By Atticus O’Brien-Pappalardo
In April, in the midst of a global pandemic, New York City developers filed 107 new construction projects, 48 more than had been filed in March. And so far in May, there have been 96 new building applications filed, totaling over 3.9 million square feet. For comparison, in May of 2019, there were less than 2 million square feet of new construction filed all month.
The filings continued despite the coronavirus pandemic causing numerous roadblocks. The economic hardships caused from mandatory shutdowns, complexities of doing business remotely for those who didn’t lose their jobs, and all non “essential” construction coming to a halt, all indicated there would be a decline in filings. However, just the opposite has happened.
One of the factors for this spike in filings may lie in the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYC ECC). Changes to the code took effect on May 12, and some developers filed to get their applications in before then, insiders said. Local Law 048 of 2020 (Intro No. 1816-A) requires that the construction of new buildings, additions, and alterations will meet the 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. The law requires all projects filed on or after May 12 to adhere to the stricter regulations.
The code will mandate that new construction projects, as well as large renovations, will be more sustainable and energy efficient. The code requires higher quality walls and windows to improve the building’s thermal envelope, improve insulation of balconies and parapets, and a variety of additional requirements.
Gary Marcus, a vice president at AKRF, an environmental, planning and engineering firm in the city, said, “Upcoming changes to the New York City Energy Conservation Code taking effect on May 12, 2020, are likely driving property owners to file their projects under the existing standards. I am involved with two such projects motivated by this filing deadline.”
Another NYC developer, who asked not to be identified, added, “I think the NYC ECC change made a big difference in filings.” This developer noted the firm had filed a project last week to get it in under the prior energy standards.
Gary Marcus also added that, “Government directives on what constitutes essential services and construction are also a likely factor, including affordable housing and schools.”
For construction projects that were allowed to continue, New York’s stay-at-home order may have served as an incentive to get projects moving while others could not. The New York City School Construction Authority filed for a number of new schools with more than 490K square feet of new construction in April and an additional 520K square feet through the first eight days of May. The NYC SCA did not respond to a request for comment.
Not all new development was reacting to the new law. For example, Adam Gordon, president at Wildflower Ltd. said his large, 750,000-square-foot Astoria production studio project, which filed for a new building permit recently, did so as part of a longer time horizon.
“I can only address my company and not the larger marketplace. Our projects have a total development timeline of two to five years. Development timelines were set at the inception of the project and April filings may have been targeted [one to two] years prior.”