposals to Close Zoning Loopholes
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.
We are pleased to hold our 36th Annual Meeting & Awards Ceremony at The Cosmopolitan Club. The Regency Revival-style building was designed by architect Thomas Harlan Ellett in 1932 and is a fitting setting to recognize the fine restoration, renovation, and advocacy work on the Upper East Side over the past year.
Please join us in celebrating our awardees at this momentous occasion!
Tuesday, March 26th, 2019 The Cosmopolitan Club 122 East 66th Street 6:30 p.m.
*Proper attire is required (jackets for men and attire of similar formality for women).
2019 AWARD RECIPIENTS
Renaissance Award The Venetian Room, Cultural Services of the French Embassy
Yorkville Heritage Award 245 East 78th Street
Good Neighbor Award Wankel’s Hardware
Streetscape Innovation Award Urban Umbrella
Exterior Restoration Award 755 Park Avenue
Good Stewardship Award Carl Schurz Park Conservancy