Accidental Skyline: Skyline

MAS has rigorously monitored new supertalls and out of scale development. We are tracking more than one hundred new projects that have recently been completed, are under construction, or have been planned. The following images show how various important views throughout New York City would be altered by current and proposed developments: Views to historic buildings obscured, daylight on the public realm significantly reduced, and ultimately, the character of several neighborhoods altered.

Air Rights and Zoning Lot Mergers

Air rights transfers and zoning lot mergers are two of the primary mechanisms by which developers build significantly larger buildings and avoid the scrutiny of the City’s public review processes. Extell’s 88-story, 1,550-foot tall tower at 217 West 57th is slated to become the tallest residential building in the country. The tower’s proposed height and bulk was made possible through lot mergers and the purchase of unused development rights from adjacent sites. At 1.14 million gsf, the development will be approximately 32 percent larger than what would be permitted without the transfer of air rights.

Excessive Air Right Transfers

Views from Madison Square Park facing the landmark Empire State Building will be dramatically obscured by the 1,000-foot tall residential tower at 262 Fifth Avenue. The assemblage involves five parcels, including the transaction of over 21,000 sf of development rights through a zoning lot development and easement agreement, and the demolition of two buildings. City records show that the investments required for this assemblage exceed $100 million, with the majority having been spent on the acquisition of a lot with no development rights, in order to procure adjacent sites.

Insufficient Environmental Review

The 2005 Hudson Yards Rezoning facilitated the development of 40 million sf of mixed-use space on Manhattan’s West Side. Cited as the nation’s largest development, the full build-out of the project is expected to be completed by 2025. Although the project was subject to environmental review, the 2005 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) did not reflect the full amount of development that is currently under construction. For example, the Manhattan West project at 401 West 31st Street was evaluated as a 3.6 million-sf development in the EIS, but will actually be 4.7 million sf when complete. In addition, the development of Hudson Yards Towers 10, 15, 30, and 35 was evaluated in the EIS as a total of 5 million sf. However, what will actually be built is 6.8 million sf.

Ineffective Mitigation Measures

The EIS for the 2005 Hudson Yards Rezoning evaluated the potential impacts of the project and identified mitigation measures to offset adverse impacts. The EIS visual resources evaluation indicated that 30 Hudson Yards would block views of the Empire State Building from certain points in the rezoning area (see Figures 25 & 26). The EIS proposed new publicly accessible open space with “enhanced views” as mitigation. However, the “enhanced views” of the Empire State Building identified in the EIS appear to be blocked by the developments at 50 Hudson Yards and 55 Hudson Yards.

Incomplete Environmental Review

EIS for the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan did not accurately evaluate the maximum projected and potential floor area that would actually be developed. For example, the 556,164-gsf development at 340 Flatbush Avenue, which will be the tallest building in Brooklyn upon completion, was not evaluated at all in the EIS. Furthermore, two other developments will have exceeded the development projection evaluated in the project EIS. These include 388 Bridge Street, completed in 2015, which exceeds the EIS estimates by 300,000 sf, and 100 Willoughby Street, which exceeds what was evaluated in the EIS by 129,000 sf. All told, almost one million sf of development was not evaluated in the original 2004 EIS, the equivalent of the Flatiron and Woolworth Buildings combined.

Community-Led Initiatives Face Special Challenges

In 2017, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), a grassroots group composed of Sutton Place residents, submitted a community-based rezoning proposal to the City in response to the construction of an out-of-scale residential building. The plan called for height limitations, façade articulations, and FAR bonuses for affordable housing. Based on lengthy discussions with the DCP, ERFA reluctantly agreed to amend significant parts of the proposal, abandoning height limitations and an increased affordable housing requirement, to help certify the project for ULURP. As of October 2017, the project was being reviewed under ULURP.

Outdated Zoning Regulations

Southwest views of Lower Manhattan will be irreparably altered in the upcoming years with the construction of a new supertall at 80 South Street (Figure 15). At a proposed height of 1,436 feet, the development would be the second tallest building in the city with a predominant residential use. In 2015, the developer acquired two adjacent parcels and more than 426,000 sf of air rights, comprising almost half of the total developable oor area under the current proposal. The 80 South Street development and the adjacent 670-foot tower at One Seaport will block views of the landmark 40 Wall Street, originally known as the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, which was ironically the world’s tallest skyscraper at one time.

Unprotected Public Benefits

Initial plans for the development of the former Domino Sugar site in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, called for a new park, a school, and 2,200 apartments. The property was later purchased by a new developer, who subsequently overhauled the original plans and reduced the number of affordable units from 660 to 440. After negotiating with the City, the developer agreed to keep the original promise of 660 affordable units, with the stipulation that the building height would increase to 535 feet and floor area expand by 200,000 gsf beyond what was approved in the 2010 rezoning.

Significant Actions with No Public Review?

In the fall of 2016, the CPC classified proposed changes to the Two Bridges LSRD plan as “minor modifications.” This designation exempted the project from ULURP, even though it would result in the development of over 2.5 million gsf of residential space, including four towers ranging in height from 724 feet to 1,008 feet.