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Sunshine Task Force Town Hall

MAS has been actively involved with development issues near Central Park for decades. In 1987, we organized a “Stand Against the Shadow,” where hundreds of protestors with black umbrellas demonstrated potential shadows cast by proposed tall towers on what was then the Coliseum site. And in December 2013, we responded to the sudden influx of super tall towers along 57th street with our seminal Accidental Skyline report, tracing the city’s transferable air rights process. In the 18 months since our report came, there has been no city action in response, while more towers threaten to overwhelm our parks and public spaces.

The fundamental problem here is outdated zoning regulations. New York City’s current zoning resolution was devised over 50 years ago and could not account for recent advances in building technologies or the changes in the real estate markets that have led to the construction of super tall towers.

Fifty years is an eternity in the lifespan of building design and construction. Fifty years before the Empire State Building topped out, the tallest structure in Manhattan was the steeple at Trinity Church. Using 1961 zoning guidelines in the era of 432 Park is like applying colonial construction standards to the 1930s skyscraper boom.

These buildings are largely being built as-of-right and without any public review, even though they will be among the tallest structures in the country.

They will have a dramatic impact on the surrounding neighborhood, Central Park and the New York skyline.

Beyond Central Park, out-of context development continues to be an issue for neighborhoods throughout the city. New York City must grow and change, but new development should positively contribute to the surrounding communities.

To help bring more transparency to how development occurs in New York, MAS has produced a few tools to help communities, including a series of online maps that highlight where available development rights exist in the city . Communities should not be the last to know when the fabric of their neighborhoods changes.

But ultimately, the de Blasio Administration needs to take action. As part of its Housing New York plan, the Administration is committed to developing in a way that includes neighborhood stakeholders, enhances public services and protects open space. To that end, we have the following recommendations to ensure that development doesn’t result in what MAS calls an “Accidental Skyline”:

  • The City should pursue regulatory changes to require that buildings that use development bonuses above a certain threshold (say 20% more than underlying zoning allows) be subject to some level of public review. In the meantime, the city could consider steps like issuing a temporary moratorium on new building permits for any new super tall towers that aren’t already receiving public review.
  • The City Council should swiftly pass legislation, recently introduced by Council Member Levine, that would help evaluate the impacts shadows have on parks and public spaces;
  • The Department of City Planning should pursue procedural changes that would notify elected officials and community boards when new merged zoning lots are created; and
  • The City should pursue an incentive program for good design so new buildings enhance neighborhood character

MAS supports advancing policies that protect New York City neighborhoods, parks, and streets from adverse effects from irresponsible development practices.

Download the full testimony given to Community Board 5 on April 28, 2015 PDF