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The Case Against
Air-Rights Transfers and Trump Tower

Legal counsel 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 transfer legitimate.

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 issued.

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 his monolith.


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