Void venting: Extell 66th St. skyscraper slammed at B.S.A. hearing

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH |During a Board of Standards and Appeals public hearing, opponents of the Extell skyscraper at 50 W. 66th St. challenged the building’s merits.

Opponents included residents, advocates, Community Board 7 members and local politicians, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who both spoke out against the project. A representative for Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal read aloud a statement against the building. State Senator Brad Hoylman also submitted testimony.

Upper West Side nonprofit Landmark West! and The City Club of New York are both filing appeals with the B.S.A., arguing that it was inappropriate to grant permits for the building and that the project does not comply with zoning regulations.

A rendering of Extell’s high-rise tower at 50 W. 66th St., showing a version that would have used a 160-foot-tall mechanical void to allow for taller construction. Now the building will use voids equal to a total of 176 feet in height. (Courtesy Extell.)

“This is the creep of Billionaires’ Row,” said Sean Korhsandi, executive director of Landmark West!, who added that the nonprofit is not inherently against development. “We are not against density, we live in it. But this is actually a building that is anti-density.”

According to Korhsandi, the building will have only 127 units.

There are two major issues that opponents cite. The first is the developers’ use of mechanical voids to increase the building’s height.

Voids are meant to be spaces in buildings used to house mechanical equipment. But luxury developers recently have been increasing the height of these spaces, so that  residential units above them can be at even higher elevations, fetching higher prices, as a result. Opponents of the Extell project questioned how much of the mechanical space would actually be used to house machinery.

The second issue is developers taking advantage of the fact that the building straddles two zoning lots, one facing W. 66th St., where towers are permitted, and the second facing W. 65th St., where they are not. Opponents argue that the cobbling together of the zoning lots violates “bulk packing” rules.

In January, the Department of Buildings threatened to revoke the project’s permit because of concerns that the building posed fire-safety hazards. After a review conducted by the Fire Department, Extell submitted a revised design that D.O.B. signed off on in April. The previous plan called for a 160-foot-void, plus two additional 16-foot mechanical floors. In the revised plan the mechanical void is 176 feet in height, but is broken into two-64-foot mechanical spaces, plus a 48-foot void, according to Gothamist.

At the end of the hearing, B.S.A. Chairperson Margery Perlmutter said that the B.S.A. could possibly decide on the appeal as early as Sept. 10.

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