36th Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony

Image: The Venetian Room at 972 Fifth Avenue, Beowulf  Sheehan (2018)

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).


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

Click here to RSVP

Advocacy Update: City Planning Voids Hearing March 13th – Join Us to Speak Out!

Public Input Needed for Positive Zoning Change! 

Image Credit: Department of City Planning

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.


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.

249 East 62nd Street, which contains a 150 ft structural void.

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.

Join us on Wednesday to make your voice heard!

Read More:
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.

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

Image Credit: Department of City Planning

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.

Next Steps:

Community Board 8 Land Use & Full Board MeetingWednesday, February 20th, 6:30 p.m.
Ramaz School, 125 East 85th Street

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. 

Read More:

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.

“‘Building On Stilts’ That Inspired City To Close Zoning Loophole May Get Built Anyway,” by Elizabeth Kim, Gothamist, February 1, 2019. 

“State legislators want to supersede city’s rules to chop luxe towers,” by Joe Anuta, Crain’s New York Business, February 15, 2019.

Third Avenue and 74th Street Tower Heads to the BSA

Tower project on the iconic J.G. Melon Block seeks variance for additional development rights

Left: Current form of the block. Shaded tan buildings have sold air rights to the tower. Right: Conjectural massing of proposed 31-story building.Credit: George Janes

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.

Graphic of building site and combined zoning lot

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.

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.