Ten Foot Lot Approved by City for Skyscraper Faces Zoning Challenge by Neighborhood and Elected Officials Kallos, Krueger and Brewer

12/15/2016

New York, NY — The Department of Building has just approved new zoning plans for a 524-foot skyscraper at 180 East 88th Street with the expansion of a 4-foot wide lot at the center of a six-month stop work order by 6 feet to 10 feet. Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Council Member Ben Kallos, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have filed with the Department of Buildings an official zoning challenge. 

“If it appears that indeed this tiny, unbuildable lot was created to circumvent the zoning law and allow a taller building to be built, then this should be corrected,” said Lo van der Valk, President of Carnegie Hill Neighbors, which commissioned a memorandum investigating this development that Council Member Kallos relied upon. “We are grateful that Councilman Ben Kallos, State Senator Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Brewer are paying attention to this matter.  In these times of extraordinarily tall building construction, it is essential that our City agencies get it right.”

“Six feet doesn’t make a difference. An unbuildable ten-foot lot must not give rise to an illegal 524-foot skyscraper,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Zoning laws were created to protect our residents from overdevelopment and must not be eroded by creating new loopholes. Thank you to Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Senator Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Brewer for their partnership in protecting our city’s zoning law.”

“It’s unbelievable. This developer’s response to getting caught with its hand in the cookie jar is to just reach for the cookie again,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “This developer is trying to pretend this lot doesn’t have frontage on 88th Street and isn’t subject to 88th Street's zoning rules. Nobody’s fooled, and we’re not going to let them ignore this neighborhood’s zoning and illegally build a tower halfway to the moon.”

“The idea that illegally slicing off a tiny sliver lot should enable a developer to completely ignore zoning requirements is simply outrageous. The Department of Buildings must reject this dangerous precedent. We’re already living in the Wild West when it comes to development in Manhattan – ignoring what rules we do have in place is a recipe for chaos. I thank Carnegie Hill Neighbors and my elected colleagues for standing up for rational urban planning,” said State Senator Liz Krueger.

As of October 27, 2016, the Department of Buildings has issued a permit for the “ENTIRE JOB/WORK” per the Department of Building’s website, following the filing of an Amended Zoning Diagram dated October 19, 2016 by H. Thomas O’Hara, HTO Architect, PLLC. There had been a Stop Work Order in place since May 25, 2016, which followed a letter sent May 16, 2016 to Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler from Council Member Kallos and Manhattan Borough President Brewer which requested an immediate stop work order, arguing that since the applicant owns both the development site and the tiny 4-foot lot, the development does indeed front 88th Street and thus requires a contextual street wall and, as a consequence, a shorter building.

A formal zoning challenge has been filed jointly by Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Council Member Ben Kallos, State Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn, with technical support from George M. Janes & Associates. The zoning challenge notes:

  • A 6-foot increase from 4 feet to 10 feet still leaves an unbuildable lot;
  • Ownership of the development site and the unbuildable lot still remains in common, leaving both lots to be treated as one under the zoning law;
  • A 10-foot unbuildable lot is still three times smaller than the 30 foot lot approved earlier by Department of Buildings (see below);
  • The open space in front of the proposed building at 88th Street is classified by the applicant as a “rear yard” even though it is in front of the building entrance, which is contrary to New York State law; and
  • Approval was granted for a 10-foot wide lot, despite the lot still being described as 4 feet wide according to public records.

Under city zoning laws for the area, skyscraper towers are not permitted on Third Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets, and, instead, only tower-on-a-base buildings are allowed, with the requirement that 55% of the floor area must be placed below the height of 150 feet and that a base between 60 and 85 feet extends continuously around the street wall, effectively limiting the height of the building. By carving out the small lot, the building avoids the requirement for a base at 88th Street. The size of the small lot varied over time. The Department of Buildings’ original determination from March 27, 2014 approved a 30 foot deep lot nearly 8 times larger than the original 4 foot and 3 times the current 10 foot deep lot.

The Department of Buildings zoning challenge process must be filed within 45 days of the filing of the zoning diagram by the developer. This challenge process does not materially stall construction, and allows an additional appeal by the developer to the Commissioner or the Board of Standards and Appeals within 15 or 30 days of the DOB decision, respectively. The Department of Buildings typically responds within 75 days. All rulings are subject to further appeals in the courts.

The property is being developed by DDG Partners, with lots at 1556 and 1558 Third Avenue and 180 East 88th Street. YIMBY reports that this building, at 524 feet for 31 stories and 16 feet per story, would be the tallest skyscraper on the Upper East Side north of 72nd Street. $47.5 million in financing was obtained for this project from an entity or entities shielded from public scrutiny, with an entity known as “Manufacturers and Traders Company” acting as the “administrative agent” for the mortgage. Units, starting as small as 1,725 square feet for a 2 bedroom apartment on the third floor, are listed at a price range of $3.2 million to $15.5 million.

“The capitulation of the building department to the developer’s pressure is very disappointing.” said George M. Janes founder of George M. Janes & Associates. “There are many zoning requirements that are triggered by fronting on a street. Here, in effect, City officials are saying: ‘Don’t want to follow one of those zoning requirements? Just lop off a portion of your lot, and you can ignore it.’  If this stands, we’re going to see this technique used over and over again.”

“Yet again, we see Zoning Resolution being squeezed and extorted for every last ounce of benefit to the developer. The creation of an unbuildable 10-foot lot with no logical purpose other than to circumvent the city’s zoning rules creates a dangerous precedent, and legitimizes the exploitation of another loophole for the construction of supertall towers in our neighborhood,” said Rachel Levy, Executive Director of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. “It is the job of the Buildings Department to enforce the zoning code in the interest of the public good, and we are grateful to our neighborhood partners and elected officials in bringing this disingenuous scheme to light.”

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