As reported in the New York Times, neighbors of an Extell Properties owned corner lot on West 17th street banded together to purchase and “bank” air rights over the neighboring development in order to protect their views.

In “How Much is a View Worth in Manhattan? Try $11 Million” J. David Goodman unpacks what protects lot line windows and yet another way in which developments can be used to make developers money–merely by threat of their existence! Neighbors of the 12-story Loft building banded together and paid $11 million dollars to purchase air rights above the inset development thus ensuring protected views, and retaining value for their homes.

The gambit captured the kind of wealth that now courses through New York City, where residents of a former warehouse building — with full-floor apartments that stretch 5,600 square feet, twice the size of an average American new home — were willing to pay a hefty price just to protect a view.

This is a tactic often discussed in historic districts, to purchase and bank air rights.  Unfortunately, due to several upzonings, and the large potential over several civic buildings, this option is out of reach for most neighbors.  Of course, an irony in any acquisition of such rights would allow the purchaser, under a zoning lot merger to use the retained air right floor area on their own site should zoning permit it.

In general, banking air rights is a creative solution to maintaining a human scale city, but arguably one that should be enforced via a limit to Zoning Lot Mergers, a limit to Transfer of Development Rights, or proper maintenance and enforcement of the Zoning Resolution.

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