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How to Game the Zoning Codes to Build Supertall Skyscrapers

Three supertall New York City skyscrapers reveal just how creative lawyers can be in gaming the city’s zoning codes.
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.
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.Mary Altaffer/AP

Manipulating the intricate zoning code of New York City has long been a badge of honor among a small cadre of developers.

In 1993 developer Laurence Ginsberg was required to lop 12 floors from a 31-story tower on Manhattan’s Upper East Side after he conveniently failed to notice that a height limit applied to his property. For a project called Trump City, the real estate mogul who is now President claimed development rights on a site near Lincoln Center that was partially under the Hudson River. The submerged area would have contributed as much as 4.5 million developable square feet to a massive project that contemplated a 150-story tower and 13 other skyscrapers.