Air-Rights Transfers and Trump Tower
to the Coalition for Responsible Development, Donald H. Elliott,
asserts that NYC Department of Buildings far exceeded its powers
and wrongfully issued a building permit to Trump. The following
points, extracted from the lawyer's letter (Feb. 4,1999) to the
Commissioner of Buildings, lays out the case in abbreviated form:
In 1986, the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a letter amending
the NYC Zoning Code to permit air rights transfers across zoning
district boundaries in cases where the floor-area ratio and use
were the same. This DOB letter supposedly makes the Trump air rights
However, Elliott's letter to the buildings commissioner points out
that DOB had the authority only to interpret, NOT amend, zoning
and that such a privilege was accorded only to the Planning Commission,
City Council and Mayor. Such approval was neither sought nor granted,
nor were there the requisite public hearings.
Thus the 1986 DOB letter is invalid, Elliott charges, in which case
air rights may NOT be transferred across zoning lot boundaries.
The size of Trump World Tower, which depends upon such a transfer,
violates the NYC Zoning Resoluton, and a building permit was wrongly
But even if the DOB 1986 letter were deemed legal, there are significant
differences in the two zoning districts, particularly in what the
zoning code describes as tower regulations, which make the height
of Trump World Tower illegal.
(a) In the C5-2 zone facing First Avenue, a sheer tower can be built,
but in the far larger C1-9 zone from which the air rights are being
transferred, a tower on a base is mandated. Further, a residential
building within 125 feet of a wide street (in this case, First Avenue)
must comply with tower-on-a-base regulations. The base must be built
out to the street line and 55 percent of the floor area must be
within the first 150 feet of building height. Trump World Tower
has but 17.5 percent of its floor area within the 150-foot limit
and no part of it is built to the street line.
(b) Under tower-on-a-base zoning, a building must occupy at least
30 percent of the zoning lot; the Trump tower as designed only covers
13 percent of the merged zoning lot.
(c) There are no plaza bonuses permitted under tower-on-a-base regulations.
Trump obtained a plaza bonus that added at least four floors to
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