In a decision that could influence future skyscraper construction across the city, the Board of Standards and Appeals upheld the Department of Buildings’ approval of what would be the Upper West Side’s tallest tower.
The split 2-2 vote overruled local preservationist group Landmark West’s challenge that developer Extell inappropriately used mechanical space to beef up the 69-story building’s height without counting against floor area restrictions. In the event that board members cannot reach a majority, the city’s initial decision is upheld, according to the board’s chair Margery Perlmutter.
The decision clears the way for Extell to restart construction on the 775-foot residential tower at 50 West 66th Street, but Tuesday’s vote was not a complete loss for neighborhood preservationists. Perlmutter voted against the challenge, declaring that the Department of Buildings properly reviewed Extell’s use of mechanical floor space based on the standards at the time. But she stressed that the agency must “improve its analytical method” when it comes to evaluating whether a building has a proportionate amount of mechanical space.
On the flip side, board member Salvatore Scibetta noted a recent instance where the Department of Buildings required plans for a one-family home to deduct an entire floor from the project because of excessive mechanical equipment. Scibetta said he fears that upholding the city’s ruling “would institute a precedent that not only would permit a subversion to zoning and the obligations of governmental agencies but would also raise a constitutional question as to whether it is appropriate to scrutinize an owner of a one-family home more stringently ... than they would of a tower.”
Stuart Klein, an attorney who represents Landmark West, said he will request additional meetings with the buildings department to further discuss the mechanical space. Sean Khorsandi, the executive director of the preservationist group, said he is surveying their options but did not rule out additional legal challenges. (The tower is already embroiled in a legal dispute with The City Club of New York after the board rejected a separate challenge).
Extell did not return requests for comment. Andrew Rudansky, a spokesperson for the building’s department, said the agency is “pleased” with the ruling.
The decision capped the latest challenge in a handful that the tower has faced since the developer first announced plans for the project some four years ago. The Department of Buildings actually threatened to pull the building’s permits in early 2019 unless the plans were amended to accommodate zoning and safety concerns. The agency gave the project the go-ahead a month later after Extell slightly shrunk the mechanical space—the current version features a contiguous void that measures a total 176 feet in height, permits show.
A month after the city approved Extell’s plans, the City Council passed legislation that dramatically slashed the amount of allowable mechanical space for buildings in certain parts of the city. That amendment capped mechanical voids at 25 feet before they eat into a building’s footprint. Lawmakers approved the change after months of debate between neighborhood advocates calling the measure too lenient and industry experts decrying it as too restrictive.