Windy City

Department_of_Buildings

For those who live, work, or happened to be visiting in Midtown Manhattan today, you’re probably well aware of the crane situation at the construction site for the tower on West 57th Street (under control, as of the late afternoon).  These types of situations—and this was the same site where an earlier crane memorably dangled 1,000 feet in the air for several days after Hurricane Sandy almost exactly one year ago—rightfully gain nationwide attention for the dramatic scale of the dangers posed, in a line of work that we so often take for granted.

Continue reading

Updated MDL: Should I Stay (longer than 30 days) or Should I Go?

Last year, New York State updated its Multiple Dwelling Law (“MDL”) to address a loophole exposed by Single Room Occupancy operators.  The law originally said that Class A multiple dwellings were “occupied, as a rule, for permanent residence purposes”.  The SRO operators won a legal challenge that hinged on the phrase “as a rule” – whereby they argued, and the court agreed, that the proper interpretation of this phrase meant that up to 49% of a building could be for transient purposes and still meet the intent of the law.

The line between permanent and transient uses is 30 days.  Essentially, if someone rents a room for 30 days or more, it’s a residential use.  If they rent for less than 30 days, it’s a transient (or hotel) use.

The State and the City were very unhappy with the outcome of the lawsuit and saw a need to act to prevent these transient uses from operating in residential zoning districts, where they would otherwise be illegal.  So the updated language has removed the phrase “as a rule”. Continue reading

The City’s “Quick Response” to Providing Information

The Department of Buildings recently introduced a new “Quick Response” feature to the building permits displayed at all construction sites in the City.

Quick Response (QR) codes are barcodes that can be read by smartphones.  The City says that, when scanned, the QR codes will provide “details about the ongoing project – including the approved scope of work, identities of the property owner and job applicant, other approved projects associated with the permit, the complaints and violations related to the location”.  Users will also have the ability to click a link that will initiate a phone call to 311 to register a complaint.

Essentially, a person walking past a construction site will be able to get instant information about the project.  We here at ZONE commend the City’s effort to utilize technology as a means for greater transparency.

To that end, the City recently hired Rachel Sterne as its first Chief Digital Officer.  Rachel has gotten off to a fast start – she’s already using twitter and quora, among other sites, to engage the public on issues of City government and technology, including the new QR codes. Continue reading

The Alleys of New York

Freeman Alley on the Lower East Side

Lower Manhattan has several small – and sometimes forgotten – narrow alley-ways.  Often rubble-strewn, dormant and seemingly neglected, these urban paths appear to be worthless byways of a time long ago.  They also have names that hearken back to a bygone era:  Stable Court; Great Jones Alley; Franklin Place.

Who plows these “streets?”  Who owns them?  Can they be gated and made exclusive?  What lies beneath them?  Why were they created?  And, how are they taxed?

These are not mundane questions. Alas, they are not easily answered either. Continue reading

BSA (Board of Standards and Appeals – NYC) and the NSA (National Security Agency – USA)

photo courtesy of wikipedia

photo courtesy of wikipedia

The NSA is often called “No Such Agency” – since its operations are cloaked in secrecy – while the BSA has been called, by the Times, “a (powerful, but) relatively obscure agency”.  See the similarity?

Now, we can’t say that the Nation’s security hangs in the balance at the BSA – but, it does carry out a vital – and often misunderstood – role in City government and zoning law.  It is a powerful and quietly effective and efficient organization.  Like the NSA, it manages to avoid the spotlight, all the while subject to the (exclusive) control of the executive branch.  (NSA’s chief is, of course, appointed by POTUS – code for President of the United States; the BSA is controlled by Hizzoner, the Mayor). Continue reading

A Little Off the Top? – “Illegal” Addition to be Removed

Image Courtesy of Landmark West!

Image Courtesy of Landmark West!

As reported this week in the Wall Street Journal, an Upper West Side townhouse will have to demolish a top-floor addition (see shaded portion in above image) due to a lack of approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

In 2005, the owners (at that time) of the townhouse, 12-14 W. 68th St.,  received a permit from the Department of Buildings (DOB) to construct a 6th-floor penthouse addition.  15 years earlier, however, the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District was created.  The Historic District covers this portion of West 68th St.  Being in a Historic District, of course, requires approval from the LPC for any alterations to the façade of the building.  No such approval was obtained from the LPC. Continue reading

It’s Just a Facade?

Local Law 11 of 1998 required the inspection and maintenance of facades of buildings greater than 6 stories tall.  Owners must have an architect or engineer inspect all facades of the building (including inner facades not seen from the street).

The façade inspections are required every five years and Cycle 7 starts this Sunday!

There is a staggered, 1-2 year window to file.  The timing depends on the last digit of the building’s block number.

The timing is as follows:

Last Digit of Block Number

Filing Period

4, 5, 6, 9

2/21/10 – 2/21/12

0, 7, 8

2/21/11 – 8/21/12

1, 2, 3

2/21/12 – 2/21/13

Public Sector “White Knight” – City Set to Announce “Development Coordinator” Position

Recognizing that multiple projects are stalled and that building code and zoning issues often cause delays, the City is poised to announce the creation of a City-wide position to work with developers, lenders and private sector “white  knights” to navigate the bureaucracy.

A pilot Development Coordinator program has recently been launched in Brooklyn and Queens. The City has already created several programs aimed at dealing with the many stalled construction sites around the five boroughs – we have previously reviewed the new “Stalled Projects Program” and the new DOB Appeals Process.  The new Coordinator Position, which will be City-wide and located in the Mayor’s Office of Operations, will be a key contact with regard to these programs and other development-related issues.

We will be watching the appointment closely – we understand that those under consideration are experienced players with close ties to DOB and the real estate legal community.  Stay tuned for an announcement of the Mayor’s pick.