The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. Although not every property can or should be protected under strict preservation ordinances, such New York City’s Landmarks Law, rational planning and zoning practices should ensure that development complements the city’s existing historic physical character, especially where it is most prominent. That is not to say that high-rise development does not belong in New York City, but rather it should be carefully planned as to fit its context and as to not overshadow its surroundings. That was one of the initial purposes of New York’s groundbreaking 1916 Zoning Resolution, the first such municipal ordinance in America.
Unfortunately, over the decades, the real estate industry has consistently sought to circumvent planning controls in order to build the most profitable developments possible, regardless of their impact on the cityscape. The most recent egregious example of this practice has been the proliferation of vast mechanical voids yawning in the center of new buildings, raising their roofs ever higher in pursuit of expensive views.
Responding to public outcry, the City of New York recently passed an amendment to the zoning text to close this loophole, but unfortunately, it is not strong enough to prevent these abuses. That is why this proposed amendment to the Multiple Dwelling Law is so important.
As proposed, this bill will limit “no-count” void space to 5% or 20’ of the total building height. It will not prevent developers from incorporating excessive ceiling heights, but it will require that they count beyond 12’ in their Floor Area Ratio (FAR). There will be a greater allowance for lobby spaces. It will also prevent “stilts” from being incorporated to jack up building heights, these empty spaces will be counted towards FAR.
In sum, this bill will hold the real estate industry accountable to the letter and the intention of the zoning resolution which is in place and designed to protect our city’s valuable neighborhoods. Passage of this legislation will help New York City and other urban areas state wide remain livable.
We urge the New York State Legislature to pass this bill.