Board Will Allow 69-Story Building With Mechanical Voids to Be Built Over Community Opposition

Rendering of 50 West 66 by Snohetta.

The city Board of Standards & Appeals, which rules on zoning challenges, was deadlocked about whether to allow developer Extell to build a 775-foot tower at 50 West 66th Street.

The board voted 2-2 on Tuesday on a challenge from Landmark West about the developer’s use of so-called “mechanical voids” that have the effect on increasing the building’s height. A tie means the city’s original ruling in favor of the developer will stand.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that Extell is “abusing the mechanical floor deduction to boost the building’s height.” Extell has said that the building follows city rules.

A law passed last year would make it harder for developers to boost heights with mechanical space in the future, according to Gothamist.

In May, the City Council passed a new plan backed by the de Blasio administration that would count mechanical space toward a building’s allowable floor area once it exceeds a height of 25 feet.

According to plans approved by the Department of Buildings in April, Extell’s project will have a contiguous mechanical void space that measures a total of 176 feet in height.

Landmark West told Crain’s that the group will consider whether to challenge the ruling.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 44 comments | permalink
    1. Rob G. says:

      Good. Nice design. Great looking building. For those of you that are losing your precious views, we are very sorry.

      Now, Gale Brewer, can you please turn your attention to more important matters like rising crime, garbage on the streets, and the menacing vagrants roaming around in our midst, all of which affect the quality of life for everyone else?

      • FP says:

        THIS. Thank you for putting asinine complaints about ceiling heights in stark perspective to those issues that ACTUALLY affect our quality of life on the upper west side.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        the physical makeup of the city, and how that affects the quality of life of its residents, are key issues the Borough President should be dealing with… so PROPS to Gale Brewer. In fact, zoning and development issues have long been at the top of the agenda for whomever has been Manhattan Borough President. A moment’s thought will convince you that the construction of this building has impacts on housing affordability; on infrastructure; on the street-level urban environment; and so on.

        there is too much cheerleading for these billionaire castles-in-the-sky. maybe there should be a revival of people reading Jane Jacobs, who advocated for building to scale and people-drive development — and neighborhoods!

        I like a city where working class, poor, and middle class people can live side by side, and have services and stores that meet their needs. We used to have that on the UWS. A city built around the whims of billionaires is not a city where the rest of us can thrive.

        • Rob G. says:

          If you’re going to invoke the great Jane Jacobs and “street-level urban environment”, then your complaints should be leveled at large-scale public housing projects and huge blockbuster urban renewal developments like Lincoln Towers and Park West Village, not one-off buildings that some folks hate because wealthier folks live there. These monstrosities ripped apart our neighborhoods, walled off our streets, and replaced our once-vibrant walkable streetscapes with massive, bedroom-community dead zones.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            Indeed, Jane Jacobs had problems with aspects of the mega-developments, particularly Co Op City, though in general, they were done much better in NY than in Chicago, where they were isolated and racially segregated. Much public housing and other affordable development in NYC was well planned, such as Penn South, Stuyvesant Town, etc. Frederick Douglass House on UWS is very nice as is Morningside Gardens.

            but whatever the architecture, these were affordable projects and served human needs. These billionaire castles-in-the-sky (one offs? Really?) serve nothing but greed and plutocratic grandiosity.

            Jane Jacobs was about “cities for the people”, not solely for the rich.

    2. Robert K says:

      Finally they can build. The developers followed the law and was subsequently changed. If there is an organization to blame, it is not the owners of the development.

    3. Pedestrian says:

      What the BSA did today was basically say that even though the DOB failed to do its job properly, failed to provide the documents requested and failed to properly apply the zoning code…exactly what the appellant LW argued it would ignore the law, allow the DOB to be delinquent in fulfilling its obligations and allow the developer to manipulate and twist the zoning regulations to make millions at the expense of the community and its quality of life. The BSA has again shown us why the City is falling apart. City Agencies refuse to do their jobs and those empowered to oversee them refuse to exercise oversight and force LW to expend thousands dollars to defend the zoning code and the rights of neighborhoods to be protected . It’s an appalling betrayal and the City Council and other elected officials must step in.

      The BSA chair agreed that what LW laid out regarding the misleading and excessive designation of “mechanical space” was a problem that the DOB needed to address but that she was ok with allowing the developer to go ahead. . Two of the commissioners made it clear that LW was right and the DOB was wrong but no matter the Chair was ok with it!

      The BSA is not there to protect developers it is there to apply the law but , in my opinion, The Chair turned her back on her responsibility. Her weak attempt to have it both ways by rejecting LW’s appeal and then suggesting that the Developer work it our with the DOB was a cynical ploy. Very disappointing and frustrating.

    4. Marco says:

      This is so sad. Frankly pathetic. Your city government working against its citizens over and over and over again. Even when almost every elected leader opposed it. But it would seem Ms. Perlmutter Chair of the BSA has more power than all of them put together!! There wasn’t anyone but the developer who believed anyone should scam the zoning law to build higher by building near empty “mechanical void” space of 176 feet to prop up a building-I’m quite sure this will be fought again because the city refuses to do its job in protecting its neighborhood’s, its parks or its citizens. Let’s plunk another half empty 800′ tower for billionaires which will sit at least half empty into a residential neighborhood. And with it very soon we will have to light Central Park artificially cause developers gotta build.

      • Confused says:

        The “billionaires” are not citizens of the city?

        • Marco says:

          No, in 9 out of 10 cases the billionaires to whom these apartments are marketed and those who do buy them are NOT citizens of this city.

          • Jay says:

            Citation needed.

          • ST says:

            Or even citizens of this country.

          • Confused says:

            Please provide evidence. And provide evidence that that are “billionaires”.

            • Old Stones says:

              This issue was covered at length in the New York Times a couple of years ago. Extensive research showed that great numbers of these super-luxury apartments were bought by carefully anonymous corporations. Impossible to determine ownership of many, but many are owned by overseas entities. IOW money laundering.

            • Jay says:

              Old stones, you have no evidence that money laundering is what is going on. Nor do you know who are buying these apartments. You might see them everyday and not know.

              The people who buy these apartments are following the laws and paying taxes and fees to our governments. If you have a problem with the llc laws (I do), then complain to your legislators who do nothing to fix them.

              Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    5. Neighbor says:

      Very bad decision, allowing huge interior void spaces. The DOB did not review the developer’s mechanical voids. It did not even get the plans to the BSA, despite the BSA’s requests. Did the BSA stand up for its mission? No. The BSA vote ignores the absurd voids AND ignores the DOB’s failed process. The BSA reveals its weakness in the face of developers, though it’s ready to clamp down on small property owners.

      There has been talk for years about these dysfunctional agencies. We demand accountability. Right now there is effectively none.

    6. Via Ventana says:

      Extell is a revolting blight on the city.

      • Le Flaneur says:

        Re: “Extell is a revolting blight on the city.”

        REALLY??
        Exactly WHICH of these Extell projects is a “blight” on this city?:
        50 West 66th Street / 995 Fifth Avenue / Central Park Tower / One Manhattan Square / One Riverside Park / One57 / Riverside South, Manhattan, etc., etc., etceter-ahhhh…

        Yup, m’self (and most ordinary folk) can’t afford to live in them, but nothing stops us from admiring their striking architecture and appreciating the fact that they make our city even more spectacular.

        As Museum of the City of New York’s “NYC At Its Core” permanent exhibit makes clear, the key themes of “money, density, DIVERSITY, and creativity” has made NYC a world-class city.

        DIVERSITY not just in its huge variety of people, but also in its wonderful mix of architecture, from glittering super-talls to five-story walk-ups.

        • RB says:

          How do tall, generic glass buildings for the 1% make the city better? Absolutely makes zero sense how this adds anything to NYC except for the global wealthy to have a 2nd or 3rd home. And diversity has been going away, especially in Manhattan in the past 10 years. Really looking forward to East New York having glass studios priced starting at $1MM in 5 years too. I guess the people that are okay with all of this are people who haven’t been pushed out of their neighborhoods or buildings yet…

          • B.B. says:

            Get used to “glass” buildings, because that is pretty much all that is being built for several reasons.

            One paramount of them is Bloomberg and now mayor BdeB’s fascination with “climate change” or “global warming”.

            Long story short city now basically via zoning and DOB rule/regulations require new construction to be air tight as possible. Hence you get glass and concrete, glass and limestone facades, etc… but windows don’t open or only small amounts if they do.

            General idea is what we’ve seen in office buildings for decades. Air comes not from open windows or even “ventilation” provided by gaps, cracks or whatever around windows, doors, etc… but by extensive HVAC systems.

    7. Jay says:

      Headline correction: Board allows construction over small nimby group opposition.

    8. Hollander Susan says:

      I have lived off and on in the UWS for 35 yrs. To even imagine a building that size and hight on the UWS sickens me. There are so few neighborhoods left in NYC that still have the architectural beauty of the UWS. This is very upsetting news. What can be done to STOP this?

      • Ground Control says:

        Susan Hollander: If more people like you would get involved we could change this. Our UWS preservation group who’ve done such an outstanding job need all concerned neighbors to join Landmark West and stand up for what you hold dear.

      • James says:

        Thankfully, nothing. Go live your life, which will not be affected one iota by an apartment building.

    9. yoyomama says:

      WSR – what are the names of the 4 voters on the city Boards of Standards & Appeals? Also, are these 4 people elected or appointed? If appointed, them by whom? Was anyone on the Board absent and not voting?

      Seems like any Board comprising an even number of people (especially one that small) is designed to tie and favor the developer.

      • Marco says:

        There are 5 members of the BSA Board. They are not elected. They are appointed by the Mayor. One member recused herself for a conflict of interest which likely means she has some sort of relationship with Extell. That left 4. In the case of a tie, the decision goes to the developer. Let that swirl around in your head for a while! The board member names can be googled by looking up the Board of Standards & Appeals. It is a fact that the BSA sides with developers 90% of the time. The Chair of the BSA is Margery Perlmutter who defended the developer quite vigorously throughout the entire hearing process. And voted for them even though she said the DOB had not done a proper job in investigating the claims that 200 vertical feet were needed for mechanicals which everyone knows they’re not.

        • B.B. says:

          You left out fact that members of BSA are appointed by mayor *on advice of city council*. Latter makes a list, former chooses several names form it. Thus hardly the one sided process implied.

    10. I Rate says:

      The bldg was cleared before the rule change in the middle of a busy half commercial block. Connected neighborhood folks attempted to use political power to enforce a who cares solution. They attempted to choke the project with delay. A synogogue with long neighborhood roots, which had sold it’s land and had it’s building demolished in exchange for having bigger prayer and community space in the new construction has had to operate for years in a tiny temporary space in a former furniture store. Bar mitsvah services happen around town in rented rooms, while the rest of the congregation stays in the former furniture store, dividing the congregation. Brewer did not care. When is that election?

      • PleaseFocusonWhatsMoreImportant says:

        Amen to that. No one seems to even care about the synagogue that has been delayed for years now. The Upper West Side has much bigger problems than a tall building. Can elected officials please do something about the quality of life that is declining by the minute! This morning alone I had to cross the street 2 times to avoid a disturbed person and didn’t enter the bank or the store I needed to shop in because of the homeless congregated outside of these establishments. I’m not feeling very comfortable walking around anymore. And it’s not just me who feels this way.

      • Pedestrian says:

        I Rate’s posting is incorrect. The initial permits for this building were for a 29 story building. There is this myth that developers are not self interested. They are interested in making money and they have all the power. They have the lobbyists, the money and the Mayor. They use this power to manipulate the DOB, the Zoning Code and the agencies tasked with overseeing development.

        Neighborhood residents have the right to expect the city to follow the law. It’s appalling that neighborhoods and non profits like LANDMARK West have to hire lawyers to enforce those rights. In this case the members of the BSA knew LW was right but two decided, inappropriately in my opinion, to side with the developer.

    11. Sherman says:

      I don’t understand the grounds some people have to oppose this building.

      The folks who are opposed to it are against it no matter what. The “mechanical void” complaint is a moot point. That is, even if Extell was to remove these mechanical voids these same malcontents would still be against this building.

      This is similar to the complaint over 200 Amsterdam. People brought up the issue of “lots” to oppose the building. This was also a moot point as they really could care less about lots. They just didn’t want the building no matter what.

      Extell got permission to construct this building in accordance with the law at the time. I’m glad they’re finally constructing it as it looks like a gorgeous building that will enhance the neighborhood.

      The malcontents who are concerned that this building might somehow impact their personal housing entitlements should learn to live in a city that is constantly changing.

    12. Francesca says:

      Why have a working Mayor — I know we don’t — when developers run and ruin, the city?

    13. Rita Mae Fox says:

      bs…what is wrong with that board! who is paying them off? if both the community board and the community do not want it why give it to extell who are also trying to build a tall in the lower east side which also is totally out of context to the community and will work against the community as will this building. No more community , no more street life, Jane Jacobs is rolling over in her grave. Do these brilliant folks on the Board of Standards and Appeals have any interest in what keeps cities alive? It is not this or Hudson Yards. This type of building destroys cities. What are their qualifications? Are they in real estate?

      • Isabelle says:

        Yes Rita Mae. They’re the YIMBY’s working in real estate and living in Westchester. They don’t know who Jane Jacobs is let alone care. Nor do they care that a near 80 story building is being constructed for around 120 apartments. In an area with constant water main breaks, high density and a zoning law that called for maximum 300 feet. They are cool with Central Park in the dark at 11:00 am through 6:00. Bring in artificial light. Who cares! The laws were made for the little people. Not for developers. Remember Gordon Gecko? Greed is good? That’s who REBNY and Extell modeled themselves after. Affordable housing? Not a chance.

      • Sherman says:

        @ Rita Mae Fox

        “It is not this or Hudson Yards”

        You’ve got a point. I liked the far west side of midtown much better when it was full of derelict warehouses and grimy and deserted and dangerous streets.

        Who needed Hudson Yards? Those shiny glass towers are awful. Who needs all those big companies setting up operations in Hudson Yards?

        The old days were much better for the community and the city’s future.

        Sherman

    14. Cassandra says:

      Please realize anyone “for” these monstrosities are being paid, one way or another, by the developers.

      • Rob G. says:

        So true! Also, the earth is flat, the moon landing was faked, and the CIA killed JFK.

      • Mike says:

        Your comment is utter bull. I approve of and welcome this project and I’m a just a lowly musician who has lived on the Upper West Side for 18 years. Stop offending people.

    15. Mia says:

      I almost don’t want to comment given the general tone here, but I will give it a shot.

      I am worried for our wild birds. Central Park is an important rest stop for migrating birds and glass buildings poses a danger to them (there are several sources out there, but my best advice is stop by Wild Bird Fund on 87/Columbus). I hope the developers take this into account in their architecture (like others have) and work with our nature.

      Thank you,

      Mia

    16. Sunny Cassin says:

      The sun. The park will lose lots of sunshine thanks to this monster being built for billionaires. Apparently, the Board of Standards and Appeals is owned by the top 1%. Despicable humans.

    17. AC57 says:

      I actually agree with Landmark West in this case – the void should’ve been downsized. I don’t think the building should’ve been scrapped, but I do think that the existing void, with its blatant underutilization, is repulsive. It’s a burden on firefighters, it’s a waste of materials, and it’s a missed opportunity. While I am typically very pro-development, I will most definitely draw the line at voids. This case is no different, and a height booster here actually makes less sense than it might seem at first, and here’s why:

      Without any space for mechanicals, the building would still be 599 feet, which would make it the second tallest building in the neighborhood, and would still poke out over the surrounding landscape, even in that area. If they went by the existing law, they could allow for 50 feet of void space, which would result in a 649-foot tower (or they could just redistribute the mechanical space, allowing for a tower of close to the 775-foot margin or even more, but that’s a little too complicated.) Or, by following Ed Bosco’s recommendations from April, they could have just 108 feet of void space, which would result in a 707-foot tower. All of those options are still significantly taller than the surrounding environment, and just as feasible, and make more sense. For reference, the three tallest buildings in the neighborhood currently all are on Amsterdam Avenue – the two tallest buildings on Broadway/Columbus Avenue are 111 West 67th Street (545 feet) and 15 Central Park West (550 feet). Any of these scenarios still places the pinnacle of 50 West 66th Street far above those two towers, so it would still stick up

      Or, and this is a crazy idea, how about we *gasp* fill the empty space with affordable housing. Judging by LW!’s claim of only 22% of the void space being utilized for mechanicals, that would leave about 137 feet of space left for housing. That would be about eleven 12-foot floors, and if one were to put four apartments per floor, that would be about 44 units of affordable housing. While, technically, that would require an upzoning, that would offer up much needed affordable units in the same skeleton, and every bit of space would be utilized. Radical I know

      Any of these solutions could’ve been floated if we just stopped dealing in absolutes – us versus them, good versus evil, developers versus preservationists (with politicians ruining everything). It doesn’t have to be this way. We can compromise – Alloy proved this with 80 Flatbush

      But I don’t think it makes sense to go on fighting. It’s been, what, over two years, and they went in a circle that got nowhere. SOM has revealed it’s design for ABC’s new campus, and construction is soon to start, and new buildings are gonna start popping up. If you want to shift your focus, that’s where you would shift it to.

      • Limiting mechanical voids was a waste of time. Changing the zoning code for the entire city should be the focus. Repeal air rights transfers and set height limits. Provide a sunsetting option for properties currently eligible to use transferred FAR. Give them five years to use the purchased bonuses. The zoning already sets the maximum legal building envelope and most developers design to take advantage of this.

    18. John says:

      The city needs these buildings how else can the rich launder their ill gotten gains.