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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 92, no. 2388]: December 20, 1913

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REAL. ESTATE BUILDERS AND NEW YORK, DECEMBER 20, 191.3 piiiniiiiiMiiiigiigiiiliiH^^ ■ ■ilMMIIMIMIMMIlili^^ RESTRICTIONS CONSIDERED MODERATE What Is Thought of the Report of the Heights of Buildings Com¬ mission—Very General Commendation—Public Hearings Awaited. IlilMillliiliililWIIIlllililHIiailHIIIHMIH NOBODY has said that the restrictions on building construction that have been recommended by the Heights of Building Commission are too radical. On the contrary, the only criticism heard so far is that the regulations for the finan¬ cial district are too moderate. The New York public has rarely received an offi¬ cial report with more approval, or with more signs of appreciation of intelligent investigation and decision on the part of the authors, than has been accorded to the report made by the Bassett commis¬ sion. .\dmittedly interesting, the docu¬ ment is also described as having the merit of brevity, as well as clearness and precision. Interviews with men representative of the interests which would be most af¬ fected financially by a limitation of this nature, as well as with authorities who have helped to form public opinion on the subject in the past, disclosed on the whole marked unanimity of opinion that the commission had made, first, a very thorough and independent investigation; second, that it had established the need and legality of limitations, and third, that it had formulated a precise and rea¬ sonable policy for the city to follow. It was said that the necessary laws and or¬ dinances should be framed and put into eflfect as soon as possible, after public hearings have been held, in which much interest is likely to be taken. Somewhat Disappointed. William O. Ludlow, of Ludlow & Pea¬ body, architects, who was one of the first advocates of restriction, while funda¬ mentally in accord with the principles upon which the members of the Heights of Buildings Commission have based their findings, confessed that he was dis¬ appointed with that part of the report which proposes definite regulations drawn to apply to the conditions in lower Manhattan. The demand for the limitation of building heights followed largely, Mr. Ludlow said, from the con¬ ditions in this section of the city; but, applying the scheme to lower Broad¬ way, for instance, where the skyscrapers are the tallest, he found that thc recom¬ mendations permit buildings at least six¬ teen stories high and towers in addition. At the present time, however, the aver¬ age heights of the buildings on Broadway from Battery Place to Park Place, includ¬ ing the Singer Tower and the Wool- worth Tower, is twelve and one-half stories. If, therefore, the present con¬ ditions are considered bad—as to the lack of sunlight, the overcrowding of the streets, the congestion of traffic, the dis¬ tribution of realty values and the danger from fire panic—why provide by law a limit which would seem to permit of conditions much worse? The Fire Hazard. Commissioner Johnson of the Fire De¬ partment said his approval of the regu¬ lation of the heights of buildings would be largely upon aesthetic grounds. As far as life-saving work was concerned, even a building restricted in height to, say, twelve stories would be too high for fire ladders to reach from the outside. The department's e.xtension ladders did not go beyond the seventh floor, and jumping into nets from above the sixth floor was generally fatal. However, the modern, fireproof, un¬ limited skyscraper, with its own water- pumps and standpipes, ofifered no greater problem than any other building, after you leave the seventh and eighth floors, so far as fire-figliting was concerned. Doubtful About the Zone System. President E. B. Boynton, of the Ameri¬ can Real Estate Company, a large in¬ vestor, was found to be of the opinion that the plan for districting the city and specifying the height limit for each dis¬ trict is feasible. "This is the so-called zone system," he explained. "New centers are growing up in our city and sometimes these new centers are in the older parts of the city and sometimes they develop in the newer sections. "It seems to me the height of buildings should be governed by the width of the street. On streets sixty feet in width it would be much better if there were no buildings higher than eight stories. Tall buildings fronting on squares and open plazas might be permitted under certain restrictions without doing injury to real estate values or abutting property own¬ ers. Taller buildings might wisely be permitted in various sections of the city according to the business carried on in those sections. I think a reasonable height limit should be placed upon build¬ ings on Fifth avenue, and certainly no more tall loft buildings should be built on si.xty-foot streets." Something Radical Necessary. Robert E. .Simon, president of the Henry Morgenthau Company, large oper¬ ators in real estate, said that something radical was necessary in the way of building restrictions. No doubt the argu¬ ment would be raised, he said, that the rights of the individual in ownership of his property would be infringed upon "by such restriction, and it might also be urged that any such restrictions would be unconstitutional. "Theoretically this may be so; but, I think, it is absolutely necessary to pro¬ tect the rights of the individual against the actions of his neighbor," said Mr. Simon. "There is no doubt that these tall buildings on narrow streets are at present very bad for the interests of the adjoining owner and will eventually prove extremely bad for the city at large. The concentration of traffic in limited areas due to these high buildings is one of the main causes of our traffic and transportation problems and also is a great source of expense to the city in its policing, health, fire, school and all other departments of municipal government. Whether it will be feasible to restrict in a practical and constructive manner is another question. "The problem in this city is very dif¬ ferent from most others. Manhattan Island has been the main centre, and, owing to its shape, the movement has been steadily northward. The bridges and new tunnels to the east and west may have a tendency to change this, nut up to the present time it seems that the boroughs other than Manhattan will de¬ velop centers of their own whicli will be independent of the heretofore accepted main centers of Manhattan. The latter will in the course of time develop more and more with the transient business, which will constantly increase. I am fully in accord with the investigation made by the commission, and believe that the facts which have been gathered together will be valuable for a sane solu¬ tion of the problem. The matter is of such importance, however, that we must necessarily make haste slowly." The Constitutional Question, Lawrence'B. Elliman, of Pease & Elli¬ man, large estates agents, said he con¬ sidered that the Heights of Buildings Commission's report is a very fair one and should be gone into most carefully liefore any conclusion is reached. Had this action been taken fifteen or twenty years ago, before the present high level of Ijuildings had been reached, especially in the Fifth avenue section, there was no question but that a restriction would have been of benefit to all parties con¬ cerned; but from a purely business stand¬ point it was now a serious question whether even through the police power the government had authority to deprive the owners of such investment properties of the right of doing with their prop¬ erties as they saw fit. "From a sanitary and equitable stand¬ point," continued Mr. Elliman, "and also from the standpoint of the city as a whole, so far as the Fire Department and street and special equipments of the city are concerned, there is no question but that a reasonable restriction is most essential, and in fairness to adjoining owners no person should be permitted to deprive an adjoining owner of light and air, which an abnormally tall building must do. But I am glad to see that the committee recommends a number of fur¬ ther public hearings; and I hope that everyone interested in the welfare of the city will make it a point to attend them and help the commission reach some fair conclusion." A Difficult Task Well Done, The Superintendent of Buildings for the Borough of Manhattan, Rudolph P. Miller, Esq., remarked that the commit¬ tee certainly had a difficult task on its