Fun While It Lasted: Developers Figure Out How to Skirt On-Site Rendering Rules

520 Park AvenueOn-site sharpied-on "rendering" for 520 Park Avenue

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Local Law 47 of 2013, which simplified construction signage and, relevantly for construction watchers, required builders for the first time to post visual depictions of their projects on construction fences.

The new rule has been a boon to sites like YIMBY and Curbed, and to anyone curious about what exactly is being built in their neighborhood. Before the law, interested parties had to either hope the developer would release a rendering of their project, or navigate the Department of Buildings website to find a vague black-and-white massing diagram.

But it might not last long. While the rule is still on the books and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, developers and their PR people seem to be realizing that the law does not actually require them to post a full color rendering. Instead, it calls for “a rendering, elevation drawing, or zoning diagram.”

While elevation and zoning diagrams are better than nothing, they fall way short of a full rendering in terms of depicting what a building will look like. A two-dimensional elevation drawing lacks color and says little to nothing about a building’s materials; a zoning diagram at least gives you three dimensions, but little else.

But renderings are valuable to developers, since their initial release can be traded away by press people in exchange for all-important coverage in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. As a result, at least one PR firm in the city is now advising their clients to post less descriptive zoning diagrams and elevation drawings, rather than full renderings, writing in an email to YIMBY:

In the early days of the “new rules” most people weren’t thinking strategically about the image getting posted on the DOB signage, they were just tossing something up there to comply with the rules. But as most of us know about this new media age, nothing exists in a vacuum.

So we were seeing a lot of early, outdated architectural renderings, ones not meant to be final marketing renderings, getting posted without anyone thinking about the larger impact of these being the first images of projects published by websites like YIMBY, Curbed, etc. And there’s no control over the environment, so we’re talking about the possibility of a tipster’s shaky photo of a graffiti-covered outdated rendering being a building’s introduction to the world. Not ideal.

So we were quick to advise clients on the leeway granted by the new rules, and to be a little bit more cagey about what imagery to put up on the DOB signage – therefore preserving the “reveal” for a more advantageous time and medium. Sorry about that, YIMBY snoops!

Requiring everyone to post renderings might be onerous – plenty of small builders, for example, never even produce full color renderings for marketing purposes. But if the city wants to ensure transparency with its construction projects, it should revise the law to require full color renderings wherever possible, and not allow developers to get away with posting an unhelpful elevation drawing just so that they can save their big reveal for the Times.

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