Too often, New Yorkers are caught off guard by new development in their neighborhoods. The Accidental Skyline offers tools to help demystify the city planning process and bring the public into the conversation.
The maps above show where new development could occur across New York City – allowing New Yorkers to assess how their neighborhoods could be impacted. These maps add to a body of work available on this site, including The Accidental Skyline, presentations and media coverage. Additional reports will highlight how other cities are responding to these challenges.Tips on using the maps
Take a minute, explore and see what could be coming to your neighborhood. You might be surprised.
These maps concern the primary way transferring unused development rights in New York City: zoning lot mergers. Adjacent lots in the city can be assembled and treated as a single zoning lot, or “merged” into one lot to allow development rights to transfer from one site to another. Development on the site is then allowed “as-of-right,” meaning it does not require public or environmental review.
Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, is the principal bulk regulation controlling the scale of buildings. FAR is the ratio of total building floor area allowed to the area of its host zoning lot. A higher FAR generally allows larger buildings and a lower FAR allows smaller buildings.
Finding the total amount of development allowed on a site requires a simple calculation. The area of the lot multiplied by the FAR produces the maximum amount of development allowed. This is usually quantified in square feet. For example, on a 10,000 square foot lot with a maximum FAR of 1.0, the floor area on the zoning lot cannot exceed 10,000 square feet.
Adapted from the New York City Department of City Planning glossary
New York City zoning has three types of FAR: residential, commercial and facility. For this analysis, the highest of the three was selected and defined as the maximum FAR. The built FAR is defined in the MapPLUTO dataset (see right).
There are three classifications of lots shown in the map:
Because there are additional ways of purchasing air rights (namely, Landmark Transfers and Special Purpose District Transfers), these maps do not represent the full extent of how air rights can purchased. Similarly, these maps do not account for height and setback controls, which would limit the size of a building in certain districts. Nor is there any guarantee that because air rights are available, a zoning lot merger could be assembled or would be supported by the market.
MAS embarked on its Accidental Skyline initiative in 2013 in response to the super-tall towers rising along the southern border of Central Park. For the most part, these buildings are being built as-of-right, without public or environmental review. When completed, they will cast new shadows on the park and change views of the city. While MAS’s work started in response to the buildings near Central Park, the issue is one that increasingly concerns neighborhoods across the city. Many New Yorkers feel left out of the planning process and are unaware of development proposals until shovels hit the ground.
These slender, hyper tall buildings are a result of a hot real estate market driven by high demand for luxury condos and made possible by relatively recent advancements in building technologies. Because there has been no public process associated with these buildings, many New Yorkers were surprised when construction started. Growth is good for the city, but with development pressure high in many areas, projects should proceed in a thoughtful and transparent manner.
We have four main goals in this work:
There are many regulatory and policy changes that could provide more transparency and pursue a more thoughtful approach to development:
Protecting parks from overdevelopment. The city could limit building height around parks, especially small parks, where one or two large buildings would greatly affect the amount of sunlight a park receives, or establish setback or design requirements that reduce shadows. Another option is having developers contribute to a park maintenance fund to offset impacts of development.
Alerting Community Boards and elected officials when zoning lot mergers occur. Right now local officials and Community Boards are not notified when developers assemble air rights, meaning that the process largely happens behind closed doors. A simple notification could bring more transparency to the process.
Requiring public review for zoning lot mergers above a certain threshold, and potentially even a higher level of review for very large transfers. There is a precedent for this in other areas of the city. For example, certain air rights transfers in the Theater District require approval by the City Planning Commission. The bigger the transfer, the higher the level of scrutiny.
Implementing a temporary moratorium for super tall towers (towers over 600 feet) that haven’t already gone through public review. This would give the City a chance to take a pause while it develops a better strategy.
Take a minute, explore the maps and resources on this page, and see what could be coming to your neighborhood. You might be surprised.
Highlights the issues and frameworks allowing super-tall buildings. Shadow studies show potential impacts on Central Park
MAS Executive Director Margaret Newman discusses building in New York with Jill Lerner
Simultaneous seminars in New York and London explored skyline issues affecting both cities
Janet Babin highlights how new construction is affecting sunlight in Central Park
Michael Kimmelman urges public oversight of new ultra-tall towers
Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered to hear about the “Central Park Supertowers”
Testimony given to Community Board 5 on April 28, 2015.
MAS strongly supports Intro 737, and applaud Council Member Levine for taking a lead on addressing the impacts of new buildings on our treasured public spaces.