Kallos, Garodnick, Brewer, Krueger and East River Fifties Alliance Announce Community-Generated Zoning Proposal to Stop Super Scrapers and Create Affordable Housing in Residential Neighborhood

01/21/2016

The most sweeping residential re-zoning plan by a community group in New York City history was filed today by a neighborhood coalition lead by Council Members Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick, and joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger and the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), who are all co-applicants to the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan for the Manhattan area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue, would restrict supertowers and over-development in the neighborhood with a contextual height cap of up to 260 feet, incentives for schools, and a requirement for mandatory inclusionary housing.

"We are drawing a line on the march of superscrapers at billionaire's row to protect our city's residential neighborhoods," said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood and is a plan applicant. "The outdated zoning laws developers currently use for self-enrichment will be updated to protect residential neighborhoods from over-development. The East River Fifties Alliance has proposed a rare community application to rezone a neighborhood, making it impossible to build superscrapers 'as of right.' They have risen to the challenge of winning support from elected officials, the community board, buildings and residents to bring an application to rezone and save the neighborhood."

The re-zoning proposal was sparked by the out-of-scale 1,000 foot megatower proposed by the Bauhouse Group on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. That proposed tower would exploit the loopholes in the 1960’s era zoning designation that still dictates construction on in the Far East Fifties, and which sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings, despite new technologies that allow for super-tall, skinny towers.

Community members and Council Member Kallos acted fast in response to the proposed Bauhouse tower. After the Our Town newspaper covered the Bauhouse plan on April 7, Council Member Kallos published an opinion editorial in opposition to the out-of-scale tower, and circulated a petition opposing superscrapers in residential neighborhoods. Community Board 6 passed a resolution calling for height caps in the neighborhood which was sent to the Department of City Planning for consideration on May 13, within 45 days of the news.

Over the following months, Kallos visited buildings throughout the neighborhood and spoke with residents about what they could do, including making donations to the newly formed ERFA. In August, The New York Times covered ERFA and Kallos’ efforts against the tower and highlighted the story of Herndon Werth, a rent-stabilized tenant refusing to sell his apartment to the Bauhouse Group in order to save his home and the neighborhood.

The new zoning proposal, which was carefully written and overseen by prominent urban planners, Douglas Woodward and Sandy Hornick, and environmental and land use counsel, Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, would create an entirely new zoning district. “The proposed new zoning district would protect community character by limiting height, encouraging contextual residential development, and promoting affordable housing. The details of the district will be worked out with the Department of City Planning over the next few months, but we are pleased to be part of this groundbreaking, community-led initiative,” said Chris Rizzo, a partner in the law firm and counsel for ERFA.

“This is an historic day,” said Alan Kersh, President of ERFA, a coalition of residents, community organizations, condominiums and co-ops in the East River Fifties neighborhood. “Our ‘people’s plan’ is one of the largest and most comprehensive re-zoning proposals put together by a community in the City’s history. It’s also the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component. We’ve worked hard to create a plan that will not only maintain the character of our own neighborhood, but will potentially serve as a template for other communities too.”

“We support the efforts of the East River 50’s Alliance to develop a community-driven neighborhood rezoning plan that provides for smart development and affordable housing, while at the same time preserving neighborhood character.  We look forward to an inclusive process with feedback from the broader community to help shape the details of this plan and urge the Department of City Planning to work with them in achieving these goals,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, one of the applicants of the plan.

"Today we say enough is enough with mega supertowers that are wildly inconsistent with the surrounding area. 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," said Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is one of the co-applicants.

"The people of this community don’t want unbridled and inappropriate development that overwhelms our infrastructure and drastically alters the character of our neighborhoods. In fact, most New Yorkers agree the explosion of new super towers filled with empty apartments only billionaires can afford is harming our city's future. This zoning plan is truly a grassroots effort in community-based planning. It lays a foundation for rational growth and allows the affordable housing we desperately need. I am proud to join Council Member Kallos and the East Fifties community as a co-applicant on this ‘people’s’ zoning proposal," said State Senator Liz Krueger, another of the plan’s applicants.

"I’ve lived in the Sutton neighborhood for 30 years. I love that it has the warm feel of a small town and is comfortable for a diversity of people. I’ve heard about changes occurring in other places that destroy their neighborhood ambience and their sense of uniqueness as communities. I was worried that the same thing could happen here. I’m happy that the East River Fifties Alliance has come up with a re-zoning plan that will help keep our neighborhood livable and includes affordable housing," said Jessica Osborn, Vice President of ERFA.

In addition to Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and State Senator Liz Krueger, all of whom signed on to the proposal, ERFA’s efforts are endorsed by such civic groups as the Municipal Art Society, CIVITAS the Sutton Area Community, Inc., Friends of the Upper East Side Historical Districts, and Turtle Bay Association, as well as Community Board 6, and other elected officials, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Dan Quart.

Now that ERFA’s proposal has been formally submitted to the Department of City Planning, it enters a phase called “pre-ULURP,” followed by the ULURP process. ULURP is the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a standardized procedure whereby applications affecting City land use is publicly reviewed. This procedure is intended to solicit public input from the broadest possible range of people and includes review by community members, Community Board 6, the Borough President, City Planning Commission, City Council, and the Mayor.

“Many neighborhoods in New York are still governed by zoning rules that are three decades or more out of date—rules that could never have anticipated the technological feats or market forces that have given rise to this new era of supertall towers,” said Mary Rowe, Executive Vice President of the Municipal Art Society of New York. “This plan creates a model for engaged citizens to be part of shaping the new rules for New York: we shouldn’t have to settle for an ‘Accidental Skyline.’”

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