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Chelsea condo owners spent $11M to protect Empire State Building views

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In an unexpected twist, a group of Chelsea building residents shelled out for the air rights to a neighboring development site

Max Touhey

Back in 2016, megadeveloper Extell—the firm behind behemoths like One57 and Central Park Tower—snagged a pair of buildings on the corner of 17th Street and Seventh Avenue in Chelsea for $11 million, with designs on building a 145-foot tall condo building there.

That building, however, never materialized; instead, the developer built a small retail cube that’s nestled inside the L-shaped condo building that straddled 17th Street and Seventh Avenue.

What gives? According to the New York Times, a group of residents in the neighboring building took a page from Extell’s playbook, and purchased the air rights for the development site to the tune of $11 million. It’s an uncommon tactic for residents seeking to stop view-blocking buildings from rising, but an effective one; even though Extell CEO Gary Barnett “initially wanted far more than $11 million” he and the residents eventually struck a deal.

“Most of the time, they sue you and try and stop you somehow,” Barnett told the Times. “These people stepped up to the plate and paid market value for the building rights.” (In fact, an Extell project on the Upper West Side is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by community residents who object to its height.)

Will this lead to a spate of new developments put on hold by neighbors with money to burn? It’s unlikely—according to the Times piece, while some residents of the building (those on lower floors) didn’t have to pay into the air rights deal, others spent as much as $1 million (and possibly more) to keep their precious views.

“[E]verybody realized that it was something we had to do,” Thomas Levine, a painter who lives in the building, told the Times. “We wanted the light, we wanted the views, we wanted the value.”