COMMITTEE ON PARKS AND RECREATION
PROPOSED INT. 737-2015
NOVEMBER 12, 2015
HON. MARK D. LEVINE, CHAIR
Good Morning, I am Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Parks & Recreation. At today’s hearing we will focus on Int. No. 737, a bill that would require the creation of an inter-agency task force to study the effect of shadows cast by tall buildings over City parkland.
A new generation of super-tall skyscrapers is emerging on Central Park’s southern edge. No fewer than seven towers are completed or underway in the 57th St. corridor. Six of these 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 St. vicinity to twelve.
The effect of all these new structures on Central Park will be dramatic. 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.
Parks need sunlight to thrive. And people need sunlight in parks, particularly in Manhattan, where the narrow street grid means many blocks only have direct sunlight for a few hours per day. We go to the park to get a precious dose of sun rays, especially when the weather is cooler. But in winter, air temperatures inside of building shadows can drop by as much as 20 degrees, effectively rendering those areas unusable. The forest of super-tall structures emerging on the southern edge of Central Park will thus tangibly diminish the value of our green space.
And it’s not just Central Park which is at risk. A tower recently built on the southern edge of Madison Square Park casts a shadow over much of the park’s six acres. Small parks in places like the Lower East Side which are surrounded by lots with unused development rights are at even greater risk.
How did it come to this?
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.
The stunning fact is that every one of the super-tall towers emerging around Central Park South is being built as of right. This gives the public almost no opportunity for input, with each new tower effectively presented to the public as a fait accompli.
And 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 St.
Other cities--including Boston, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco--haveenacted zoning ordinances that afford a measure of protection for green space. One common technique is to apply a “shadow budget” to development around parks, to shape development in ways that minimize shadow impact.
It is high time New York City take similar actions. Intro. 737 would create a taskforce to explore how we can do just that. The bill would require the Parks Department to establish a body to study the effect of shadows cast on public parks by construction of nearby buildings, and to issue a report on measures the City can take to mitigate the negative consequences of park shadows. The taskforce would be chaired by the Parks Commissioner and its members would include the commissioners of buildings, environmental protection, housing preservation and development, and the chairperson of the City Planning Commission or their representatives. The chairperson would also be empowered to assign other members to the task force, including advocates and outside experts.
I look forward to a robust discussion on this topic with the administration, advocates, and members of the public who have come here today to testify.