Could Height Limits on NYC Skyscrapers Be in the City’s Future?

Neighborhood residents and civic organizations are pushing back on supertall towers.
The new wave of supertall construction, and developers’ seemingly endless desire to build even more tall towers throughout the city, has led some organizations to take action
When you think of the New York City skyline, it’s likely that the city’s iconic Midtown skyscrapers—the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and their ilk—come to mind, along with some of the new-guard towers like 432 Park Avenue and One57. But it’s the latter that have, in recent years, ticked off preservation-minded New Yorkers.
The new wave of supertall construction, and developers’ seemingly endless desire to build even more tall towers throughout the city, has led some organizations to take action. In Midtown’s tony Sutton Place, for example, neighborhood residents (united under the group East River 50s Alliance) have proposed a rezoning of that area that would cap building heights at 260 feet.
Not at all coincidentally, Gamma Real Estate is in the process of building what could become a 700-foot skyscraper at 3 Sutton Place. The proposed development, which has been in the works for some time now (first as a 900-foot tower developed by Baohaus Group, then in its current form), has raised the hackles of community members and elected officials alike. Just last week, Manhattan Community Board 6 gave its approval to the rezoning resolution, and city officials like borough president Gale Brewer and City Council member Ben Kallos have voiced their support.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, the Municipal Art Society is also coming out in favor of building height caps. The society’s president, Elizabeth Goldstein, told the Journal that the ERFA is doing “something which is really unusual and kind of amazing.” MAS, you’ll recall, has pushed for more oversight of as-of-right development before, and has been one of the loudest voices against the “accidental skyline” created by Central Park’s supertall boom.
Ultimately, according to MAS, what they would like to see is more community input and public review when it comes to skyscraper construction. “We do believe that some of these things should not be built as of right,” Goldstein explained.
A spokesperson for MAS elaborated on what that means: As of now, the group is calling for a moratorium on buildings that are higher than 600 feet, and wants the city to consider changes to the building approvals process such as “requiring that community boards and Council Members be notified of zoning lot mergers, requiring public review for projects that significantly increase height or bulk on a given lot (not necessarily 600+ feet), [and] reforming the environmental review process to better mitigate impacts on light, air, parks, and other public assets.”
Of course, not everyone is on board with these sorts of measures. As the Journal notes, real estate industry vets say that these kinds of height caps will only serve to discourage growth, and make it harder to add density to neighborhoods that need it. (Though it’s questionable how much buildings like One57 have done on that front.)
Or, as John Banks of REBNY told the Journal, “New York would not be New York without tall buildings.”
  • New Midtown Skyscrapers Draw Ire of Preservationists [WSJ]
  • Sutton Place rezoning to restrict skyscraper heights gets community board backing [Curbed]

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