Our Town A Tall-Building Cap on the U.E.S. by Daniel Fitzsimmons
Officials on the East Side introduced a zoning plan that would cap building heights in a seven-block stretch around the Sutton Place neighborhood at 260 feet, a plan that was formed in reaction to a luxury skyscraper development currently in the works that would rise 900 feet over East 58th Street and the surrounding community.
If passed, the new zone would cover East 52nd Street to East 59th Street from First Avenue to the East River. The plan is a direct response, said Councilmember Ben Kallos, to a skyscraper currently in development on East 59th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. The development, which was first reported by this newspaper last April, is as-of-right and is being driven by the Bauhouse Group.
A new community group called East River Fifties Alliance, comprised of elected officials, local residents and condo and co-op boards, is spearheading the zoning plan, which was submitted to the Dept. of City Planning Jan. 21. According to ERFA, which incorporated recently as a non-profit, Sutton Place is one of two residential neighborhoods in New York City that is subject to “an outdated, 1960s era R10 zoning designation, which sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings.”
Buildings in the zone would be capped at 260 feet, or about 25 stories. The plan would also require 25 percent of new units in the zone to be affordable.
Members of ERFA include State Senator Liz Krueger and councilmembers Kallos and Dan Garodnick, who are co-applicants on the zoning proposal sent to city planning.
“Today we say enough is enough with mega supertowers that are wildly inconsistent with the surrounding area,” Garodnick said. “The community is striking back with a thoughtful plan that can serve as a model for future contextual rezoning efforts, and it deserves the Department of City Planning’s serious and careful attention.”
The Bauhouse Group, through a spokesperson, indicated it is unconcerned about the proposed zoning change.
“We are moving forward with our project on an as-of-right basis and have already begun demolition,” said the company in a statement. “Our project will be nearing completion by the time any rezoning would be heard.”
Kallos, however, said the process of rezoning a neighborhood, which can take as long as 18 months, can be shortened due to the support this particular proposal has in the city council. Both Garodnick and Kallos will be voting in favor of the plan, and votes in the city council typically sway towards the wishes of the city council member or members in whose district a project or proposal is located.
“We’re expecting broad support in the body,” said Kallos in an interview. “I’m hoping to see a neighborhood rezoning in the next couple months.”
Kallos said progress now rests on how quickly they can get the Dept. of City Planning to certify the application. “That’s the only thing standing in the way,” he said.
After that, the proposal would be subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a public review process that gathers input from community residents, the local community board (CB6 in this case), and elected officials. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has indicated her support for the zoning proposal.
According to Kallos, Bauhouse has to demolish by hand three buildings it bought at 428- 432 East 58th Street, which form the job site, due to concerns from Charles Fernandez, a resident of 426 East 58th Street, that the work would damage his home. Kallos added that anything the developer does during construction that affects Fernandez’s building, which sits flush to 428 East 58th Street, would trigger a stop work order from the Dept. of Buildings.
In addition, Kallos said, Bauhouse is still seeking investors to fund the project and even after the demolition is complete, the developer must dig a foundation that would support a building of that size and pour it.
“And all of this somehow as the economy stays strong, funding doesn’t dry up and there’s somebody that wants to buy in a neighborhood that doesn’t want them,” he added.
The Bauhouse Group’s spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions regarding the obstacles laid out by Kallos.
More information on the East River Fifties Alliance can be found at www.eastriverfiftiesalliance.com.