Developers have learned to game New York City's zoning laws to construct buildings far larger than the plain meaning of those laws should allow:
Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.
As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy.
New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories.
Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights.
If you think this through, however, these developments still go through the zoning board. So yes, the legal interpretations twist the law into painful shapes for the sake of bragging rights, but also a city agency lets them do it.
This reminds me of one of Chicago's ugliest buildings, at 2314 N. Lincoln Park West, which juts out from the rest of the buildings on the block (some of them historic) and looks like someone measured wrong. I haven't confirmed this, but I think the error was measured in thousands of dollars, and involved an alderman or two.
No, I haven't forgotten about my favorite food festival of the year. For the last 10 years, Ribfest has been the second weekend of June. This year it's the third weekend of June. I've no idea why.
Next weekend, then, I'm going to visit all three days and sample all 12 rib vendors. Already bought my ticket.
Parker, alas, will not come with me this year. He doesn't like to walk very far now that he's pushing 13. Even though Ribfest is less than 3 km away, that's about twice as far as he wants to walk under the best circumstances. But next Sunday is his birthday, so he might just get a bit of grilled meat anyway.
If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:
Time to go outside...
I'm participating tomorrow in a concert at St John Cantius church in the River West neighborhood. The concert, sponsored by the French consulate, will raise money for the repairs to Notre Dame de Paris. Our local NBC affiliate ran a story about it Wednesday.
The concert starts at 8pm, and will feature the music of Vierne, Fauré, and other French composers.
The former owner of Chicago restaurant Embeya has returned to the city to face charges he misappropriated $300,000 of the restaurant's money:
Attila Gyulai hasn’t been seen in Chicago since traveling overseas in 2016 shortly after shuttering Embeya — then one of the city's most illustrious restaurants. At the time, Gyulai blamed family obligations and the demands of running a restaurant.
But his partners, Thai and Danielle Dang, filed a lawsuit alleging he had been looting the business. And more than a year and a half later, federal prosecutors charged Gyulai with wire fraud, alleging he had misappropriated at least $300,000 “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”
Gyulai was arrested in late December in Valencia, Spain, where he’d traveled from Ecuador on a 10-day vacation. He waived extradition in March and was finally brought back to the U.S. to face the charges this month, court records show.
An upscale Vietnamese restaurant on the highly competitive Randolph Row, Embeya opened in 2012 to praise for polished cooking by chef Thai Dang and the artfully designed dining room.
Yet the charges alleged that Gyulai, who with his wife owned 56.5 percent of the restaurant and handled the finances, was engaged in fraud from as early as August 2011 to just after Embeya closed.
When the Dangs raised concerns about how the restaurant was being managed, Gyulai fired them and brought in a new chef.
The Dangs prevailed in two court cases against Gyulai, one for $90,000 in unpaid wages and another for breach-of-fiduciary duty among other claims, winning a $1.4 million default judgment in May 2017, according to a previous Tribune report.
I guess $300,000 doesn't go as far as it used to. Maybe he's just done running? Or maybe he forgot Spain and the US cooperate on law enforcement?
The Illinois legislature has passed a bill legalizing small amounts of recreational marijuana and directing the governor to pardon thousands of low-level drug offenders:
Illinois is poised to be the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
The state House of Representatives approved its legalization bill 66-47 on Friday. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on legalizing cannabis, quickly released a statement saying he’ll sign the legislation.
“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” said State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “What is before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively, deliberatively, thoughtfully with an eye toward repairing the harm of the war on drugs.”
The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess and use marijuana recreationally starting next year. They’d be able to buy the drug at dispensaries that must undergo a rigorous state licensing process.
One big component of the bill would create a pathway for people with past marijuana convictions to have those wiped out. Anyone convicted of selling up to 30 grams of cannabis could gain executive clemency through the governor.
For convictions linked to the sale of larger amounts up to 500 grams, a state’s attorney or individuals could petition the court to have those criminal records vacated and expunged.
The law will take effect January 1st. However, marijuana still remains illegal in the United States, so Federal authorities could still arrest and prosecute users, just as they can in the other 10 legal states.
Expungements and pardons could affect up to 800,000 people in the state.
That garnered key support for the bill in communities hit hardest by the "war on drugs."
The Tribune reports that today ends Chicago's second-wettest spring ever, the wettest May ever, and the only second month in recorded history (out of 1,770 months) to have 21 days of precipitation. This might become the new normal: 9 of the last 10 Mays have had above-average precipitation.
Lake Michigan, the inland sea ten blocks from where I'm sitting, has near-record water levels:
Lake Ontario, downstream, has swelled by almost a meter in the last two months to all-time record levels:
So not only has all this rain has caused massive flooding in rivers throughout the Midwest, but the high lake levels prevent rivers from draining and have accelerated wetland erosion along the shore.
Another thing: all this fresh water drains out through the St Lawrence Seaway right into the North Atlantic. Combined with meltwater coming off Greenland, that surge of lighter, fresher water is slowing the thermohaline circulation that brings warmth to Northern Europe. So as most of the world gets warmer, Europe could get a lot colder in the next century.
Said any climate scientist ever interviewed this past year, "We told you so 30 years ago."
As Chicago finishes the wettest May in history, Bloomberg points out that all the rain has caused serious problems with Illinois agriculture:
Rabobank is predicting an unprecedented number of unplanted acres of corn, the most widely grown American crop. A Bloomberg survey of 10 traders and analysts indicates growers could file insurance claims for about 6 million corn acres they haven’t been able to sow, almost double the record in 2013.
Corn futures surged more than 20% to a three-year high over the past few weeks on fears farmers wouldn’t be able to get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines. So-called prevented plant claims reached 3.6 million acres in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
Two made the news this week. First, Lampert has sued Sears (which he owns) for not conveying property that his investment firm bought from the doomed retailer:
Lampert's Transform is accusing the Sears estate, a bankrupt shell entity that is winding down under court supervision, of multiple wrongs including breaking the agreement by holding on to the chain's headquarters in Illinois. The estate is also intentionally delaying payments to vendors and trying to shift $166 million in accounts payable costs, according to the Transform complaint filed on Saturday.
The allegations mirror those made in court filings from Transform earlier this year. The Sears estate also sued Lampert, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others last month, claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, in another case, Lampert filed court documents in which he threatens not to pay $43m in severance payments he promised to make:
Lampert also denied that he is responsible for making some payments to creditors he says Sears Holdings is trying to force him to pay, according to the filing. Sears Holdings is the bankrupt remnants of the old Sears. It exists only to settle claims against it involving its few remaining assets.
Lampert had previously agreed to pay the severance to workers who lost their jobs before and during Sears' bankruptcy. Creditors objected to Sears paying severance to people laid off before the bankruptcy, so those workers never received an exit package.
Lampert's attorneys told the bankruptcy court that Lampert and his hedge fund ESL were the best owners to help workers who lost their jobs in various rounds of store closings.
But in the latest court documents, ESL said it wouldn't make the severance payments because Sears didn't give the hedge fund all of the assets it spelled out in ESL and Lampert's agreement to buy Sears. That included the amount of store inventory originally promised by Sears, as well as the company's headquarters in suburban Chicago.
Wow, he really wants to win Worst CEO of the Century, doesn't he? And remember, Lampert never cared about Sears as a going entity; he has always and only wanted the land Sears owns. What a schmuck.
Just a few things in the news:
And hey, summer begins in three days.