The City enacts building codes and zoning guidelines often to protect the public. Jacob Riis instigated housing reform and new tenement laws by exposing the horrid living conditions of the immigrant poor. The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory immolation yielded more stringent fire codes for improved egress. The City reacts to concerns, and does so in the interest of the many. When LW! hosted an event to explain our Zoning Challenge in September of 2018, an audience member discussed how we can’t change the rules of baseball mid-play. This is a flawed analogy for multiple reasons–the least of being safety is not a game. For example, a batter is allowed to have a regulation-conforming bat on the field. Nowhere in the rules does it say that bat must not be used as a tool of aggression against another player (think Nancy Kerrigan). If such a misuse were to occur, and was not covered broadly under other rules of the game, MLB might well revisit their rules, with good reason.
Similarly, while the codes allow mechanical equipment, this was always deemed a necessary part of a modern building and thus not livable floor area. That was its purpose. In recent years that purpose has been distorted to function as an accessory use–to literally jack up upper floors to provide better views for the residents within and greater value to the developer at the expense of the community. City Planning certified a text amendment that will rein in all mechanical voids in the body of a building over 25′ (rooftop mechanicals and basement/cellar mechanicals are still exempt). This is a text amendment they have been studying for over a year, and was widely discussed and referenced in public forums, and it only applies to R9 and R10 residential districts.
In CRAINS, Joe Anuta follows up on the change and cites Carlo Scissura, the head of the New York Building Congress who believes this action is ‘like coming back from halftime at the Super Bowl and somebody saying, ‘We’ve changed the rules of the game.’ (An even more ironic analogy because the NFL is notorious for changing procedure and governing how players comport themselves on and off the field). If this is the case, when would be an appropriate time for City Planning to do its job? Is Scissura suggesting there be a moratorium on building while the rules are revised? This is not how any city operates.
Certainly we would not support such a foolish suggestion as the City needs to change to evolve and remain current. We just can’t do it wholesale without evaluating what will be lost in terms of historic resources, character, safety and identity. City Planning must be able to do its work. Even more to the point, certifying an amendment does not affect the development he cites at West 66th Street because the permits they hold for a 25-story building are still active, have been since 2016, and are not in question. There is no precedent for a 161′ mechanical void in the middle of a residential tower–no less one sandwiched between two other mechanical floors in the same building. This design challenges existing safety protocol and requires examination. To suggest that pushing the envelope is somehow a good thing that the City should blindly bless is ridiculous. The City is hustling to play catch up in response to a project someone put before them. The Department of City Planning is making strides to act appropriately in the interest of public safety for the masses, and our first responders. If Scissura is asserting that any future amendment of a filing should be vested regardless of City Planning actions that happen THREE YEARS LATER, it is Scissura who is looking to rewrite the rules.