By Carol Tannenhauser
Another Upper West Side skyscraper vying to be the tallest in the neighborhood is inching ahead, even as the city and local residents debate whether it should receive building permits.
The good news for Extell Development was that the fire department approved of its plans to use a 161-foot “mechanical void” — an oversized, empty space housing “mechanicals” like boilers and HVAC systems — in its proposed 775-foot tower at 36 (or 50) West 66th Street.
This was the first action taken since the Department of Buildings (DOB) informed Extell, on January 16th, that its plan for a void that will boost the building’s height did not meet zoning specifications. “Among the DOB’s requirements was written approval from the FDNY regarding emergency access plans for the void space, which the developer has now received,” the West Side Spirit first reported.
Sarah Crean is director of communications for City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who actively opposes the project. In an email to West Side Rag, Crean acknowledged that “fire safety issues are an incredibly important concern,” but emphasized that “they were not the core of the official challenge to the project. They were an additional issue, which at least according to FDNY, appears to be resolved.
“Since then,” Crean continued, “Extell and the DOB have been going back and forth, as Extell has been submitting plan revisions to the DOB, seeking to resolve the agency’s concerns. The process is ongoing.”
George M. Janes, an urban planner, who filed a zoning challenge to West 66th Street on behalf of the nonprofit group Landmarks West and 10 West 66th Street, told WSR that “FDNY concerns were in the critical path and this opens a way forward. Extell still has substantial hurdles to get through, so it’s not clear sailing for them, but this is definitely good for Extell.”
More important, it is good for firefighters should the void ultimately be approved by DOB. Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesperson, told WSR that “alterations to [Extell’s] design were made to improve safety in the event the Department would need to respond to a fire.” Some alterations to the plans Dwyer listed are:
Providing corridors and space at every level in the void for Firefighters to operate, remove people in event of a fire, and cross from stairway to elevators which we could not do in the original plans;
Providing access doors on every level in the void to assist with evacuation by elevators if necessary;
Providing catwalk along entire perimeter of upper level of the void with access for FDNY hi-rise nozzle operations.
The height of the building, which is currently permitted to be 25 stories, is now in the hands of the DOB. Andrew Rudansky, DOB’s senior deputy press secretary, explained how the process will proceed:
“To move forward with the proposed 40+ story tower project, the developers are required to amend their plans regarding the mechanical space in the building in order to resolve all of DOB’s objections,” Rudansky wrote to WSR. “The next step is for DOB to review the amended plans to determine if they fully satisfy all objections.”
Even then, appeals lie ahead, said Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmark West. “We still have an open complaint at the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), which has been put on hold pending the DOB Notice of Intent to Revoke. Once that is addressed, we chart our path. If the Intent to Revoke leads to a Revocation, Extell must re-file. If it is lifted, we resume our appeal at the BSA.”
We reached out to Extell but have not heard back.
Even with the permits in limbo, activity will likely pick up at the site soon.
West 66th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West will be closed to thru traffic on Saturday, April 6th, and Sunday, April 7th, between the hours of 6 am and 9 pm, while the company erects a crane in anticipation of constructing a residential condominium on the block.
Chris Giordano, president of the 64th thru 67th Streets Block Association, provided the following details about the weekend street closure:
Pedestrian traffic on 66th Street, south side of the block at Extell’s site, will be closed off. Pedestrian traffic on 66th Street at times will be halted during the operations on the north side of the block. There will be an Assist Crane located in front of their site in the roadway. Flatbed trucks will back down 66th Street from Central Park West to the assist crane to unload. Trailers will be staged on 66th Street West of the Assist Crane. What will happen to the M66 bus is still uncertain.
The City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on a Residential Mechanical Voids Text Amendment at their April 10th meeting.