New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town Cutting Supertalls Down to Size by Emily Higginbotham

Cutting Supertalls Down to Size

Politicians, community advocates and developers are looking to the future of Manhattan development following an unprecedented court ruling this month ordering the removal of 20 floors from a nearly finished Upper West Side tower. One lawmaker is already at work to use the decision to cut the height of another supertall across town.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents part of Midtown and the Upper East Side, was one of the several elected officials who turned out to celebrate Judge Franc Perry’s decision to revoke the building permits for the 59-story tower at 69th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Quickly, Kallos, who is running for Manhattan Borough President when Gale Brewer leaves the post in 2021, got his wheels turning and saw that Perry’s ruling opened a window to reargue the legality of the 847-foot Sutton Tower being constructed at 430 East 58th Street in his district.

“In both cases, I think what we have in common is if you have a Department of Buildings and a city that is complicit in allowing people to break the law, whether or not people can profit off their crimes,” said Kallos. “What jurisprudence typically says is, no. If you do something wrong, you shouldn't get to profit from it.”

Both buildings were given the go ahead from the city’s DOB and Board of Standards and Appeals, the city agency responsible for reviewing land use determinations, despite legal challenges from the community. But the legal issues in these cases are not the same.

In the case of 200 Amsterdam, Perry determined that the Department of Buildings erroneously gave the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, a permit to build on an illegal 39-sided zoning lot that used partial tax lots from several disconnected properties in order to build an exceptionally tall building in a neighborhood where 20-story buildings are the norm.

Complaints Were Ignored

As for Sutton Tower, the East River 50s Association (ERFA) has been fighting the development since 2015. In Nov. 2017, the community advocacy group was successful in changing the zoning regulations of the neighborhood to bar supertall towers to be built in Sutton Place. A month late, however, the developer, Gamma Real Estate, appealed to the BSA for an exception to the new zoning law, and the board granted the project an exception and allowed them to be “grandfathered” in.

ERFA argued that the developer had taken part in illegal after-hours construction work, Kallos said, but those complaints were ignored.

“The court did not address our arguments of whether or not the after hours variances that were obtained, in my opinion, illegally and under false pretenses, or were valid and could be relied upon,” he said.

The attorney representing ERFA could not be reached by press time to discuss the details of the potential court filing.

Kallos, though, is confident the decision will go the community’s way this time.

The council member said he wished the 200 Amsterdam decision had come down sooner to prevent other supertall development on the East Side from going up, but wanted to be clear that he is for practical development in the city.

“If you come into the neighborhood, and you build something that is similar to what's already here — whether it's 200 feet or even 300 feet or even 400 feet — no one is going to care,” Kallos said. “[We welcome it] if you're a good neighbor, if you reach out to folks, you don't do work after hours, and if it’s more housing — particularly housing that is affordable.”

Building with the community is the way forward, Kallos said. And he warned developers who try to bend the rules for a profit.

“If you're a real estate developer, and you're trying to get away with something that's never been done before, and you're trying to create a loophole, at least under my watch, you’re going to get caught and we’re going to do something about it.”


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