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'Squashing' the bulk on the waterfront.

Special waterfront zoning regulations were approved by the City Planning, Commission on Aug. 16, 1993, and are now under consideration for final approval by the City Council.

Residential high-rise developers should pay particular attention to an included special permit provision, which would allow (in the city's discretion) a modification or waiver of various bulk restrictions ordinarily applicable to a new waterfront building (Zoning Resolution 62-736). This special permit may be significant, because the new regulations would reduce the maximum permitted building height in many, medium- and high-density residential zones within the waterfront area. Obtaining such special permit relief for the purpose of creating an apartment tower with excellent waterfront views would most probably enhance the value of the property.

In general, within the regular R6, R7, R8, R9 and R10 zones, the waterfront bulk regulations would reduce residential building height on the larger parcels by as much as 40 percent. For example, let us assume that an especially tall apartment building with panoramic waterfront views is proposed on a square site having dimensions of 200-by-200 feet (lot area = 40,000 SF). The southerly boundary of the site is the shoreline, the northerly boundary is a public street, and the easterly and westerly boundaries are adjacent private properties. The contemplated apartment building would be positioned at or near the center of the site, and at the second story level and above would have a width of 100 feet parallel to the shoreline and a depth of 70 feet perpendicular to the shoreline.

If the above-described apartment building were constructed in a regular R6 zone, immune from the new waterfront bulk restrictions, then the apartment building might attain a height of about 14 stories. But under the new waterfront bulk controls, the apartment building height would be limited to about 11 stories. Similarly, in a regular R7-1 or R7-2 zone, the apartment building height, if exempted from the new waterfront bulk regulations, might reach about 20 stories. Yet if the new waterfront bulk regulations were applicable, then the apartment building height would be limited to about 14 stories. A similar disparity exists for the remaining high-density, basic, residential zones: R8 -- 30 stories versus 21 stories; R9 -- 40 stories versus 23 stories; and R10 -- 50 stories versus 35 stories (all figures are approximate).

ZR 62-736, the special permit provision, would allow for a modification or waiver of such constraining, waterfront-directed building height limits, provided that the proposed apartment tower project satisfies four findings, essentially that: (a) The site has unique natural features or an irregular shoreline or shape, or is occupied by existing buildings (presumably to remain on the site;); (b) The proposed development reflects superior building placement, building articulation, and open space arrangement; (c) The proposed development reflects superior physical or visual public access to the waterfront; and (d) The proposed bulk modification would "significantly enhance the relationship between the proposed development and the surrounding area."

Only a case-by-case analysis would disclose whether a particular site and project would be likely to satisfy the above four findings in ZR 62-736. But at the outset, two shortcomings are obvious and should be noted. Finding "a" seems to require the presence of an unusual site condition that interferes with the development of the site under the applicable waterfront bulk regulations. Not every site will have such physical defect. And finding "d" leaves one guessing at the precise meaning of the words "significantly enhance the relationship between the proposed development and the surrounding area."

A constructive solution to the two shortcomings indicated above would be to delete the findings in question and replace them with the following findings: * That the land value of the developed site would be enhanced as a result of lifting the building height limits * That the new public access provided along the shoreline on the site would counterbalance any reduction in visual access to the waterfront from public spaces in the immediately surrounding upland area as a result of lifting the building height limits * That any blockage of natural light and air resulting from the lifting of the building height limits would be counterbalanced by a corresponding, relative increase in natural light and air at the sides of the subject building

The ZR 62-736 special permit, if amended in the manner above, should provide some practical benefits to a high-rise developer who is struggling with the contemplated apartment building height controls on the waterfront.
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Title Annotation:Zoning Advice; New York, New York City Planning Commission approves waterfront zoning regulations including special permit for residential high-rise developments
Author:Kowaloff, Steven D.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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