Skyscraper on Stilts Residents Successfully Challenge New Development

Sky House residents challenge new condo development. (Debra A. Estock)

Residents of the Sky House condominiums at 11 E. 29th St., a 55-story building that once towered over its Madison Square Park neighborhood, have launched a successful zoning challenge against a newly proposed condo across the street, temporarily halting the project.

A report by urban planner George M. Janes submitted to the New York City Department of Buildings revealed that the new J.D. Carlisle construction at 15 E. 30th Street, is proposed to be raised 155 feet above the street, so that it will top out at 760 feet or more than 70 stories high. To house ventilation and mechanical equipment in that void, the building will be placed on stilts.

Janes says that he has been retained by the neighbors, and asked by their law firm, Marcus Rosenberg & Diamond, LLP, to review the plans for any red flags. “The neighbors were concerned. They hired an attorney and the attorney reached out to me to essentially look at the drawings to see if I could find issues with the zoning that the building department had made.”

Raising the Floor

This unique building method is a recent tool that developers are using to raise the height of their residential projects, according to Crain’s New York Business. For example, at 220 Central Park South and 520 Park Ave., mechanical spaces are housed at the bases of the buildings on floors with ceilings at least 20 feet high. “Raising the ceiling height doesn't count against the square footage that a developer is allotted,” Crain’s says, “and allows them to create a pedestal on which to stack more high-floor apartments whose expansive views command higher prices.”

“It’s very unusual,” says Janes about the plan to house the mechanicals underneath the building and put the apartments above that. “In zoning, you have an exemption for mechanical spaces. You don’t have to count them against your zoning calculations, they’re exempt. And there are things like boiler rooms or pipe chasers that go up through the building. They’re usually a relatively small percentage of the building. In this case, developers are using these spaces to either get extra height or in this case, get extra height or get up over a neighboring building on the same zoning lot so it could have legal windows.”

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