Locals employ new zoning strategy to keep skyscrapers from rising in Midtown East

July 6, 2017

New rendering of the entrance to 430 East 58th Street, also known as Sutton 58. Photo: Thomas Juul-Hansen

In what they’re calling an “unprecedented citizens’ application,” the East River 50s Alliance, a Sutton Place/Midtown community group, has mounted a renewed campaign to oppose an 800-foot tall condo tower that’s rising at 430 East 58th Street, the Wall Street Journal reports. As 6sqft previously reported, the developers of the new tower, Gamma Real Estate, closed on the $86 million site earlier this year in a bankruptcy sale and hired Danish-born architect Thomas Juul-Hansen to design the new skyscraper. The group has filed an application for a zoning change that calls for a ban on tall towers in a 10-square-block area; developers regularly file for zoning changes that cover only the property they’re looking to build on.

3 Sutton Place, 428 East 58th Street, NYC condo buildings, Norman Foster, Foster + Partners
Previous plans for the site included a Norman Foster-designed 1,000-foot skyscraper, shown in the rendering above, developed by Bauhouse Group.

The group’s application has begun the formal land-use review process, and the local community board unanimously voted in favor of it. Last week Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally approved it, and has said she would continue to back the plan. “I actually have not seen such a group of decent committed individuals. You never know what is going to happen.” Two Manhattan council members, Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick, as well as state Senator Liz Krueger, are listed as co-applicants. The next step for the application is a City Planning Commission hearing and a vote later this summer.

The alliance, founded in 2015, says it has spent over $1 million on lawyers, planners and environmental consultants to advance the plan. The 62-story tower in question, seen in the newly-released rendering above, is known as Sutton 58 and will cantilever 10 feet over an adjacent apartment building next door. A zoning diagram shows the top of the building’s roof at 856 feet though the building permit states that it will be 799 feet high.

Many key members of the opposition movement live in a 484-foot-tall co-op tower known as the Sovereign, which would have some of its views blocked by the new tower. Somewhat ironically the Sovereign was criticized for being too tall for the neighborhood when it opened in 1974 as a luxury rental.

The group’s plan would limit new building heights to between 210 and 260 feet in a 10-block area of Midtown east of First Avenue. Developers would have to include affordable housing in their projects to be able to build to 260 feet.

The proposed zoning amendment has pulled the developers of the new tower into a race to complete work on the building’s foundation: Once a foundation is substantially complete, only the old zoning rules would apply. Under current rules the developers are getting a zoning bonus for agreeing to pay $24 million toward affordable housing at another East Side location. Gamma Real Estate president Jonathan Kalikow said the zoning application was an illegal attempt to “spot zone” the project and that the alliance was “seeking to protect the window views of its members” rather than benefit the community.

The new zoning amendment also faces opposition from City Hall. Though it helped the group to prepare the amendment, the City Planning Commission has raised objections to it. Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission panel, said the rezoned area already includes many buildings that exceeded the proposed height caps and the fact that the area was “narrowly drawn” to exclude other towers–including the Sovereign–would be a serious impediment to its approval, and that the current zoning was appropriate for the neighborhood because of its proximity to the Midtown business district easy access to public transit. She also questioned whether the new zoning would bring more affordable housing to the neighborhhood or actually cause developers to seek better terms in other neighborhoods. Melissa Grace, deputy press secretary to Mayor de Blasio, agreed, saying that “This proposal would protect the views of a handful of residents who live in a building that is hundreds of feet taller than the height they feel is appropriate.”

[Via WSJ]


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