Voiding the Voids on the Upper East Side

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

Image Credit: Department of City Planning

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

Read more:

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

A New Yorkville Landmark in 2019?

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!

Breaking News: De Blasio Administration to Finally Propose Void Solution

City to Address Mechanical Void Loopholes, and Soon!  

Image Credit: Michael Korfhage

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

Join FRIENDS for Winter 2019 Events!

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.

Co-sponsored by Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and the NYPL Webster Library Branch.

Tuesday, February 5th 
5:30 p.m.

Webster Library
1465 York Avenue

Free and open to the public. Advance registration is required.
To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526
or email us at info@friends-ues.org.

 Click HERE to register

Behind the Scenes at the Explorers Club

Image Credit: The Explorers Club

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 info@friends-ues.org.

 Click HERE to register


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 info@friends-ues.org.

 Click HERE to register_


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.

Co-sponsored by Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and The American Irish Historical Society

Wednesday March 20th 
6:30 p.m.

American Irish Historical Society
991 Fifth Avenue

$15 FRIENDS and AIHS members, $25 non-members 
To verify your current membership status, please call 212-535-2526
or email us at info@friends-ues.org.

Click HERE to register


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 info@friends-ues.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.

Another Win for First Avenue Estate

NYS Court of Appeals Denies Stahl Appeal!

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 Side. 

New York City and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) have won another hard-fought victory in their efforts to preserve the First Avenue Estate! Last week, the NYS Court of Appeals denied Stahl’s motion to appeal the lower court’s May 2018 ruling which once again upheld the LPC’s denial of hardship. The appeal was dismissed upon the grounds that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved. This new decision has further refuted Stahl’s claims that the property could not be profitable in its current form.

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 legal action.

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 site.