By Carol Tannenhauser
The 127-year-old City Club of New York, which once took on Tammany Hall, is now going up against Extell Development and the 775-foot residential skyscraper it is building at 50 West 66th Street.
Together with a co-op next door and several neighbors, the nonprofit, located at 45 West 67th Street, has filed for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop construction on what would be the tallest tower on the Upper West Side.
Its height would result, in part, from the use of four “mechanical voids” — soaring empty spaces purportedly for housing a building’s operating equipment — in the case of 50 West 66th, making up one quarter of the building’s total height.
“Two of these voids are 64 feet high, a third is 48 feet high, and a fourth is 20 feet high,” the lawsuit says. “Together, [they] are 45 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Such enormous spaces might be useful to house machinery from a dystopian science-fiction movie, but here they serve only to boost the apartments above them.”
Chuck Weinstock, who is representing the plaintiffs, sent us the court documents with a note saying, “You’ll see that we have a second argument — about what land-use people call ‘bulk packing’ — that is equally powerful. It’s not as easy to understand, but it may well doom them.”
The suit summarizes the argument, saying, “Extell attempts to evade the Bulk Packing Rule by taking advantage of the fact that its zoning lot straddles two zoning districts…. Extell’s building is hundreds of feet taller than allowed in the Special Lincoln Square District.”
The City Club lawsuit comes only a few weeks after the Department of Buildings (DOB) approved revised plans for 50 West 66th, which had been signed off on by the FDNY. This followed a January threat by the DOB to revoke the building’s permit, unless Extell altered the design of its mechanical voids. The foundation of the building is complete and a crane has been installed.
Meanwhile, the building is also facing a challenge before the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals by another local nonprofit, Landmark West. The challenge was started, then suspended, and now, it is believed, it will be revived, as a result of the DOB approval. Chris Giordano, president of the 64th through 67th Street Block Association, who is working closely with Landmark West, said this of the City Club lawsuit:
“Of course, we support every effort to obstruct the exploitation of the zoning loophole and excessive mechanical voids, which we see as fundamentally immoral. Customarily, administrative remedies are exhausted before going before a court, but there are members of the community who believe these circumstances are extraordinary.”
We have yet to hear back from Extell, and have a Monday call with Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmark West, to discuss the organization’s plans. We’ll update this story accordingly.