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New zoning plan released.

It is the dawning of the age of shorter buildings. As a result of the new zoning resolution plan released by City Planning Commissioner Joseph Rose last week, developers and architects will soon be thinking shorter and fatter. They will have to dream up towers sitting on streetwall bases, even on narrow streets, and not conjure up those set-back in plaza designs.

Dubbed the "Unified Bulk Program," the goal of the proposed new text, Rose said, is to have a "clear, workable [zoning] code that will create a more equitable and level playing field for market transactions."

These are not changes to the zoning map, Rose stressed, but to the zoning text itself, which describes what can be created within those mapped areas.

Each zoning district would be allowed only one or two "simple building envelopes."

"Architects in general are concerned that the stricter zoning puts more restrictions on design," said Costas Kondylis, an architect known for his many residential buildings and his skill at laying out apartment units. "Architects are not happy about giving up the freedom to create."

Neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs will remain contextual, and no out of scale development would be permitted. "The idea of protecting the scale of existing neighborhoods is very good," said Kondylis.

Skyscrapers that can be built as-of-right as tall as they can get given the lot, air rights and allowable FAR floor are ratio) will still be permitted in the Special Midtown and Special Lower Manhattan districts, but most other areas would have height limits for the first time.

Buildings in high-density residential zones would top out at 360 feet, and high-density zoned commercial buildings at 495 feet. There is also a provision for 720-foot-tall towers in certain "C" zones.

While Rose agreed there aren't many of those zones designated, he explained such zones might be mapped in the future in areas where the city chooses to encourage such taller development.

"Preserving economically viable tower development in appropriate areas is an important [goal] ," he told Real Estate Weekly. But having a "straight-forward height limit" is a better way to achieve that objective, while having requirements such as "packing the bulk" are "burdensome without having a tangible benefit."

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), said, "Philosophy wise, we don't disagree. Certainly it is good if it gives us flexibility to buildgood, efficient, marketable buildings."

The city's 1961 zoning resolution created the tower-in-the-park concept as a way of preserving open space. Explaining the reasoning for the new proposal, the Executive Summary notes that the 1961 zoning encouraged buildings that disrupted the scale and character of neighborhoods built up under the 1916 zoning resolution.

Over time, City Planning added numerous overlays, height limitations and special districts, so that it is very difficult to determine what is allowed to be built where, and is so complicated that even the experts disagree.

"We will close loopholes that have produced buildings far taller and larger than was intended when the Zoning Resolution was adopted," Rose said in a statement.

The new zoning will place controls on zoning lot mergers and constrain the transfer of unused development rights from existing buildings.

It will also tighten the rules governing the development of split lots that straddle zoning districts. The zoning text will include a list of comparable districts across which bulk can be shifted.

The controversy over the construction of Donald J. Trump's Trump World Tower, an 861-foot tall building near the United Nations designed by Kondylis which is being developed across zoning districts, encouraged Rose to take on the issue of height limitations, along with the simplification of the zoning text.

In April, Rose made a major policy speech at City Hall to propose the idea. Since then, staff members have been working on the text, with some input from real estate professionals.

"The goal is to have a resolution that is workable and doesn't intrude into building design," said Rose, who is the former head of the Citizen's Housing and Planning Council who joined the Giuliani administration as its Planning Commissioner.

"Joe Rose has a very good sense of balancing the public interest versus the private interest," said Kondylis.

Samuel H. "Sandy" Lindenbaum, a land use attorney who is of counsel to Rosenmann Colin, had not yet seen the full text, like many of the other professionals interviewed for this article. "Some of the items are geared to be good, but the devil is in the details," he said.

Design by Committee

To provide flexibility of design, however, in some cases a committee will be making decisions on their brethren's plans. The developer of a unique structure that might require more height to create a more contextual building, for instance, could apply for a special permit from City Planning, which would look to the Advisory Design Committee for recommendations.

This new Advisory Design Committee would be comprised of seven design professionals appointed by the Planning Commissioner, Rose said. The Director of Urban Design would be its chairman ex officio.

The City Planning Commission itself would be able to approve some modifications of streetwall, coverage, court and distance between buildings. But a special permit would be needed to change height and tower coverage, and the Advisory Design Committee would help the Planning Commission make the finding that the proposed development has a "high quality" design.

"One of the things we heard requested for under special permit is if there is a built form that is better at assuring adequate light and air around parks," said Rose. Such buildings might obtain the special permit to create a taller and narrower building that would decrease shadows on the park area. Or a design might be allowed for a special site or situation because it would be less intrusive on the community.

"Anything that promotes good quality architecture I'm 100 percent for," said Kondylis. "The idea of promoting good architecture is terrific, but I question the practicality. It is going to be an unpredictable process, and few developers will be willing to wait a year without knowing the outcome. Developers and banks need predictable outcomes.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 15, 1999
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