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
Posted onMarch 8, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Advocacy Update: City Planning Voids Hearing March 13th – Join Us to Speak Out!
Public Input Needed for Positive Zoning Change!
A public hearing to be held next Wednesday, March 13th at the City Planning Commission (CPC) marks the next milestone in the public review process for the Department of City Planning’s mechanical void proposal. This action stems directly from Mayor de Blasio’s response to the issue of zoning loopholes contributing to out of scale development, advocacy that was catalyzed by FRIENDS and fellow advocates at Town Hall meetings in 2018. For additional background, including a comparison of the two policy proposals currently on the table from both the City and the State, see HERE.
JOIN US TO SPEAK UP FOR YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!
City Planning Commission Hearing on VOIDS Zoning Text Amendment
Wednesday, March 13th beginning at 10:00 am 120 Broadway, Concourse Level Agenda HERE
Can’t make it in person? Send your comments to the CPC as outlined HERE.
The solution proposed by the Department of City Planning (DCP) takes a narrow view of this broad and wide-ranging issue, but it represents the first public attempt to reign in exploitation of zoning loopholes, and it is a positive, if incomplete, first step. Read DCP’s two-page description of the plan HERE.
FRIENDS supports the DCP proposal, but there is a critical need for modification in order to make it truly effective. Constructive public feedback now will also help inform the scope and content of DCP’s promised second action later this year.
As proposed, the DCP text limits only enclosed void spaces, and risks inadvertently incentivizing the use of unenclosed mechanical voids and stilts. Unless modified to remove the word “enclosed,” the proposal may not even impact the “barbell” building at 249 East 62nd Street, which features an egregious 150 foot void and galvanized FRIENDS’ and DCP’s work on this issue. This week, in response to a joint effort from a chorus of elected officials and FRIENDS, the Department of Buildings announced that it will require written review of the void condition from the Fire Department before the project can move forward. This referral to the FDNY is a step in the right direction, but the DCP proposal must also be amended to address this gaping loophole. Furthermore, DCP proposed that in high density residential zoning districts and their equivalents (including First, Second, Third, and York Avenues on the Upper East Side) enclosed mechanical voids taller than 25 feet would count toward a building’s allowed floor area, and would count in their entirety if they are within 75 feet of each other. Though focused on residential buildings, the proposal would apply to some mixed use buildings as well. Though we understand DCP’s desire to establish limits while permitting design flexibility, 25 feet is overly generous for most mechanical needs, and allowing voids every 75 feet is far too frequent. All types of voids and stilts must be covered by this action, and the 25’/75′ thresholds should be significantly tightened.
While not a perfect solution, FRIENDS believes the Zoning Text Amendment is a critical first step. We plan to address our concerns with the proposal, including the senseless exclusion of unenclosed voids and stilts, the continued allowance of multiple exempt mechanical floors, and the seemingly arbitrary choice of 75 feet to prevent clustering.
Posted onFebruary 20, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Advocacy Update: Both City and State Move to Address Zoning Loopholes and Curb Supertalls
Public review underway for City proposal to limit mechanical void exemption
Two separate proposals have been introduced to address the role that zoning loopholes are playing in the supertall towers rapidly cropping up in New York City’s residential neighborhoods, and that have been a focus of FRIENDS’ advocacy for over two years. Last month, the City Planning Commission (CPC) certified a Zoning Text Amendment on behalf of the Department of City Planning (DCP) that is intended to curtail the scale and frequency of excess mechanical void space that is currently exempt from zoning calculations. In the State Legislature, Upper West Side Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal has introduced a bill (A.5026) that would modify the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL) in relation to floor area. This bill aims to curb residential supertall development through hard limits on exempt mechanical space, and regulation of floor-to-ceiling heights and exempted outdoor spaces.
After tireless advocacy on the part of FRIENDS, our colleagues at Landmark West!, and neighborhood-minded advocates citywide, we are thankful that both DCP and the State Legislature have begun to propose solutions to curb overdevelopment through zoning loopholes. The two proposals differ in both content and procedure, but the good news is that state and city lawmakers agree on the urgent need to maintain predictability in new design and construction and to limit developers’ ability to build sky-high by manipulating the zoning laws. These two related but different proposals are crucial first steps towards formally closing zoning loopholes and regulating buildings in high density districts in terms of their 21st century needs and limitations.
While a positive first step, the City’s proposal takes a narrow view of the issue by focusing solely on discouraging enclosed mechanical void spaces. Though we support DCP’s proposal, there is a critical need for modification in order to make it truly effective. Notably, it does not address unenclosed voids or stilts and therefore may not impact the “Jetsons” building at 249 East 62nd Street which has been a catalyst for both FRIENDS’ and DCP’s work on this issue. DCP has committed to a follow-up action later this year to broaden the scope, and feedback now can help to influence both the current and later proposal. Read DCP’s two-page description HERE.
In contrast, the Assembly bill presents a broad framework for reform that FRIENDS was instrumental in shaping. It is a much more comprehensive approach than the City’s proposal, and we are hopeful that the parallel proposals of these two varied approaches to different aspects of the loophole problem will enrich the public discourse around these ideas and lead to more productive, and effective policy outcomes. Read the details in Assembly Member Rosenthal’s press release HERE.
Tonight, Wednesday February 20th, CB8 will meet to review DCP’s proposal to address excess mechanical voids. A representative from DCP will present the proposal and public comments will be taken. This will be followed by a public hearing of the City Planning Commission in March.
While not a perfect solution, FRIENDS believes the Zoning Text Amendment is a critical first step. We plan to address concerns raised by the proposal, including the senseless exclusion of unenclosed voids and stilts, the continued allowance of multiple exempt mechanical floors, and the seemingly arbitrary choice of 75 feet to prevent clustering. We strongly believe constructive feedback to DCP now can help to shape modifications to the current proposal to address this complex issue, as well as inform the scope of the second action later this year.
Tower project on the iconic J.G. Melon Block seeks variance for additional development rights
A proposed development at 1297-1299 Third Avenue, on the same block as the iconic J.G. Melon restaurant, has drawn significant attention from neighbors and community groupsand will head to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) next Tuesday, January 29th. Developers Thor Equities and Premier have assembled a site using air rights purchased from much of the block on the East side of Third Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets, where plans to construct a new residential building are underway. Demolition of the two existing tenements on the footprint of the proposed building was completed this summer.
Lack of clarity around the specifics of this project has been a constant since conceptual renderings were released in 2016 showing a design that fully absorbed the southern corner of the block. But a 2017 BSA application and initial presentations to Community Board 8 in 2018 indicated a 370 foot tall, 31-story tower that would cantilever significantly to the north and south over the neighboring tenements, but leave those buildings intact, including the corner building housing J.G. Melon. Subsequent plans filed with the Department of Buildings described something else entirely – an 80 foot, 6-story building to replace the 5-story tenements. This filing appeared to be a placeholder for the developer’s true plans, and FRIENDS took issue with the fact that the developer had proposed two completely different visions of the same site to two city agencies. See our March 2018 letter to the DOB here.
Next Tuesday, January 29th, the project will head to the BSA seeking to amend a 1970 varianceat 203 East 74th Street (Lot 103), around the corner from the development site. The applicants wish to purchase approximately 7,000 square feet of unused development rights from this site, but the air rights transfer must be reviewed by the BSA because 203 East 74th Street was issued a variance for an unusually small rear court when it was constructed in 1970. An already small, dark rear court that provides the only light and air for residential units in that building would only become darker still if this amendment to the existing variance is granted. The inclusion of development rights from 203 East 74th street would not only increase both the scale of any new building on Third Avenue and increase the depth of cantilevers extending over the neighboring buildings, it would also significantly decrease access to light and air, two core urban values, at 203 East 74th Street.
YOUR PRESENCE MATTERS! Show your support through attendance or public testimony. Written testimony may also be submitted according to these instructions. JOIN US at the Board of Standards and Appeals
Tuesday, January 29th Beginning at 10:00 a.m. 22 Reade Street, Spector Hall 203 East 74th Street (Calendar number 103-70-BZ) is item 15 on the calendar.Agenda is available HERE.
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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 areno 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.
LPC calendars a new Yorkville building for landmark designation!
On Tuesday, January 22nd, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to calendar The First Hungarian Reformed Church at 346 East 69th Street for potential Individual Landmark designation. The church is considered to be a striking example of 20th century vernacular church design, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
This church was designed by prolific New York City architect and Austro-Hungarian immigrant Emery Roth in the Secessionist Style and built from 1915-1916. The building was commissioned by the Elsö Magyar Református Templom congregation that was comprised of Hungarian immigrants and their families and the same congregation is active at the church today. If designated, this would be the only Emery Roth-designed religious property to be landmarked.
At Tuesday’s meeting, LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said that the agency’s research staff has been focused on examining the immigrant history of Yorkville and that the First Hungarian Reformed Church is a highly intact and rare extant reminder of the neighborhood’s Hungarian legacy.
Stay tuned for a public hearing date later this year!
Posted onJanuary 24, 2019byFRIENDS|Comments Off on Breaking News: De Blasio Administration to Finally Propose Void Solution
City to Address Mechanical Void Loopholes, and Soon!
Following the Department of Building’s (DOB) reversal of prior zoning approval at 36 West 66th Street last week, it seems the city is prepared to move forward on proposing a solution to close loopholes in the zoning resolution related to unregulated mechanical void space in new developments. The City Council and Department of City Planning (DCP) will begin a review process for new text, possibly as soon as this month, that will address the issue of these oversized inter-building voids that have resulted in non-contextual supertall towers peppered throughout our city’s residential neighborhoods.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had previously promised to address the blight of zoning loopholes being used by the developers of luxury residential buildings by the end of 2018. However, this administration had missed the deadline after expanding the geographic scope where changes to the mechanical void allowances would be considered.
The following is an excerpt from “City fast-tracks crackdown on buildings on stilts” by Joe Anuta, published this afternoon in Crains. To read the full article, click HERE.
“The city had initially said it would regulate mechanical voids by the end of 2018. However, at the behest of the City Council officials, the Department of City Planning said in December that it was expanding the scope of the changes to cover more areas of Manhattan, and that the more comprehensive set of rules would be ready by the spring. But in yet another turn, several sources told Crain’s that the department and council are now looking to institute the rules in two stages. Because City Planning had nearly finished the regulations covering the Upper East and Upper West sides, those will likely be introduced to the public review process first, potentially as soon as this month. In part, this decision was made after consulting with groups such as Landmark West! and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, which have been vocal opponents of so-called mechanical voids and want to try to stop a project by Extell and another project on East 62nd Street that have incorporated them in their designs. ‘Advocacy from the community had a large role in getting us to a resolution that will finally close this needless loophole,’ said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who has been a vocal opponent of the voids. ‘Ultimately there was a lot of pressure to get this done on the timeline that was originally proposed by City Planning and the mayor.'”
FRIENDS intends to weigh-in on the appropriateness of the proposed solutions. We will continue to share updates about the review process as they become available
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Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville Book Talk
Calling all Yorkville fans! Did you miss FRIENDS of the Upper East Side’s launch party for our new book Shaped by Immigrants: A History of Yorkville? Dynamic and Educational, Shaped by Immigrants is a fully illustrated history of the physical development and immigrant roots of this quintessential New York City neighborhood. This original publication, researched and written by FRIENDS, uncovers the compelling story of Yorkville’s past as a home to Czechoslovakian, German, Hugarian, Irish and other immigrant groups, and places that history against the backdrop of representative buildings remaining today where immigrants lived, worked, shopped, and prayed. Join Rachel Levy and Sara Kamillatos from FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts for an early-evening book talk and screening of our companion mini-documentary, both of which explore the heritage of this neighborhood and its beloved buildings. Books will be available to purchase for $30, with a special discount for current members of FRIENDS.
In 1904, The Explorers Club was founded as an international, multidisciplinary, professional organization dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration, and to the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. In the century since, The Explorers Club has played a significant role as the premier meeting place for explorers and scientists worldwide who have pushed the limits of discovery and human endurance. Club Members have attained incredible feats, including our “Famous Firsts” such as First to the North Pole (1909), First to the South Pole (1911), First to the Highest Point on Earth (Mt. Everest, 1953), and First to the Surface of the Moon (1969). Join Archivist and Curator of Research Collections Lacey Flint for a behind-the-scenes tour of the club’s Neo-Jacobean headquarters built originally for art collector Stephen C. Clark and explore its extraordinary collection of books, manuscripts and rare artifacts.
Wednesday, February 27th 6:00 p.m.
The Explorers Club 46 East 70th Street
$15 FRIENDS members, $25 non-members To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Memories of Yorkville’s “Kleindeutschland:” an Exhibit and Lecture
In a time when New York City was home to the third-largest population of German speakers in the world, Yorkville — and 86th Street in particular — was known for its German immigrant community of artisans, butchers, brewers, and shopkeepers. Join local historian and lifelong Yorkville resident Kathy Jolowicz of the Yorkville/Kleindeutschland Historical Society, as she presents her pictorial exhibit on the history of this neighborhood once known as the Upper East Side’s “Kleindeutschland” or Little Germany. The exhibit is a nostalgic exploration of Yorkville’s history with a particular focus on her personal memories that evoke the village feel of the area’s German heyday with reminiscences of famous restaurants, ethnic shops, dance halls, schools, churches, and a common language. Photography will not be permitted at this event.
Born in 1939 to immigrants from Leipzig, Germany, Kathy Jolowicz was raised and schooled in Yorkville/Kleindeutschland. She is an Upper East Side community leader dedicated to keeping the German heritage alive as a Division Marshall, and PR Committee member of the German American von Steuben Parade, as well as the founder of the German Language Learning Club.
Saturday, March 9th 1:00 p.m.
St. Jean Baptiste High School 173 East 75th Street
$15 FRIENDS members, $25 non-members. To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526 or email us at email@example.com.
Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America: a Book Talk
Yorkville and the Upper East Side are well known throughout their respective histories for a mix of Gold Coast Patricians to the west as well as German, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian immigrants to the far-east. However, dispersed throughout both of these areas between opulent Fifth Avenue and the commercial and industrial East River waterfront was a large population of Irish Immigrants and their families through the 19th and early 20th Centuries. This event will shed a light on the lives of Irish Americans on the Upper East Side and other parts of Manhattan through the lens of the history of Archbishop John Hughes, a nearly mythic figure and Irish community leader.
Acclaimed biographer and local Upper East Side instructor John Loughery will give a lecture based on his recent book Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America. “Dagger” John Hughes was an infamous Irish-American figure who — in the face of bias against the Irish community — was an organizer, community advocate, and fiercely outspoken evangelist representing the Irish in America. Between founding Fordham University, a Jesuit Catholic University in the Bronx, and demanding the construction of the now-cherished St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown, Hughes was a revered (and feared) power broker for his community in Manhattan and beyond. Books will be for sale following the talk.
Save the Date! FRIENDS’ 36th Annual Meeting & Awards
Mark your calendars! 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.
Tuesday, March 26th 6:30 p.m.
The Cosmopolitan Club 122 East 66th Street
Free for FRIENDS members, registration coming soon. To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ______________________________________________________________________________
These programs are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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In the Spring of 2017, FRIENDS led the effort of local and national
preservation groups, along with elected officials, to file an amicus
curiae brief on behalf of
the City of New York in the ongoing battle to stop the demolition of two historic buildings,
part of the City and Suburban Homes First
Avenue Estate. The full block complex of tenement buildings was
constructed in 1915 by the City and Suburban Homes Company, and designated as
an individual landmark for the significance of its design and pioneering role
in social housing reform. Home to longtime tenants of modest income, these
buildings continue to be a source of affordable housing on the Upper East
Stahl had also previously
attempted to appeal the case at the federal level, but was denied by the U.S.
Supreme Court in November 2016. Like the groundbreaking Penn Central case of
1978, this opinion affirms
the City’s right to regulate landmark-designated properties as
a benefit to “all New York citizens… and quality of life in the city as
a whole.” It is possible for Stahl to appeal the state case to the U.S.
Supreme Court as well, and they have 90 days in which to do so. FRIENDS will
remain vigilant and will continue to provide updates in the case of further
FRIENDS is proud of its
longstanding leadership role in this issue, and
we are grateful to the many partners who joined us in filing the
latest amicus brief
and contributing to this victory!
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney State Senator Liz Krueger State Asssembly Member Rebecca Seawright City Council Member Benjamin Kallos Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer National Trust for Historic Preservation Preservation League of New York State The Municipal Art Society of New York New York Landmarks Conservancy Historic Districts Council Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Landmark West! Friends of the First Avenue Estate
We are also enormously
grateful to the tenants, neighbors, advocates, and elected officials who have
worked tirelessly over many years on this hardship case. Thanks especially to
those who contributed financially to our effort.
For more information, visit
FRIENDS’ First Avenue Estate web page
for a timeline of this ongoing case and links to additional articles about this
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