Death of the PTACs: TF Cornerstone To Give Luxury Rentals Gift of Central Air

PTACs marring the 'poor door' side of Extell's 40 Riverside Boulevard; note PTAC-free condo component at right

New York City’s architectural legacy is in peril. The threat does not come from the 57th Street towers, nor the destruction of historic buildings, but something most would consider mundane: air conditioning.

Money can buy you a lot of things in New York, but a new rental building with central air is not among them. Unique among North America’s cities, builders in New York have forsaken generations-old technology used in every city from Los Angeles to Toronto, in favor of the lowly packaged terminal air conditioning (or PTAC) unit.

Punched through the wall below a building’s windows, PTAC units mar the façades of new rental buildings from the Financial District to Flushing, Boerum Hill to the Bronx. They are found in affordable housing developments and low-end rentals, as well as skyscraping towers in Midtown that charge $3,500 a month for a studio apartment.

“They have terrible energy performance, terrible acoustical characteristics and terrible aesthetics,” wrote one architect from a major New York City firm that’s built projects using the units.

Why they’re used in the first place is somewhat of a mystery. Simple inertia and the high cost of development in America’s largest city, forcing builders to scrimp and save wherever they can, are the most oft-cited reasons. But there are also regulatory hurdles, from special Department of Buildings permits needed for central air, to height limits that make ducted systems more difficult.

And then there’s a contingent within the city’s insular construction industry that doesn’t even realize how unique our reliance on PTACs really is. (In reality, while they’re fairly common in urban hotels and can occasionally be found in cheap rental projects and older buildings outside of New York, they’re almost never used for new luxury projects.)

But one of the city’s largest developers is starting to buck the trend. In two of their rental buildings under development – 33 Bond Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and 606 West 57th Street on the Far West Side – TF Cornerstone will be forgoing the standard below-window units in favor of more civilized forms of air conditioning.

“We raised the question [of air conditioning] anew at the 57th Street project,” TF Cornerstone’s director of planning, Jon McMillan, told YIMBY.

606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street, image from TF Cornerstone

On 57th Street, he said, “we thought it would be nice from the interior to have floor-to-ceiling glass” – something that isn’t possible with a PTAC unit, which sits on the floor and takes up a significant amount of space. “We made the decision from the leasing point-of-view that it would make the unit seem more impressive and expansive.”

The second consideration that led to the decision to nix the PTACs, he said, was the city’s energy code.

“The PTAC unit is kind of a shoddy thing, because it’s a bunch of perforations in the façade. It’s not very efficient,” McMillan explained, “and it’s now increasingly hard to meet the energy code using PTACs.”

Karl Fischer's attempt at clean lines at the Nathaniel in the East Village was admirable, but ruined by PTACs in the corners.

Karl Fischer’s clean lines at the Nathaniel in the East Village are interrupted by PTAC units in the window corners, via EV Grieve

Finally, he said, the heat pump alternative to PTACs doesn’t count towards a building’s allowed square footage, since mechanical space is deducted from a building’s floor area for zoning purposes. A heat pump sits on the floor in a corner space, feeding cool air into both the living and bedrooms, whereas a PTAC must cantilever over the floor in every room with climate control and therefore cannot be deducted as mechanical space.

PTACs, McMillan said, “are almost as hideous from the inside” as they are on the outside. “They’re really fat and bulky, and they protrude. I kept saying, why can’t anybody improve on this design? The answer I got was that we only use them in New York, therefore the market is so small that nobody bothers to try to improve them.”

TF Cornerstone’s willingness to take another look at old ways of doing business is refreshing, and other developers will hopefully follow suit. But the city should also look for ways to encourage the use of more attractive, efficient and comfortable air conditioning systems.

The stick of the energy code is one way, but the Department of Buildings should also dangle the carrot of easier compliance with permitting rules for systems other than PTACs and through-wall units. One expediter we spoke to pegged the cost of getting a so-called “equipment use permit,” needed to install central air-scale condensers (but not PTACs), at $7,000 or $8,000. The permit then needs to be renewed annually, something he said rarely happens, with heavy fines levied on those who don’t comply.

Rental buildings will always have cheaper finishes and fewer amenities than condos, but skimping on quality air conditioning should not be necessary. If every other city in North America has managed to find a way to deliver rentals without PTACs – often at a fraction of our rents – New York City can too.

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Posted in 33 Bond Street | 606 West 57th Street | Architecture | Hotel | Midtown | New York | PTACs | Residential | TF Cornerstone

DOB Digest: SOE Filed for 275 4th Avenue in Gowanus, Corona Infill, and More

275 4th Avenue, image by Adam America/ODA Architecture

Brooklyn:

275 4th AvenueDeveloper Adam America has filed in “support of excavation” for their 11-story and  78-unit mixed-use building at 273-281 4th Avenue, in Gowanus. Demolition of the existing McDonald’s has been approved, and is scheduled to begin today. ODA Architecture is designing the nearly 65,000 square-foot building, which will include 4,500 square feet for commercial use.

434 Manhattan AvenueAn anonymous LLC filed applications to construct a four-story and 10-unit residential building of 6,715 square feet at the vacant lots of 430-440 Manhattan Avenue, in Greenpoint. Edward F. Zevallos is designing the building, which will sit at the north corner of Manhattan Ave. and Bayard Street.

730 Bergen StreetDevelopers have filed in “support of excavation” for a four-story and three-unit residential building of 4,903 square feet at the vacant lot of 730 Bergen Street, in Prospect Heights; S3 Architecture is designing.

Queens:

38-60 13th StreetAn anonymous LLC has filed applications for a 10-story and 72-room hotel of nearly 25,000 square-feet at 38-60 13th Street, in Astoria. An existing one-story warehouse structure must be demolished; Chang Hwa Tan is designing.

103-16 Corona AvenueDaniela R LLC has filed applications to construct a four-story and 16-unit residential building of 11,615 square feet at the vacant lots of 103-14 – 103-16 Corona Avenue, in Corona. Delargent Design has also incorporated a small community facility within the building.

101-03 Radcliff AvenueGreg R1 LLC has filed applications to construct three, three-story and three-unit residential buildings totaling 8,249 square feet at the vacant lots of 101-03 – 101-09 Radcliff Avenue, in Corona; Delargent Design is the architect of record.

Staten Island:

27 Starr AvenueMichael Savo has filed applications to construct three, three-story and single-family abodes at the vacant lots of 11-27 Starr Avenue, in West Brighton; each building will span nearly 2,500 square feet.

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Posted in 101-03 Radcliff Avenue | 103-16 Corona Avenue | 27 Starr Avenue | 275 4th Avenue | 38-60 13th Street | 434 Manhattan Avenue | 730 Bergen Street

Construction Update: One Vandam

One Vandam

Quinlan Development Group’s project at One Vandam has made quick headway, and the future 14-story structure is already close to topping-out. BKSK is the design architect, and the site is located at 180 Avenue of the Americas, just north of Spring Street.

One Vandam

Facade installation underway

Besides all the concrete, the first of the project’s cladding has also arrived, and glass installation is now underway. Stonework appears to be missing from the picture — and that component is what will ultimately distinguish One Vandam — but pane by pane, progress is happening, and One Vandam’s skeleton should not remain exposed for long.

One Vandam

One Vandam

The development is rapidly coming together, and its relatively large scale compared to the rest of the neighborhood gives it local visibility. With excellent transit access, much of Soho could and should accommodate denser residential buildings, but down-zonings have left capacity limited.

Curbed reported that the triplex was on sale for $28 million last September, and the development only totals 25 units, placing it firmly in the ’boutique’ category. Given the demand for neighborhood real estate, as well as constraints on new construction in Soho, the extreme pricing comes as no surprise.

One Vandam

One Vandam

Across the street, One Soho Square is also beginning to take shape, and the neighborhood is emerging as a vibrant district for both residential and office use. Surrounding blocks are currently seeing a mini-boom, with the God’s Love redevelopment also rising just to the south of One Vandam.

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Posted in Architecture | BKSK Architects | New York | One Vandam | Quinlan Development | Residential | Soho | Tavros Capital

Permits Filed: 606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street

A few months after TF Cornerstone won approvals for its massive, 1,000-unit-plus development on the Far West Side, SLCE Architects has filed for building permits for the apartment building at 606 West 57th Street.

The filing puts the building’s total construction area at a whopping 1.2 million square feet, on par with Midtown office towers rather than apartments. Of that, 952,938 square feet will be dedicated to apartments, plus another 40,000 square feet for retail space. The building will rise 42 stories, reaching 440 feet into the air, and will contain 1,028 apartments – meaning it will no longer be in the running for highest unit count in the city. SLCE is the architect of record, but Miami-based Arquitectonica is responsible for design.

606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street, image by TF Cornerstone

The tower wraps around a holdout structure on the southwestern corner of 57th Street and 11th Avenue, and will replace a Lexus and Acura car dealership. The area around far West 57th Street is currently in transition from a low-slung car dealership row to a high-rent residential neighborhood, capitalizing on 57th Street’s rising cachet and the revitalization of Columbus Circle three avenues to the west. TF Cornerstone also told YIMBY that they’re looking to see if there’s any community interest in retaining the mid-century neon vertical parking sign on the 57th Street frontage, preserving a bit of the strip’s history and avoiding a repeat of the Kentile controversy in Brooklyn.

Neon sign on West 57th Street, photo from Google Streetview

Neon sign on West 57th Street, photo from Google Streetview

The permit filing comes after newly-elected Upper West Side councilwoman Helen Rosenthal cut a deal with the developers to make the building’s “affordable” units more accessible to wealthier residents. In exchange for adding about 20 more units of below-market rentals, she allowed TF Cornerstone to up the lowest-priced units’ maximum income restriction from 40 percent of the area median income to 60 percent. She also negotiated a new income band, reserving some units for families making 175 percent to 230 percent of area median income – meaning a family of four must earn between around $147,000 and $193,000 a year to qualify for the lottery for those apartments.

Groundbreaking should occur in the fall, according to the developer.

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Posted in 606 West 57th Street | Helen Rosenthal | SLCE | TF Cornerstone

Revealed: 502 Waverly Avenue

502 Waverly Avenue, overhead shot from Bing Maps

Rental development has been tearing through central Brooklyn lately, moving past established areas and into neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. But closer in, there are still some sites remaining for higher-end condo buildings, and Orange Management, headed by Andrew Bradfield, seems to have found one.

502 Waverly Avenue, rendering via Orange Management

502 Waverly Avenue, rendering via Orange Management

The firm last appeared on this site with an eight-story project in the East Village, and today they’re linked to 502 Waverly Avenue in Clinton Hill. Permits for the condo building were filed today, and YIMBY came across the above drawing of the project on the developer’s website. While not quite a full-fledged rendering, it shows a clean, curving glass façade, broken up by white framing and gray spandrel.

The 49-unit building (or 55 units, according to the developer’s site) would rise 78 feet or seven stories, and contain 34 parking spaces and 7,128 square feet of commercial space, per the building permit. The total construction area of the project is 62,719 square feet, or 53,925 square feet on net. The architect of record is listed as New York City-based Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, who also designed the Brooklyner, the borough’s tallest building, plus a few other rental buildings in Manhattan.

The site – a prominent one at the corner of Fulton Street and Waverly Avenue, on top of the Clinton-Washington C train stop – is currently used as a surface parking lot. It was scooped up from its previous owner, a nearby funeral home, for $9.2 million late last year. The building would share the block with 525 Clinton, a recently-built 13-story rental tower.

Completion is projected for 2016, according to Orange Management’s website, though the developer could not be reached to further clarify the construction timeline.

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Posted in 502 Waverly Avenue | Andrew Bradfield | Architecture | Brooklyn | Gerner Kronick + Valcarcal | New York | Orange Management | Residential

Revealed: 515 West 29th Street

515 West 29th Street, image from CG Architects

YIMBY has the reveal for 515 West 29th Street (marketed as 515 High Line), which will become one of the High Line’s defining contemporary icons. Soo Chan of SCDA Architects has been tapped to design the 11-story building, and Joseph Beninati of the Bauhouse Group is developing.

The Commercial Observer reported that Bauhouse Group acquired the land for $24.4 million in September of 2013, and has purchased additional air rights this year, with the site’s potential now totaling 43,000 square feet. Financing was also secured in the form of a $35 million construction loan from Doral Bank.

515 West 29th Street

515 West 29th Street, image from CG Architects

In terms of design, 515 West 29th Street will offer a departure from the more classically-minded structures that have recently gone up along the High Line. While the base of the building will be quite simple, glass will extrude from the upper levels, resulting in a rippling, wave-like effect that will distinguish the project from its surroundings.

515 West 29th Street

515 West 29th Street, image from CG Architects

515 West 29th’s extensive frontage along the High Line provides an additional opportunity for artistic visibility, given that it will face two sides. While a soaring blank wall next to a park would normally be a bad thing, in this instance, it is specifically designed to host large pieces created by emerging artists, and is likely to become a draw in its own right, further activating the public space.

515 West 29th Street

515 West 29th Street, image from CG Architects

Compared to its predecessor, the new building offers a dramatic improvement in terms of both form and functionality. While many of the new buildings fronting the High Line are works of art in and of themselves, Bauhouse’s project integrates non-architectural art into its design. Given the competition rising in surrounding blocks — including Related’s Zaha Hadid-designed 520 West 28th Street — distinguishing individual developments is becoming increasingly difficult, but Soo Chan’s latest work appears to succeed in doing exactly that.

Per the developer, completion is expected in the fall of 2015.

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Posted in 515 West 29th Street | Architecture | Bauhouse Group | Joseph Beninati | Midtown | New York | Renderings | Residential | SCDA Architects | Soo Chan

Revealed: 53 Grand Street

53 Grand Street, rendering courtesy of Investmates

Earlier this month, YIMBY reported that building permits were filed for 53 Grand Street, a five-story residential building in Williamsburg. And today, we have a rendering.

Investmates, the Williamsburg-based development outfit behind the project, has plans to erect a 7,800-square foot condo structure on the site, located between Williamsburg’s higher-rent Northside and its grittier-but-prettier Southside. The building will be a boutique product, with just three duplex residences, featuring private garden space for the lower-level unit, roof space for the penthouse buyer, and luxury amenities like herringbone floors and fireplaces throughout.

The Meshberg Group, based in Vinegar Hill, will be responsible for design. ND Architecture & Design, a Red Hook-based firm led by Nataliya Donskoy — which has been taking on higher-end projects lately — is the architect of record.

The builders are maxing out the lot’s allowed square footage, which is unfortunately low; the pre-war tenement directly to the east exceeds the allowed density by about 50 percent, and appears to surpass the 50-foot height limit by a few feet as well.

The developers plan to break ground on 53 Grand Street at the beginning of 2015.

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Posted in 53 Grand Street | Meshberg Group | ND Architecture & Design | Uncategorized | Williamsburg

Permits Filed: 22-44 Jackson Avenue

22-44 Jackson Avenue, rendering by H. Thomas O'Hara

Now that the controversy over the towers that will rise at the site of the old 5 Pointz open-air graffiti gallery has quieted down, construction is soon to commence, according to the developer.

Architect H. Thomas O’Hara filed building permits this morning for the project at 22-44 Jackson Avenue. When reached by phone, developer David Wolkoff at G&M Realty told YIMBY that demolition will likely start in a few weeks, and groundwork and construction should begin in three to five months.

The two towers will contain a total of 1.2 million square feet of floorspace, the majority of which will be spread among the 1,000-plus rental apartments (the building permit put the exact number at 1,116, though previous reports pegged it a bit lower; in any case, around 20 percent will be let at below-market rates). The site will also contain nearly 40,000 square feet of commercial space, including retail and 20 artists’ studios, and significant amounts of open space.

5Pointz

5 Pointz in its heyday, which the Wolkoffs generously allowed to be used as a canvas for aerosol artists for years at rents far below market

22-44 Jackson Avenue will also contain a public garage with room for 262 cars. While so much parking is not ideal for a location with excellent transit accessibility, Wolkoff’s hands were tied by the city: in order to take advantage of the enormous 60 percent density bonus available in this part of Long Island City, which has no minimum parking requirements, he must build a 250-space public garage.

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Posted in 22-44 Jackson Avenue | 5Pointz | Architecture | HTO Architects | Long Island City | New York | Queens | Residential | Wolkoffs

Permits Filed: 5278 Post Road

5278 Post Road -- the T-shaped lot at center above the field, overhead shot from Bing Maps

Just across the street from the prestigious Riverdale Country School, in one of the Bronx’s wealthiest neighborhoods, sits a little over half an acre of land at 5278 Post Road. In 2002, the Varkaris family of developers, based in Long Island City, bought the parcel. They tried to sell the development site a few years ago, but apparently never found a buyer willing to pay their target price.

Now that the market has rebounded, it appears the Varkarises have decided to develop the land themselves. Yesterday morning, building permits were filed by Purcell Architects for a seven-story apartment building with 95 units.

The site presents some challenges for construction, with the previous listing noting that “developers will have to contend with a considerable amount of rock.” But its hillside location also means that any future building will have sweeping views of Van Cortlandt Park; when combined with its Fieldston address and proximity to Horace Mann and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a market-rate building seems like the only option.

Next door, a 20-unit apartment building was erected a few years ago, offering some hints of what to expect on the larger corner site at 5278 Post Road. Van Cortlandt Views, as the building next door is called, opened in 2010, before the market had rebounded, as a mix of rentals and condos. Asking rents there range from about $1.50 per square feet per month to nearly $3 for a top floor one-bedroom, while condo listings last year were in the $600s per square foot, going all the way up to $900,000 for an 1,100 square-foot two-bedroom penthouse with a generous wrap-around terrace and expansive park views.

According to the filing, the building would contain 86,841 square feet of residential space, with average unit sizes clocking in at 915 square feet. The garage would hold 73 cars – more than required by zoning, but necessitated by the site’s removal from transit, and somewhat justified by its highway-adjacent location.

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Posted in 5278 Post Road | Purcell Architects | Varkaris family

Construction Update: 52 Wooster Street

52 Wooster Street

About eight months after permits were first filed, the skeleton frame at 52 Wooster Street has begun to rise, marking part of the outline of the six-story infill project in the SoHo Cast Iron District. The Arpad Baksa-designed building will eventually rise 85 feet, matching the heights of the adjacent structures on Wooster and Broome.

52 Wooster Street

52 Wooster Street

The building will have two distinctly different façades, with metal framing and floor-to-window ceilings on the Broome Street frontage, and a more sedate, brick face on the Wooster Street side.

Of the Broome Street side, wrote the architect for Architizer, “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows step in and out on each floor to reveal a layering phenomenon that is apparent in the historic buildings – metal on top of the brick with glass in between.”

52 Wooster Street

52 Wooster Street, rendering by Arpad Baksa

The building will also contain an inner courtyard to comply with zoning rules that forbid the sort of lightless bulk that was once common in Lower Manhattan. “Each apartment” – the full-floor condos measure 1,800 square feet apiece – “has a balcony overlooking the interior court that extends down the entire block,” wrote the architect.

The developer is Continental Ventures.

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Posted in 52 Wooster Street | Architecture | Arpad Baksa | Continental Ventures | New York | Residential | Rocksprings Management Company | Soho

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