Category Archives: New York

Making Every Floor Count: City of New York Closes Mechanical Void Loophole

After approval by the city council on May 29, 2019, an amendment that stands to noticeably affect the New York City skyline, has been ratified. It comes in the form of an attempt to close a unique loophole in zoning laws that creates taller residential buildings with far less available living space. The Residential Tower Mechanical Voids Text Amendment imposes new regulations on the use of excessive mechanical voids in building construction.

What, Exactly, Are Mechanical Voids, and What Is the Problem? 

Before this amendment, mechanical voids of any kind did not count in the square footage of usable space in a zoning permit. The reason for this is that these voids usually make up floors for storing mechanical equipment for the building and mechanical bulkheads in the tops of some high-rise structures. In a residential space, these entire floors are not habitable and therefore do not count toward the square footage, hence the name “void.” The projected height of a building generally should not be largely different from the finished product. 

This is where the issue of excessive mechanical voids comes into play and what the amendment hopes to do away with in future projects, involving not only the size of singular voids but also how multiple close voids can be in relation to each other. The amendment seeks to address issues such as:

  • Too-tall buildings. With uninhabitable spaces in a high-rise building reaching and exceeding the equivalent of multiple habitable floors, the final structure is far higher than zoning would have otherwise allowed. This poses environmental changes to other parts of the city, such as longer shadows cast on parts of Central Park, as suggested by activists supporting stronger regulations. 
  • Inflated cost of living. These taller buildings in highly demanded corners of the city use these voids to reduce the amount of livable space on lower floors, meaning the available residences are higher up and ultimately cost more. As the discussion around affordable housing in the city of New York continues to rage, the closing of this loophole has become a necessary part of the discussion

Is The New Legislation Enough? What Are Critics Saying? 

While some hail this decision as an essential first step, others say the amendment is not enough. In some cases, this has already led to some slight alterations. For instance, the City of New York website notes that criticism did lead to some changes before the amendment’s final passage. Initially, the minimum allowable height of a mechanical void that would not be counted among usable space in zoning was 25 feet in height, raised to 30 feet to allow a more reasonable amount of space for mechanical equipment. By and large, criticisms come from both sides of the debate: 

  • Not strict enough, say some critics. Gale Brewer, President of the Manhattan Borough, believes the required distance between voids (before they are counted as zoned space) should be increased from 75 feet to 90 feet. City Councilman Ben Kallos suggested that the allowable size of unzoned space for individual voids should cap at 14 feet rather than 30 feet. 
  • Space is needed for growing energy trends. At a time when New York has committed itself to increasing energy efficiency and reducing its carbon footprint, lobbying groups like the Real Estate Board of New York insist that these limitations further limit developers’ ability to incorporate evolving technologies for lowering energy costs. Mechanical equipment, including ventilation systems and batteries, require space. The latter, especially, are growing larger all the time. 

As the debate continues and further restrictions are proposed at the state and local level, the discussion will only continue to evolve just as the city skyline does. For now, whether it reaches unforeseen heights or becomes more down-to-earth discourse remains to be seen. 

Report: Construction Slows on Much Needed Bridge Repairs Across U.S.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released its 2019 Bridge Report, and it is a good news/bad news (mostly the latter).

While there are fewer structurally deficient bridges than the year before, construction to fix them has slowed to the point where it would take 80 years to make the needed significant repairs, according to the report. That is not a good trend when the more than 47,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country are in need of “urgent” repairs.

Based on data from 2018, the “highlights” of the findings include:

  • Four out of 10 bridges need to be replaced or repaired
  • 47,052 of America’s 616,087 bridges are rated “structurally deficient” and need urgent repairs
  • The pace of repair in 2018 slowed compared to previous years—with only a 1 percent net reduction of deficient structures.
  • Americans cross these deficient bridges 178 million times a day.
  • Average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 62 years, compared to 40 years for non-deficient bridges.
  • 235,020 (38 percent) of U.S. bridges have identified repair needs.
  • 18,842 (1 in 3) Interstate highway bridges have identified repair needs

The report breaks down the crumbling infrastructure by state.

Rhode Island ranked first on the list by the percentage of deficient bridges with more than 23 percent of its 780 bridges found to be structurally deficient. Pennsylvania was fifth on the list with 3,770 of its 22,737 bridges listed as deficient, which is more than 16 percent. New York was 13th (1,757 out of 17,521/10 percent). New Jersey was 23 (544 out of 6,746, 8.1 percent).

Time To Go To The Shed

New York City officials held a ribbon cutting for The Shed earlier this week, and the $475 million project officially opens to the public tomorrow. Manhattan’s newest not-for-profit cultural arts center sits at West 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues taking in crowds from The High Line and Hudson Yards. It aims to host events across all disciplines including music, theater, dance, literature, and art—and it intends to do it in a way that minimizes economic and social barriers.

It will attract attention as a building alone. The design team created an “anti-institutional institution,” according to The Architectural Record. The Shed has a Teflon-based polymer and steel telescoping outer shell that can roll onto the outer plaza, doubling the size of the indoor venue space to 17,000 square feet. The eight-floor building has 200,000 square feet total and is topped off by a glass-covered studio space.

The Next Great Hope, Again: Nassau Hub

While the debate continues on the loss of Amazon  headquarters from Long Island City—best or worst thing to happen to New York and who gets the blame or the credit?—out on Long Island, politicians are pushing the Nassau Hub as the next great, transformative project in the tri-state area. Of course, we’ve heard it all before about this 77-acre site surrounding Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, where attempts to develop residential, commercial and industrial-use space around the arena have failed repeatedly for various reasons over the years.

But there is new cause for hope that things will truly move forward this time as Governor Andrew Cuomo recently added $40 million in state funds, earmarked for three pedestrian bridges and to help Northwell Health build a medical research center (the “innovation center”), that will include laboratory and educational space. That money is in addition to the $85 million already coming from the state for parking garages.

As the developers attempt to move things forward and local politicians promote the possibilities of Nassau Hub, the Coliseum has been hosting concerts and the NHL’s Islanders have returned to play a portion of this season and next season’s games as they wait for a new arena to be completed at Belmont Park. (The team had left the outdated venue for Brooklyn.) With the Islanders doing well this year and big names like Billy Joel and Elton John booking shows, more people have been brought back to the area.

Developers continue to face resistance from nearby residents, however, who recently voiced concerns about the $1.5 billion plan to build office, retail, restaurant, and entertainment space, along with the medical and biotech research center and 500 units of housing. They were given permission to draft a site plan but must enter a project labor agreement with local building trade councils, as well as providing quarterly updates to the legislature and holding regular public meetings.

Should things work out this time and move forward, Phase I of the project, which includes the construction of the two state-funded parking garages with 3,400 spaces, the Northwell Health Innovation Center and half of the housing and entertainment units, is contingent on county legislative approval. Pending that approval, it is expected to begin within 24 months with anticipated completion by 2022.

 

Northeast Projects At Risk of Delay, Defunding To Pay for Border Wall

There are many government construction projects in the Northeast that could be delayed and millions of dollars in funds may be diverted to pay for President Trump’s Border Wall. The  Department of Defense list of military projects that could potentially be impacted was released this week by a senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In New Jersey, a $41 million construction project at Picatinny Arsenal is at risk of being delayed, but the four projects—including work on electrical systems and mechanical systems, as well as exterior renovations and  cleaning and repairing lift stations and catch basins—totaling more than $100 million for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst would go ahead as planned because those contracts are scheduled to be awarded in March, April, May and September, and the Defense Department said it would not divert funding from projects scheduled to begin before Oct. 1, according to NJ.com.

In New York, The U.S. Military Academy in West Point could lose up to $160 million designated for a new engineering center and parking centerArmy Times reported.

Four projects in Pennsylvania are at risk, including a $71 million submarine propeller manufacturing facility in Philadelphia. In Delaware, the $39 million aircraft maintenance building at Dover Air Force could be delayed, according to Delaware Business Now.

As of now, no project would be cancelled to fund the Border Wall, the Pentagon said. But for that to hold true, Congress must approve the request to fully replenish the funds, according to the Army Times.

Schumer Hopes Legislation Can Jump-start Gateway Construction

This week New York Senator Chuck Schumer said he will propose legislation to push construction to start on the multi-billion dollar Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge Project. Speaking at an event of the Association for a Better New York, Schumer said his bill would allow New York and New Jersey to advance money to get shovel-ready construction projects started and be guaranteed reimbursement from the federal government when the U.S. Department of Transportation gives its final approval.

Schumer said “if DOT continues to withhold the new starts grants from Portal and the ROD [record of decision] for the Hudson tunnels” he and fellow members of Congress from New York and New Jersey would push this legislation and attach it to an appropriations bill or some other “must-pass legislation,” according to The Bond Buyer.

Right now, Schumer said, even if the states had the money to fund the projects ready to begin the $12.7 billion plan to upgrade the rail tunnel under the Hudson River, the local government won’t spend that money for fear of not getting back what they would be owed from the federal government.

Acknowledging that this legislation is not the “magic solution” to solving the problems plaguing the Gateway Project overnight, Schumer said “the time for waiting is over.”

NYU Creates Institute of Design and Construction (IDC) Innovations Hub

A new partnership hopes to combine academic research with real-world industry knowledge to better engineering design and construction in the future.

New York University Tandon School of Engineering recently announced the creation of the Institute of Design and Construction (IDC) Innovations Hub. The “industry supported and membership-based center will promote innovation in construction, engineering design, and management” with a commitment to maximize safety, efficiency and sustainability within the construction sector, according to the university’s announcement.

It will be run by Michael Horodniceanu, an internationally prominent transportation and construction executive, who is a professor within the department of urban and civil engineering. NYU hopes the center serves as a model of a partnership between industry and research and solve problems that often cause projects to have schedule delays and run over budget.

Some of the center’s stated goals include:

  • Help industry executives devise creative solutions to project design and construction issues.
  • Provide access to consultancy services from experienced, independent experts.
  • Sponsor in-depth informational seminars on topics ranging from organizational issues to best practices in the selection of materials and machinery.
  • Support training programs provided by academics and industry leaders.
  • Promote networking opportunities among a wide spectrum of organizations in the construction sector.
  • Serve as a national clearinghouse for sharing information on consulting and construction opportunities.

NYC Construction Costs Are Highest in the Country But NY Building Congress CEO Says It’s Worth It

The numbers are out, and it’s no surprise—it is expensive to build in New York City. As a matter of fact, New York City has the highest construction costs in the country. And they just keep going up.

The New York Building Congress released its New York City Construction Costs 2019 Construction Outlook Update this week. Last year, the cost of construction in New York City rose 5 percent, compared to a 3 to 4 percent increase nationally. That is about the same increase as the year before and, overall, NYC remains the country’s most expensive major city to build in. The primary driving factors in construction expenses were the cost of land, materials and regulations, according to the report.

The top ranking is created by Class A office and retail building costs, which were significantly higher than any other sector. New York is actually behind Chicago in hotel construction costs, less expensive than Los Angeles for K-12 education, and ranked lower than Chicago and San Francisco for multi-family residential construction.

Despite the overall numbers, it’s worth it to work in New York City, according to Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO of New York Building Congress.

“While the cost of construction is high, the rewards for doing business in New York have never been greater.”

Registration Open for LEED v4.1; USGBC Seeks Volunteers

The Green Building Council’s (USGBC) newest version of the LEED green building program, LEED v4.1, is open for registration for both new construction projects, as well as interior spaces.

The goal of the new version is “to make the rating system more accessible to more projects based on lessons learned from LEED v4 project teams,” according to the USGBC. This newest beta version updates performance thresholds and referenced standards. The changes also advocate for improved performance throughout the life of buildings, reward leaders based on performance and incorporate performance reporting so that building owners can track progress toward environmental, social and governance goals.

The USGBC is also currently looking for volunteers for its LEED for Cities and Communities working group. The organization is looking for experts with technical knowledge across the rating system to serve on the inaugural LEED for Cities and Communities Working Group to advise on global, city-scale and urban sustainability issues across the organization’s programs, policies and products and support development, deployment and evolution of the LEED for Cities and Communities standard and program.

Don’t have to Google It: Hudson Square Will See Construction Boom

Since Disney announced in July that it is relocating its New York headquarters to 4 Hudson Square, the downtown New York City neighborhood was primed to be a focus of construction and development over the next couple of years.  CIS Project

But when Google stepped in last week and announced that it plans to invest $1 billion on a 1.7 million-square-foot campus in Hudson Square, well, suddenly the spotlight seems set on the area on the lower west side of Manhattan. CIS Project (With maybe a little attention still finding its way to Amazon in Long Island City if Jeff Bezos has anything to say about it.)

The 1.2 million-square-foot Disney project is expected to create thousands of jobs during development and construction. Starting in the coming year, it will involve the demolition of three buildings for the construction of a state-of-the-art, LEED-certified, energy efficient complex with offices, and production spaces complete with the latest technology and the ability to adapt to the coming technological advances. The site–which Disney reportedly spent $650 million for–is a full city block, bordered by Hudson, Varick, Vandam, and Spring streets.

With these work spaces will come residential and retail needs for the thousands of employees who will flood the neighborhood. Multiple high profile residential projects are underway or recently completed, including neighborhood transforming buildings at 570 Broome CIS Project111 Varick St, CIS Project, and 60 Charlton St. CIS Project

The Jackie Robinson Museum is also coming to the area, set to open in the spring of 2019 at the corner of Canal and Varick streets.  

If there wasn’t enough going on, Google made it certain: Hudson Square will be the place for development and construction in the near future. It is set to be the neighborhood to be in the coming years in New York City.