66th Street tower faces lawsuit


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Amid push to reform mechanical void loophole, City Club of New York backs effort to block Extell Development’s void-filled UWS project


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  • A rendering of Extell Development’s in-progress 775-foot tower at 36 West 66th St. Rendering: Snøhetta



“There is no mechanical equipment yet imagined by humans that requires a 48- or 64-foot tall clearance for accessory use in a residential building.”

From plaintiffs’ complaint against Extell Development



By Michael Garofalo

Weeks after Extell Development resolved safety concerns that prompted city regulators to threaten revoking building permits for the company’s 775-foot residential building under construction at 36 West 66th St., the contentious project has encountered another hurdle in its path to becoming the Upper West Side’s tallest tower — this time in the form of a legal challenge filed by a prominent nonprofit civic group and a number of neighbors.

The lawsuit, filed April 24 in New York County Supreme Court by the City Club of New York and several residents of nearby buildings, argues that plans for Extell’s tower violate city zoning law. The plaintiffs seek a court order to halt work on the project.

The tower, located on a mid-block lot between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, has attracted stubborn opposition from local residents, elected officials and land use groups, much of which has focused on the large mechanical voids in the building’s middle section that serve to boost the height and value of the residential units above. Four tall mechanical spaces on the building’s 15th, 17th, 18th and 19th floors — 20, 64, 64 and 48 feet in height, respectively — account for more than a quarter of the building’s total height.

Under current city law, spaces designated for mechanical use are not subject to floor area calculations that in many districts govern maximum permissible building sizes. In recent years, a number of projects have utilized high-ceilinged mechanical spaces — which nominally hold necessary equipment but are often largely empty — to artificially inflate tower heights. The West 66th Street tower has become a bête noire of city zoning reform advocates, who point to the project as one of the most egregious exploiters of the so-called mechanical void loophole.

Fire-safety questions regarding the building’s large void space prompted the Department of Buildings to notify Extell in January of its intent to revoke previously issued permits for the project unless the developer could resolve the agency’s objections. The DOB approved revised plans in April that include new emergency access points within the void section, among other changes.

A DOB spokesperson told Straus News that the mechanical floors will be “used to house mechanical equipment necessary for the operation of the building.”

The plaintiffs’ complaint disputes this claim. “Nothing in Extell’s public documents supports its claim that this space is necessary to house mechanical equipment,” it states. “Indeed, there is no mechanical equipment yet imagined by humans that requires a 48- or 64-foot tall clearance for accessory use in a residential building.”

The legal dispute over the Extell project occurs as the city considers broader policy changes addressing the mechanical void loophole. The City Council is currently reviewing a proposal that would tighten restrictions on developers’ use of void spaces.

David Rothstein, Extell Development’s executive vice president for construction, acknowledged in a sworn statement filed in connection with the lawsuit that the West 66th Street project would not comply with the new rules now under consideration.

“Given this situation, the Project’s opponents are desperate to have the Project’s DOB-issued new building permit invalidated,” Rothstein said. “If they were to succeed, it could defeat [Extell’s] right to complete the Project as designed in full compliance with existing zoning rules and compel the Project to comply with the new zoning rules that are likely to be enacted shortly.”

Excavation and foundation work at the site are now complete, with the tower itself likely to begin rising over West 66th Street in the coming weeks.

The City Club’s lawsuit alleges that Extell’s building plans violate not only the rule governing mechanical spaces, but also rely upon erroneous zoning calculations that “tak[e] advantage of the fact that its zoning lot straddles two zoning districts.”

Extell Development did not respond to a request for comment.






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