The Great Permit Frenzy of September 2014: Sizing Up Manhattan’s Gains

Manhattan WestManhattan West, image from Brookfield

The Great Permit Frenzy of September 2014 is now over, but its impact is unlikely to be felt for months – or even years – as administrative permit filings often predate actual construction by a wide margin. YIMBY has collected all Manhattan filings from the last 30 days for buildings of 10 stories or more, and while growth will not be immediate, it’s clear that the boom will transform the city’s skyline.

The frenzy resulted in 33 applications for new buildings of 10 stories or more over the past month. Within that subset, 11 towers will rise 300 feet or taller, eight will rise over 400 feet, and the tallest four buildings top out at over 700 feet above ground level. (spreadsheet at link)

Among the 33 projects, four will be hotels, yielding a total of over 700 new rooms. The tallest on the list is also the sole office building, at 401 Ninth Avenue, which will become one of Brookfield’s Manhattan West towers.

The aggregate unit count between the remaining residential structures — 28 in all — is 2,000 new apartments, which is an impressive number for a city that is generally lacking in new construction (especially when compared to global rivals, where New York ranks alongside Paris). Turning the city into a museum is one way to both “preserve character” of existing structures and raise prices to astronomical levels.

A reflection of this pressure — ultimately a symptom of unmet demand — is how small the unit counts for 30-plus-floor buildings have become. Both the 35-story 131 West 23rd Street and the 37-story 118 East 59th Street will clock in at under one unit per level, reflecting multi-story apartments that will command extraordinary prices. The developments will have 21 and 29 residences, respectively, and illustrate how allowed density does not account for the reality that, on a per capita basis, New Yorkers are taking up more space. This is a trend that started when the first subways and elevated trains allowed New Yorkers to escape the slums of the Lower West Side for the leafier environs of Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and continues to this day.

Besides Brookfield’s first office tower, permits also went up for 101 Murray Street and 15 East 30th Street. 101 Murray could become downtown’s tallest residential building, likely clocking in with an actual roof around 950 feet above street level, while 15 East 30th Street will become the tallest structure between the Empire State Building and Lower Manhattan, standing 825 feet tall.

101 Tribeca

101 Murray, image by KPF

Collectively, the number of filings for towers over the past thirty days rivals the entire skylines of many mid-sized American cities – and even large European ones – and signals just how extreme the development pressure in Manhattan has become. In the last month alone, the number of buildings over 500 feet that New York has seen permit filings for actually surpasses the total number of such structures in Cleveland, New Orleans, Austin and Baltimore.

470 Eleventh Avenue

Hudson Rise Hotel, image by Archilier Architects, another 700′ building that saw filings this month

Imminent changes to the building code are also to blame for the Great Permit Frenzy of September 2014, as developers have been forced to submit applications under the current code to avoid having to re-do architectural plans. The next few months will be marked by a flurry of post-approval amendments, filed to correct mistakes and fill the gaps in plans submitted this month.

The building code is complex and the changes coming in 2014 have not yet been fully digested by most in the city’s construction industry, so architects have naturally preferred to submit their plans under the old 2008 code, avoiding the uncertainty that comes with a new regime. And thus, while the end-results of the Frenzy are ultimately the result of pent-up demand, the sudden surge in filings is also a function of imminent changes to administrative red tape.

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