Land Use Updates
The group attending the ground breaking ceremony include NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Councilman Ben Kallos, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Community Board 8 Chair Jim Clynes.
The $15 million reconstruction project will target three sites along the East River Esplanade seawall — East 88th to 90th streets, East 114th to 117th streets and East 124th to 125th streets — according to the city. In May, a portion of the seawall at East 88th Street collapsed, sending concrete blocks into the river.
“New Yorkers are exhausted by overdevelopment,” city councilman Ben Kallos, a leading opponent of the tall tower, tells the New York Times. “This is about standing up and showing the city that there’s another way to do things.”
Jon Kalikow, the president of Gamma Real Estate, says it would be a “disastrous outcome” if the city were to adopt the rezoning proposal.
“This building could dramatically change the character of our neighborhood,” says Alan Kersh, founding president of the East River Fifties Alliance, which opposes Gamma’s proposed tower and has more than 2,000 supporters, including 45 nearby co-ops and condominiums. Kersh lives across the street from the construction site in a 47-story building called the Sovereign.
A zoning debate in Manhattan's Sutton Place may seem like just another posh neighborhood telling a developer its project is not welcome.
But City Hall is listening for a bellwether in the bickering.
A zoning proposal put forward by residents of the neighborhood may force Mayor Bill de Blasio to finally have to reckon with a much-criticized affordable housing program he pledged to examine 15 months ago, experts said.
Near the beginning of 2017, Gamma Real Estate filed plans for a co-op on Sutton Place. Some nearby residents said the project, which is now slated to be nearly 800 feet high, would tower over the neighborhood and change its character.
“New Yorkers are exhausted by overdevelopment,” said Ben Kallos, the city councilman who represents the area and a leading opponent of the tall tower. “This is about standing up and showing the city that there’s another way to do things.”
Critics of the project say that supertall towers in residential areas tend to overwhelm the neighborhood and displace less wealthy residents. Still, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, rezoned large sections of the city for ever taller buildings.
The zoning change, which was proposed by Mr. Kallos and other elected officials as well as neighborhood residents, has been in the works for two years. The proposed rezoning was recently approved by the Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer, and unanimously endorsed by the local community board. Mr. Kallos hopes that the City Council will approve the proposal after the city’s Planning Department holds a public hearing on the matter in August.
Last month, Kallos wrote to the department questioning the use of “public safety” to justify the after-hours permits. None of the work cited — including excavation and pouring concrete — “should qualify for ‘public safety,’” Kallos wrote.
Not at all coincidentally, Gamma Real Estate is in the process of building what could become a 700-foot skyscraper at 3 Sutton Place. The proposed development, which has been in the works for some time now (first as a 900-foot tower developed by Baohaus Group, then in its current form), has raised the hackles of community members and elected officials alike. Just last week, Manhattan Community Board 6 gave its approval to the rezoning resolution, and city officials like borough president Gale Brewer and City Council member Ben Kallos have voiced their support.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, the Municipal Art Society is also coming out in favor of building height caps. The society’s president, Elizabeth Goldstein, told the Journal that the ERFA is doing “something which is really unusual and kind of amazing.” MAS, you’ll recall, has pushed for more oversight of as-of-right development before, and has been one of the loudest voices against the “accidental skyline” created by Central Park’s supertall boom.
Councilmember Kallos said, "This is victory for thousands of residents from hundreds of buildings in and out of the neighborhood who have organized a grassroots application that would use height as an incentive to include affordable housing in any new building. Thank you to Community Board 6 for their support every step of the way and unanimously passing this rezoning. Now we look to the Mayor and City Planning to choose affordable housing over buildings for billionaires."
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council members Daniel Garodnick and Ben Kallos, and State Senator Liz Krueger were all co-applicants on this zoning change proposal, and hailed the community board’s decision as a first victory.
“This is victory for thousands of residents from hundreds of buildings in and out of the neighborhood who have organized a grassroots application that would use height as an incentive to include affordable housing in any new building,” Kallos said in a statement.
Community Board 6 will now provide its comments to the City Planning Commission, as will the Manhattan Borough President’s office. The Planning Commission and the City Council will then seal the fate of this zoning change proposal.
Gamma declined to issue Curbed a comment, but Gamma president Jonathan Kalikow said the following to Real Estate Weekly:
SUTTON PLACE, NY — A plan to cap how how buildings can be in the Sutton Place neighborhood — a small residential area sandwiched between the Upper East Side and Midtown East — has cleared a hurdle. Manhattan Community Board 6 voted unanimously Tuesday night to support the application, filed by neighborhood resident group the East River Fifties Association.
“We have been working with the Department of City Planning for almost two years in order to get this far, Alan Kersh, president of the East River Fifties Association, said in a statement.
"Now, we are more energized than ever. We hope to move this initiative to completion with a ‘yes’ vote from the City Planning Commission and then final approval from the full City Council."
The next step for the rezoning proposal is a ruling by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who has previously announced support for the application.
The East River Fifties Alliance plan would cap new developments — built within the confines of East 52nd to 59th streets East of First Avenue — at 260 feet tall. Additionally, developers would be required to set aside 20 percent of their building's residential units at below market rate prices in exchange for bonus Floor Area Ratio (the amount legally allowed square footage in relation to the size of the building lot).
The alliance submitted their proposal to the Department of City Planning over fears that Sutton Place's relaxed and outdated zoning regulations would make the area a ripe target for extremely tall "Megatowers."
But rezoning advocates shouldn't be over the over the moon about the Community Board approval. Both the Community Board and the Borough President's rulings are considered advisory votes in the public review process, Department of City Planning staffers told Patch. The plan still needs to be approved by City Planning and the City Council.
It does have supporters in the City Council including local representative Ben Kallos, who celebrated Tuesday night's vote.
"This is victory for thousands of residents from hundreds of buildings in and out of the neighborhood who have organized a grassroots application that would use height as an incentive to include affordable housing in any new building," Kallos said in a statement.
"I think every New Yorker is tired of super tall towers going in that have no place in residential neighborhoods, and for the first time residents have banded together and fought back," Manhattan City Councilman Ben Kallos said.
As City Councilman Ben Kallos greeted constituents during an Easter egg hunt in Sutton Place Park two years ago, a resident approached him to discuss a less benign matter: Word had spread that a developer intended to build a luxury skyscraper on nearby East 58th Street.
He handed Kallos a nine-page packet of marketing materials prepared by Cushman & Wakefield.
"The Sutton Place Development is an ultra-luxury, as of right, ground up opportunity which will reach over 900 feet tall," the brochure boasted. It predicted the tower would be "an obvious choice for local and foreign buyers."
The councilman immediately notified the neighborhood paper, attended co-op board meetings and informed the local community board, which passed a resolution raising concerns about the plan.
And so began an unusual land use dispute that has outlived the previous developer, spanned two city planning commissioners and pitted a well-funded community group, East River Fifties Alliance, against the new developer and Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration.
"After 40 years we are opening indoor tennis to the public this summer. For a $100 annual tennis pass from NYC Parks, you can play tennis on air-conditioned indoor courts all summer long that would normally cost as much as $225 an hour. Now it is up to the public to show such high demand for these courts that we have to expand the program," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Thank you to Commissioner Mitchell Silver and NYC Parks for working with Eastside elected officials to open indoor tennis to the public this summer as we continue our work to expand parks space in the district."
SUTTON PLACE — Locals' bid for a zoning change to block super-tall skyscrapers in Sutton Place is undergoing formal public review after a year-and-a-half of planning — but city officials are concerned it could discourage affordable housing in the area.
On Monday, the City Planning Commission began its review of the zoning proposal, which would ban any commercial development between East 52nd and 59th streets east of First Avenue, except for “community uses” such as medical offices and day care centers. It would also impose a height cap limiting any new development to 260 feet, and mandate that 13 percent of any new development be dedicated to below-market-rate housing in exchange for bonus Floor Area Ratio (FAR).
Residents of 45 buildings totaling more than 2,000 individuals have supported the zoning plan, elected officials said.
"The community has won a major victory with the certification of our rezoning proposal to stop the march of super-scrapers and build more affordable housing in residential neighborhoods," said Councilman Ben Kallos, who supports the proposal with other local elected officials. "While I am disappointed with how long it took to certify, it is better late than never."
Robert Shepler, co-chairman of the The East River 50s Alliance Leadership Committee, which is behind the effort, said that developers in Sutton Place are not required to contribute to the city’s affordable housing goals.
"Nor do supertalls do much to address the City’s need for additional market rate units because they produce fewer apartments — often for absentee owners — than more modestly scaled buildings with comparable square footage," he said.
"The community has won a major victory with the certification of our rezoning proposal to stop the march of super-scrapers and build more affordable housing in residential neighborhoods. While I am disappointed with how long it took to certify, it is better late than never," said Council Member Ben Kallos.
He added, "Thank you to residents of 45 buildings and over 2,000 individual supporters from the neighborhood who have brought the first of its kind grassroots community rezoning to be certified that I am proud to support. Now the rezoning can go to Community Board 6 for a quick approval since they had sought this rezoning to begin with. Then it’s back to City Planning for what we hope will be a vote in favor of protecting residential neighborhoods from super-scrapers, protecting seniors like Herndon Werth and Charles Fernandez living in rent stabilized housing from displacement for billionaires and to actually building affordable housing in the East 50s.”
Variance-seeking developers will be affected by one of the laws, which Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) introduced. In their BSA applications, they will have to demonstrate that the situation is a unique one in the neighborhood. And if they lie on their application, they face a civil penalty of up to $15,000.
Kallos introduced four other bills signed by de Blasio that affect staffing at the BSA and aim to make it more transparent.
One of the former requires the Department of City Planning to appoint a coordinator who testifies in defense of existing zoning rules to the BSA; the testimony will be accessible on the internet. The other mandates that a New York State-certified real estate appraiser be available to consult with or work for the BSA to analyze and review real estate financials that developers provide.
The transparency measures dictate that the locations for all sites for which special permits and variances were approved by the BSA since 1998 be viewable as a layer and list on an interactive New York City map. The second law requires the BSA to biannually report the average length of time it takes to make a decision on an application; the total number of applications; how many were approved and denied and the number of pre-application meeting requests.
"I attended these meetings and we weren't allowed to say 'no,'" Holmes resident and Community Voices Heard member Lakesha Taylor said. "We were given choices with no answers. What is this really for? You're not even fulfilling your deficit. We're getting darkness, we're getting dust...for a building [that] will be 50/50."
Roughly $40 million in repairs are needed at Holmes Towers alone, officials said.
"The city is losing money on this deal," Kallos said, explaining that the city will only rake in $25 million from the development, while it plans to give Fetner $13 million toward the building's construction and lose millions of dollars in unpaid taxes as part of the building's 99-year lease.
The politicians attending Tuesday's rally agreed. A number of local representatives — Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Ben Kallos, State Senators Liz Krueger and Jose Serrano and State Assemblymembers Dan Quart and Robert Rodriguez — submitted a letter to NYCHA containing more than 30 questions about the plan.
"Funding for NYCHA repairs should not come on the backs of NYCHA residents, especially children who will be losing their light, air and playground for little in return," Kallos said in a statement.
On May 17, NYCHA announced that Fetner Properties won a bid to construct a 47-story apartment building on the site of the Holmes Tower playground. The new building would contain hundreds of apartments (estimated at 350 by area politicians), half of which would be offered at market rates and half at affordable rates. But politicians and residents have argued that the affordable rates would actually be unaffordable for public housing residents.
Residents also argued against the size of the building. Taylor said Tuesday that the new building will tower over the rest of the Holmes Towers, with new residents effectively looking down on the NYCHA residents.
“You’re taking their light and air and playground,” she said, standing in the play area alongside parents.
Maloney said the proposed project — for which the city would receive a $25 million payout from the developer in exchange for a 99-year lease — is short-sighted.
“We need more green, not greed, in the city,” she said.
Councilmember Ben Kallos said he has attended dozens of meetings where the details of the lease and the construction plans are being hashed out.
Although half of the units in the new building are intended to be affordable housing, Kallos says he suspects the project would not benefit the existing community.
“I don’t think the NYCHA residences should be trapped in the shadows of the wealthy,” Kallos said.
“I want to save this playground.”
Protestors vowed to fight the plans.
One of the bills that passed now requires the BSA to list the number of applications it has approved or denied as well as the average length of time until a decision was rendered. Another bill requires the BSA to list all the variances and special applications action upon since 1998 to be available on an interactive map of the city.
Ben Kallos (Manhattan), who sponsored several of the bills, said in a statement: “We are taking away the rubber stamp from a government agency that used it far too often over the objections of residents.”
Another bill from Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens) would require copies of BSA applications and materials be sent by certified mail to applicants.
The Department of City Planning would have to publish online the name and contact information of the BSA coordinator under a measure from Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan). The agency would also have to post a record of each permit and the BSA would have to provide a link on their website to testimony from city planning.
Two other measures from Kallos would require the BSA have access to an experienced, state-certified real estate appraiser and establish the minimum required materials that must be submitted with applications. Another would require the BSA to report on information regarding applications and compile date on the location of all variances and special permit applications.
City Hall – Today, the New York City Council passed a package of legislation aimed at reforming the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). In the past developers have been able to circumvent city zoning laws restricting building forms, use, height, density, through the BSA even though local Community Boards and elected officials objected to their decisions. This legislation aims to reform applications, decisions, notifications, staffing and transparency around the BSA to be more accountable to the public. The BSA is a five-member body tasked with reviewing requests for variances and special permits related to affordable housing and city planning in the zoning law. The package includes nine bills and featured bipartisan support from sponsors including Governmental Operations Chair Ben Kallos, Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Minority Leader Steven Matteo and Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-29) and Donovan Richards (D-31).
But while the project has garnered its share of community support, not everyone is pleased with the plans. The main complaint: that affordable units, which Fetner has said will be “evenly” distributed throughout the building, won’t be all that affordable after all. The units will be designated for residents earning less than $41,000 for an individual and $52,000 for a family of three—too high to actually meet the needs of the community, critics say.
As Councilman Ben Kallos pointed out, the minimum annual income for one of the new affordable apartments is $38,100, which is above the eligible income for NYCHA residents. “It's pouring salt in a wound that they're building housing that none of the NYCHA residents can get into,” he told DNAInfo.
Fetner will pay an upfront fee of $25 million to NYCHA, but between the public subsidies and the loss of millions of dollars in potential property taxes, Councilman Benjamin Kallos (D-Manhattan) predicted the city ends up in the red.Fetner will pay an upfront fee of $25 million to NYCHA, but between the public subsidies and the loss of millions of dollars in potential property taxes, Councilman Benjamin Kallos (D-Manhattan) predicted the city ends up in the red.