The Daily Dirt: Unlocking air rights throughout the city

A closer look at proposed changes to the Landmark Transferable Development Rights program

The Daily Dirt
(Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

The city has a program for landmarked properties to sell off their unused development rights. But it is rarely used. 

The idea of the Landmark Transferable Development Rights program, created in the 1960s, was to give landmarked properties an avenue to raise cash for maintenance and other costs by selling off air rights to adjacent sites. 

But, according to the Department of City Planning, only a handful of such transfers have taken place and almost exclusively in the densest parts of the city. 

As part of the mayor’s Zoning for Housing Opportunity text amendment, the Landmark TDR program would be extended to two areas where it is currently forbidden: historic districts (where, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, most landmarked properties are located) and low-density residential districts. 

It would also ease rules for where these rights can be transferred, allowing them to be received by sites on the same block as the landmarked property or across the street from that block. Currently, rights can be transferred to “adjacent” sites, meaning those that abut the landmarked site or are directly across the street, and such transfers require a special permit. Draft scoping documents for the text amendment indicate that the special permit rules would be eased as well for receiving sites that do not require or require limited bulk modifications. 

The impact of these changes will likely be limited, in terms of the creation of new housing. There are only so many landmarked properties, and not all of them are underbuilt. Scoping documents indicate that environmental review of the text amendment will assume the existence of a 421a-like tax benefit, though a replacement program is not exactly within striking distance. Without such a tax incentive, the draft scope of work states, the city “would expect to see little or no mixed-income multifamily housing development for the foreseeable future with or without” the text amendment.  

What we’re thinking about: How many landmarked sites could potentially transfer air rights if the mayor’s changes to historic and low-density districts are approved? Send a note to

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A thing we’ve learned: Scotland has more than 30,000 lochs, according to the Scotsman. The largest is Loch Lomond, with a surface area of 27 square miles. The much more famous Loch Ness is the second largest.

Elsewhere in New York…

— Sen. Bob Menendez, who has refused to step down despite demands from a growing group of his Democratic colleagues, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to bribery and corruption charges, Gothamist reports

— Confused about what yesterday’s ruling means for the Trump Organization’s properties? You are not alone. On Wednesday, Trump’s attorney asked Judge Arthur Engoron to clarify what his ruling means for some 500 entities and the various properties attached to them. The judge said he would rule on that question at a later date.   

— Thanks to a 200-plus-year-old law, Columbia University and other schools in the city pay little to no property taxes. The law saves Columbia more than $182 million each year, the New York Times reports

Closing Time

Residential: The priciest residential closing Wednesday was $15.5 million for a co-op at 450 Washington Street in Tribeca.

Commercial: The most expensive commercial closing of the day was $234 million to complete SL Green’s takeover of Ben Ashkenazy’s interest at 625 Madison Ave. New to the Market: The priciest residence to hit the market Wednesday was a townhouse at 137 West 77th Street on the Upper West Side asking $14 million. Compass has the listing.