New June Event!

Image: Central Park Conservancy

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 info@friends-ues.orgTo become a member or renew, click HERE.

Click HERE to Register

Breaking! City Council Passes 25-foot Limit to Uncounted Mechanical Void Spaces

Image: Department of City Planning

As reported in Crain’s New York Businessthe 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.

Read More:

Proposed Text of DCP Amendment, April 10, 2019

FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Advocacy Alert, April 8, 2019

Summary of the proposal, with a map of impacted areas, prepared by Council Member Ben Kallos

City Council passes crackdown on mechanical voids,” by Will Bredderman, 

Crain’s New York Business, May 29, 2019

No a-voiding this loophole: How to stop unexpected towers,” by Rachel Levy, Crain’s New York Business, April 8, 2019.

City overwhelmingly votes to close mechanical void loophole,” by Caroline Spivak, 
Curbed New York, April 10, 2019.

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.

FRIENDS Files DOB Challenge Against New Tower at 1059 Third Avenue

Massing diagram and image showing construction progress of 1059 Third Avenue. Drawing credit: George M. Janes and Associates.

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.

Massing diagram depicting 1059 Third Avenue (left) and 249 East 62nd Street (right) with the low-rise row houses of the Treadwell Farm Historic District along 62nd Street. Credit: George M. Janes and Associates.

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.

Click here to read FRIENDS’ Zoning Challenge to 
the DOB for 1059 Third Avenue.

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

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.