New York Magazine:
Not since the skyscraper boom of the Jazz Age has New York's skyline undergone a transformation as it is now. More than two dozen supertall towers — and counting — are in some stage of planning or construction, and not just for Billionaire's Row. These slender 800-plus-foot cloudbusters are springing up in the Flatiron, the Financial District, the Far West Side, and even Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City. How long before they start sprouting in Riverdale or Tottenville?
How about next week?
That is the fear that erupted after a legislative package came to light in Albany this week that would remove restrictions on the size of residential buildings in the five boroughs. The bills, quietly introduced by Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder and Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, would remove a 1961 density cap placed on residential buildings. Under the new rules — which could be passed before the session ends next Friday — residential buildings in most of the city could be far bigger than they are now. And the biggest backer, besides Big Real Estate, is Mayor Bill de Blasio himself.
The rule change is subtle, affecting the formula called floor-area ratio, or F.A.R., that is used to compute the bulk and size of any building. Right now, residential buildings can have an F.A.R. of up to 12: A 5,000-square-foot lot, say, can be occupied by a 60,000-square-foot building, which usually works out (because of space set aside for setbacks, plazas, and so forth) to 20 to 25 stories. Residential buildings’ F.A.R. is capped by state rather than city law, and has been since 1961, when it was not only written into the zoning code but also enacted in Albany to ensure that it would stick.
The bill as introduced in the Assembly and Senate would eliminate that limit, although developers would have to get anything above 12 approved by the Department of City Planning (as well as the City Council, where public outcry might try to limit things again). That could mean a 40- or 50-story building, or even more, on that same 5,000-square-foot lot. (Yes, we already have residential buildings that are far taller, but building those has required special horse-trading moves, like acquiring the rights from several structures and bundling them.) Many neighborhoods have absolute height restrictions set by the city, but some, like Midtown and Downtown Brooklyn, do not. The de Blasio administration argues that by lifting the cap, developers will be willing to introduce public benefits in their projects, like affordable housing, open space, or infrastructure investment.
Some...New Yorkers in Albany do not share that faith. A group of lawmakers, mostly from the city, have risen up in opposition to the legislation in recent days. While the administration remains supportive of the proposal, it now looks like it will have to wait for the F.A.R. caps to be lifted until another legislative session. “Like everything that happens in Albany, this was being done at the last minute, out of nowhere, with no discussion,” State Senator Liz Krueger said. “And big real estate gets exactly what it wants, and the community loses.”