Council Member Levine Introduces Legislation to Address Impact of Supertalls on Parkland

**DRAFT RELEASE** October 16, 2018

CONTACT: Jake Sporn // 917-842-5748 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY – As a new generation of super-tall skyscrapers emerges throughout the city, Council Member Mark Levine is introducing legislation that would require the creation of an inter-agency task force to study the effect of shadows cast by tall buildings over City parkland.

The loss of sunlight is detrimental to City parks. This is especially true in Manhattan, where the narrow street grid means many blocks only have direct sunlight for a few hours per day. Depending on the season, buildings over 1000 feet cast shadows that can extend as far as twenty blocks.

From a tower built in 2015 on the southern edge of Madison Square Park that casts a shadow over most of the park’s six acres, to small parks in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side surrounded by lots with unused development, there are parks across the City in danger of being overshadowed. Even Most strikingly, new developments on “Billionaires Row” are putting Central Park at risk.

In the past few years alone, no fewer than seven towers have been completed or began construction on Manhattan’s 57th Street corridor, six of which measure over 1,000 feet in height.  One, the so-called Nordstrom Tower, will top out at a staggering 1,775 feet--just a few inches shorter than 1 World Trade Center. At least five other mega-towers are in some stage of planning or financing, which, if realized, would bring the total number in the 57th Street vicinity to twelve.

“Parks and greenspaces are essential pieces of our City’s infrastructure and parks need sunlight to thrive,” said Council Member Mark Levine, former chair of the Council’s Parks Committee.

“We want to tackle this problem before the next boom on super-tall towers attacks Central Park. They cast shadows that can be a mile or longer in the park. If it was just one, you would wait for it to pass, but there are potentially seven more and that’s going to affect the ecosystem of Central Park alone.

“Currently, there is no process in the zoning resolution to assess, let alone mitigate, the impact of buildings on parks and open space,” said  Layla Law-Gisiko, Chair of the Central Park Sunshine Task Force in Manhattan Community Board Five. “As a result, we have seen numerous parks throughout the city plunged into shadows with no ability to protect the public's access to sunlight.  We need to urgently equip ourselves with better zoning tools.  A task force will help identify the best mitigating solutions to protect our parks from shadow encroachment.”

Models of the shadows they will cast show that vast stretches of the park will be covered in shade during much of the day and through much of the year. These new shadows will be so long that they will reach as far as the Great Lawn and 72nd Street on the East Side, affecting the Heckscher Playground, the Central Park Zoo, and many of the park’s ball fields.

Said Council Member Levine, “Other cities--including Boston, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco--have already enacted zoning ordinances that afford a measure of protection for green space. One common measure is to apply a ‘shadow budget’ to development around parks, to shape development in ways that minimize shadow impact. With the number of out-of-proportion developments increasing throughout the city, it’s well past time New York takes action to protect our parks.”

New York City enacted ground-breaking zoning rules in 1916 and 1961 in no small part as a reaction to the loss of sunlight caused by the rapidly increasing height and bulk of buildings in those eras. But in recent years a combination of transferable development rights, zoning lot mergers, and new building technologies have enabled super-tall structures that would have been inconceivable a half century ago--effectively rendering previous zoning laws impotent.  

While shadow assessments are required as part of the City’s environmental quality review process for projects that need discretionary approvals or permits from a City agency, or have received City funding, no such assessments are required for the type of as-of-right development now occurring around 57th Street.

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