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March 18, 2019
by Adam Roberts
Courtesy of NYC DCP.

In the last few years, developers have taken advantage of a number of zoning loopholes to increase the height of residential buildings. The most common loophole exploited has been that mechanical space does not count towards floor area ratio (FAR). This has led to numerous skyscrapers that have empty lower and middle sections claimed as mechanical space in order to increase the height, and therefore value, of the apartments at the top.

The NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) has proposed a zoning text amendment to address this. Their amendment would limit mechanical space height to 25 feet, with a gap of at least 75 feet in between spaces. Mechanical spaces exceeding these limits would be allowed, though such spaces would now count towards FAR.

DCP’s proposal did not go far enough for some members of the New York State Legislature. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and Senator Robert Jackson have proposed A5026/S3820, which would limit ceiling height in residential buildings to 12 feet. All spaces would be subject to this piece of legislation, not just mechanical voids.

AIA New York is supportive of limits on mechanical void height and submitted testimony to the City Planning Commission last week expressing this. While other loopholes may need to be closed, such as those around terraces, A5026/S3820 goes too far in limiting ceiling height variation in buildings. The state bill would infringe upon the height limit for any floor within a residential building, potentially including things like retail spaces, lobbies, and community spaces. Furthermore, it would make design more uniform and monotonous, which would fall hardest on lower-income areas where new construction tends to be concentrated.

This issue is likely to evolve significantly over the coming months. AIANY will keep its members informed as DCP and the State Legislature continue to alter and advocate for their respective proposals.

Pulse Points

  • March 6-8 was the annual AIA Grassroots Conference. Members of AIANY joined hundreds of other members from throughout the country to advocate for school safety and sustainable design with members of Congress. More on AIA National’s advocacy efforts can be found here.
  • The deadline for “Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC: Housing Design Competition,” presented by NYC HDP and AIA New York, is coming up March 24! The competition, which seeks solutions for small-scale urban infill housing, is open to all architects and designers with no entry fee. Submit here. Listen to Hayes Slade, AIANY 2019 President and jury chair, and others discuss the competition on WNYC’s All Of It here.
  • A few months ago, the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) released Bulletin 2018-008, mandating that design professionals perform final inspections for certain kinds of work. After examining its effects, AIANY has expressed its opposition to the bulletin over concerns for public safety, and hopes that the new commissioner will repeal it.

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