Slashing Ceiling Heights

New York lawmaker fights for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions

East News Urbanism
New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal fights for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions to chop super-tall, luxury towers. (Courtesy Flickr)
New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal fights for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions to chop super-tall, luxury towers. (Courtesy Flickr)

As New York City‘s skyline continues to soar, New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is fighting for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions to chop supertall, luxury towers. Curbed reported on Rosenthal’s plan outdoes that of the de Blasio administration and enacts stricter policies over mechanical voids—the hollow, uninhabited spaces in apartment buildings that increase the height of buildings.

Current zoning regulations exempt mechanical voids from a building’s floor area ratio (FAR), or allowable square footage. Since there are no height limits on those spaces, luxury developers can currently build excessively tall ceilings to house mechanical equipment as a means of elevating their buildings without officially surpassing their permitted size. By piling apartments above extremely tall floors, developers can mark the units with a higher price tag.

To curb the development of these soaring and seemingly unrestricted towers, Rosenthal recently introduced a bill that will penalize developers that build unnecessarily high ceilings—which have in some cases exceeded 150 feet—to hold mechanical equipment.

Rosenthal’s bill would eliminate multi-story mechanical voids, which are still legal in much of the city.  (Courtesy of the Department of City Planning)

Her legislation comes just one month after the de Blasio administration’s zoning amendments that require mechanical voids over 25-feet-high to be counted toward a residential building’s FAR. Rosenthal’s bill takes the amendment a step further, not only regulating the height of mechanical spaces but also penalizing developers that build any floor with ceilings higher than 12 feet. Her bill has predictably spawned outrage from the real estate development industry, which is desperately fighting to preserve the mechanical void loophole. If approved, Rosenthal’s bill would affect the entire city, unlike de Blasio’s amendment, which only applies to specific, high-density districts.

Since the bill was introduced last February, the city has started to take strong action against the misuse of mechanical voids, as well as the construction of one particular tower proposed for the Upper West side, where one floor exhibits massive, 160-foot ceilings. In a race against the tower’s developer, Extell Development, the Department of City Planning has sped up its approval process for the regulations. With a Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly, Rosenthal’s proposal, which could drastically alter the future of luxury apartment construction in New York City, has a chance of ratification.

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