Controversy Over 80 Flatbush Development Highlights Zoning Challenges Raised in New York
The zoning code in New York is extremely complex and, in many instances, byzantine. For many people, it can be virtually impossible to comprehend. Nevertheless, zoning rules and regulations are essential for the prosperity and development of the New York area. They can dictate everything from the height of buildings to where those buildings can even be located.
The height of new buildings has become a hot-button issue in New York and is likely to ignite a civil lawsuit. Take, for example, the controversy over the development of 80 Flatbush, a proposed mixed-use residential and commercial development on a block in the residential Brooklyn neighborhood of Boerum Hill. The new development would be across the street from Fort Greene.
Some people have taken umbrage with the size of the development and the fact that real estate developers are looking to modify New York City zoning laws to allow the large building to be directly across the street for four residential homes. For context, 80 Flatbush is projected to have 112 total stories across two towers. One of the towers will be 74 stories (986 feet) tall. The other tower will be 38 stories (560 feet) tall. This will reportedly reduce the site line visibility of the Williamsburg Savings Bank Building, a landmark building.
Opponents of the 80 Flatbush project have mounted a campaign to try and generate public backlash against the development. They proclaim to be “fighting the unchecked ability of developers to change existing zoning laws to meet their needs with complete disregard for local communities.” They allege that the developers “want to impose high rise towers that are completely out of context with neighboring brownstones and will change the face of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The plan is to change the rules to say that any mechanical floor with a ceiling height above 25 feet will be included in the zoning limitations. All mechanical voids will be required to be at least 75 feet apart to avoid stacking small floors on top of each other.
The Office of Housing & Development plays a critical role in the approval of large real estate projects in and around New York City. In addition, the Department of City Planning (DCP) also has a major role in modifying zoning regulations. For example, the DCP is considering the enactment of new rules that would create new prohibitions on developers expanding the height of new buildings. The new zoning rules would effectively reduce the amount of empty space developers can utilize in their buildings for mechanical equipment. As the rules stand now, buildings can include large unused spaces for mechanical with the ancillary benefit of creating soaring ceilings. The soaring ceiling make the apartments within the new building look nicer and increase the overall price.
A prime example of this “empty space” loophole is with the 775-foot-tall residential building located at 50 West 66th Street in New York City. The developer of this building designed the upper floors to rest on stilts using a mechanical room with a 150-foot-high ceiling. Opponents highlighted the fact that this appeared to be flagrant abuse of the empty space loophole.
As you can see, it is extremely important to have a firm grasp of zoning rules and regulations when engaging in real estate development in New York City.