Press Releases

For Immediate Release
January 28, 2019

Contacts:
Rachaele Raynoff, Joe Marvilli – press@planning.nyc.gov (212) 720-3471

DCP PROPOSES ZONING CHANGES TO LIMIT EXCESSIVE VOIDS IN RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS

Proposal counters push by luxury tower developers to enhance top floor views by creating building heights that benefit only a few

NEW YORK – City Planning Commission (CPC) Chair Marisa Lago announced that the CPC today began public review for a proposed zoning change to limit excessive mechanical voids in residential buildings aimed at artificially inflating a building’s height.

“Creating large, enclosed and empty spaces within a building for the sole purpose of making it taller and enhancing views of residents on the top floors is not what was intended by our zoning rules. This proposal offers a simple and elegant fix to ensure that apartment buildings produce housing, that their size is predictable for communities, and that they can’t play leapfrog with our skyline. We welcome innovative and beautiful architecture, not building features that are nakedly gratuitous,” DCP Director Marisa Lago said.

“I want to thank the Department of City Planning and the de Blasio administration for responding to concerns from communities to close a zoning loophole which only serves to maximize building heights for luxury towers by inflating the size of their mechanical space. This proposal is only the first step in ensuring that our zoning rules in our highest density districts reflect the values of our communities and I look forward to continuing to work with DCP, the administration, and affected communities to ensure parts of New York City that are not covered by this zoning text will be in the future,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“‘Mechanical void’ is developer-speak for ‘make more money,’” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m glad that DCP is beginning the process of closing these loopholes. The City cannot allow developers to run rings around the Zoning Resolution and permanently damage the character of our streetscapes and neighborhoods in the process.”

“We’re saying no to empty buildings filled with voids simply to give the 1% better views while leaving the rest of us on their shadow,” Council Member Ben Kallos said. “Thank you to Mayor de Blasio and DCP Chair Lago for ensuring new buildings are not empty voids but built for people.”

"I want to thank the Department of City Planning for taking meaningful steps toward addressing strong community concerns about the excessive use of mechanical void spaces in new construction. The resulting "super-talls" are not only completely out-of-context for our neighborhoods, they also pose a safety threat to emergency services workers. We still have a long way to go in terms of comprehensively addressing key loopholes in New York City’s Zoning Resolution, but we are on the right path," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

The proposal seeks to restore predictability of built form to New York’s high-density residential neighborhoods, ensuring that towers do not exploit zoning to vault above their neighbors through the utilization of largely empty enclosed mechanical spaces. 

“I am thrilled that the City Planning Commission has certified this amendment. The mechanical void loophole is a serious threat to how we regulate building bulk in our highest density districts and DCP was quick to recognize the problem and to develop a solution. This solution to the issue of mechanical voids doesn’t address all the zoning concerns we have, but it will make a difference on building designs currently in the pipeline and those to come in the future,” said George M. Janes, an independent planning consultant, who has advised community groups on this matter.

This is the first of a two-phased approach by DCP to the issue of excessive voids. The second phase, addressing a broader geographic scope, is expected to go through the public review process later this year.

Click here for illustrative examples of the proposed requirements and the problems they are designed to address.
The proposal is the result of complaints from local elected officials and the public in Manhattan’s tallest residential districts, and after Mayor Bill de Blasio asked DCP to propose a limit on the use of excessive mechanical voids to raise residential building heights to increase views and market value of apartments at the top.

As the real-estate market has become increasingly lucrative in high-density residential areas, developers have sought to exploit opportunities to utilize excessively large mechanical voids to artificially inflate the size and lift the height of residential buildings above their neighbors. Two planned buildings in Manhattan – at 249 E. 62nd Street and 36 W. 66th Street – with potentially excessive mechanical voids ignited community concerns last year.

DCP spent much of the past year examining hundreds of as-of-right buildings permitted from 2007 to 2017, to better understand trends in towers. While DCP found very few instances of excessive mechanical void spaces being used, the analysis did support concerns raised by the public, and proposal outlined today seeks to ensure we stop the practice.

How it works: 
The proposal seeks to regulate excessively large mechanical void spaces by requiring that these spaces be deducted from a building’s permitted floor area.
DCP is proposing modifications to R9 and R10 and equivalent zoning districts in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens, where zoning allows for the construction of taller towers. The proposal limits the use of mechanical voids in high-density areas where New Yorkers live while preserving flexibility for design and accommodating unique conditions in our city’s thriving commercial business districts.

The proposed regulations for residential buildings will:

  • Require that any mechanical void space taller than 25 feet, sufficient to accommodate a modern mechanical story in a residential building, must be deducted from the maximum allowable floor area for the building.
  • Discourage the clustering of mechanical void spaces in a way that unduly pads building heights. To do that, the proposal will deduct from the maximum allowable floor area any mechanical or void floors located within 75 feet of each other.
  • For mixed use buildings, non-residential mechanical space will be subject to the same 25-foot threshold if non-residential uses occupy less than 25 percent of a building.

Until modern construction techniques and market prices made it economical for builders in certain neighborhoods to build empty spaces solely to enable buildings to soar ever higher above their surrounding residential neighborhoods, developers did not seek to use the absence of floor area and height limits on mechanical spaces to advantage their building over others, but instead used these spaces to serve a building’s residents and improve a building’s operations.

Now that the proposal has begun public review, it will be referred to Bronx Community Board 4, Manhattan Community Boards 1-11 and Queens Community Boards 2 and 12. It will also be referred to the borough presidents of the three boroughs where the affected zoning districts are located. They will have 30 days to review the proposed changes, after which it would return for review to the City Planning Commission.