“Clever” Developers Evade New York City’s “Labyrinthine Zoning Laws”

(p. A1)  Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

. . .

(p. A20)  “It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

. . .

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Haag.  “Builders Use Ploy to Create the Luxury of Height.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A1 & A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.”)

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