SUTTON PLACE, NY — In the eyes of ambitious real estate developers, the small residential neighborhood of Sutton Place — spanning East 52nd to 59th streets East of First Avenue — is an opportunity for uninhibited construction. But for neighborhood residents Sutton Place is home, and they're fighting to keep it that way.
Due to outdated R10 zoning regulations, in place since the 1960s, there is no current height limit for developments in Sutton Place. The zoning was normal at the time, but now serves as a loophole that threatens the fabric of the quaint neighborhood, Lisa Mercurio of the East River 50s Alliance told Patch
"We believe strongly that planners in 1961 never had buildings of 700, 800 or 900 feet in mind," Mercurio told Patch. "It would have been science fiction in the engineering of the times."
The threat became all too real for the neighborhood when developer Joseph Beninati's Bauhouse Group scooped up a three-building site on East 58th Street and planned to build a 950-foot residential tower, more than double the height of the tallest existing building int he neighborhood. Out-of-context buildings, especially those built on one-way side streets, would dramatically alter the quality of life in the small neighborhood for the worse, Mercurio told Patch.
Then the neighborhood decided to take action into its own hands.
Late last year the East River 50s Alliance submitted a rezoning plan to the Department of City Planning that would cap building height at 260 feet in Sutton Place and convert the area into an Inclusionary Housing Designated Area, Mercurio told Patch.
The plan would preserve the context of the neighborhood while advancing Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing agenda, Mercurio said. Four local elected officials — City Councilman Daniel Garodnick and Ben Kallos, State Senator Liz Kreuger and Borough President Gale Brewer — co-signed the rezoning application.
"We never said don’t build here, we said build it right," Mercurio told Patch. "And that does not mean a megatower."
Check out renderings detailing the rezoning's effect on the neighborhood below:
Rezoning initiatives are typically pushed by the city, not groups of residents. But Sutton Place's unique problem required a unique solution, Mercurio told Patch. Large numbers of neighborhood residents came together to spread word about the rezoning effort, canvass the neighborhood for petition signatures and contribute money toward researching solutions.
The Department of City Planning is expected to certify the application sometime in the next two weeks, which would start the official public review process for the application. The certification process has taken longer than anticipated, Mercurio told Patch, but the East River 50s Alliance doing everything it can to "dot the Is and cross the Ts."
"To New York and to the coalition that is fighting for their quality of life, we need to show the people matter," Mercurio told Patch. " We need to know that New York cares for the quality of life for the people who live here."
Photo of building site in 2014 via Google Maps street view.