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City defends supertall towers near Central Park

Supertall is superfine in the eyes of the de Blasio administration.

In a written response to elected officials, the city’s planning czar last week defended the slew of supertall towers rising in midtown. 

And while the administration committed to monitoring effects such as shadows on Central Park, it has no plans to reduce the allowable size of buildings in one of New York's densest districts.

“Given the important role midtown Manhattan plays in the city’s economy, we have no immediate plans to reduce the current as-of-right density or bulk requirements,” Carl Weisbrod, director of the Department of City Planning, wrote Aug. 12.

Buildings such as the 1,003-foot condominium and hotel One57, on West 57th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, and the proposed 1,428-foot Steinway Tower condo down the street have alarmed groups such as the Municipal Art Society and Community Board 5's Central Park Sunshine Task Force, and have even spurred a bill in the City Council that would create a task force to address shadows. Critics have urged the city to implement a number of measures, including height limits and a moratorium on new towers until impact studies are done.

But Mr. Weisbrod’s letter, an answer to officials who had urged him to consider the groups’ concerns and recommendations, said the supertalls comply with laws governing density: The same amount of square footage could be built on each block anyway, and instead of being spread over the block, the floor space is distributed vertically.

And that can actually help preserve older buildings, he said.

In many cases, a block’s allotted square footage is consumed by these towers—essentially locking in the lower profile of neighboring structures. It's often not economical to demolish a building and replace it with one the same size, so in effect the towers are saving a variety of buildings from different eras, Mr. Weisbrod said.

“This often leads to a more interesting streetscape and pedestrian experience, as well as resulting in an incredibly dynamic, iconic skyline that is the envy of the world,” he wrote. “It avoids a solid wall of very tall buildings along certain streets and avenues … [which] also allows for more light and air to the streets and sidewalks.”

Mr. Weisbrod acknowledged concerns about shadows creeping deeper into Central Park, and he said the department would continue the dialogue and monitor those and other effects of the supertalls. But he added that short, squat buildings also cast shadows and that it's not always clear if one type of structure is better than the other. 

“Thus, there are trade-offs between slender buildings which cast a shadow deeper into the park in certain periods of the year, but for a very short time, as opposed to a wall of somewhat less tall buildings, like the wall of apartment-hotel buildings along Central Park South, that cover a segment of the southern portion of the park for much of the day throughout the year,” he wrote. “This is a rather complex balancing of impacts which we will continue to monitor.”

Mr. Weisbrod’s letter was in response to a missive penned in July by seven lawmakers, including City Council members Dan Garodnick, Corey Johnson and Mark Levine. Mr. Levine introduced the bill that would create the task force to study shadows.

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