Hearing Wed. on City Proposal to Limit Voids in High-Rises

Many of the new very tall buildings in New York City result from outrageously inflated empty “mechanical voids” placed inside them, which are exempt from counting towards limits on the size of buildings.  These empty spaces in buildings can add hundreds of feet to their height in order to create super-high (and super-expensive) apartments stacked on top of light- and air-stealing empty enclosed spaces.  After much pressure, the city has decided to finally ‘do something about it.’ They have released a proposed zoning text amendment that would ‘limit’ how much of these mechanical voids would be exempt from restrictions on building size – read herehere, and here. The proposed changes would apply to residential towers, in residential areas. It would limit any one mechanical floor to no more than 25 feet in height, after which the height would count towards building size limits. And each mechanical floor would have to be separated from the next mechanical floor by 75 feet, or it too would count towards limits.

Map showing where supertalls with mechanical voids can currently be built, incl. Lower Fifth Avenue, and where the proposed new rules would apply.
 Unfortunately, it appears that the city’s proposal will likely not have a lot of impact. The city has already made clear that they will not apply these rules to unenclosed spaces, so if the ‘void’ has no walls or is stilts, the new restrictions won’t apply.  It also does not appear that there would be anything preventing a developer from making every few floors (separated by 75 feet) a 25-foot high mechanical floor, and artificially increasing the size and height of the building to get around limits that way. 

In fact, there are other approaches the City could take which thus far they have refused to do. They could impose absolute height limits on new buildings in residential areas to ensure they remain in context with their surroundings (as “contextual zoning,” which already exists in several parts of the city, already does). They could limit the overall percentage of mechanical space in residential buildings, which rarely actually require more than a small amount of the building to be dedicated to such space. Or they could require that “mechanical voids” house mechanical equipment necessary for the functioning of a building ONLY, and that all the vast amounts of empty space currently being inserted into these volumes be prohibited. But the City is currently refusing to consider any of these.

The proposed new rules are beginning the public review and hearing process; it’s important we be there to say that these measures are little more than window dressing, and real protections should be adopted.  

Join us at the Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Hearing on this issue at 7:30 pm at Grace Church School Tuttle Hall, 86 Fourth Avenue (11th Street).
February 11, 2019