NYC Neighborhood Braces for a New Round Against Supertall Condo

(Bloomberg) -- A Manhattan neighborhood group is taking its battle against a 67-story condo tower to court.

The East River 50s Alliance said it will challenge a decision by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals that gives developer Gamma Real Estate more time to finish the foundation for its tower without being bound by new zoning restrictions that would cut its planned height by about half. The zoning change was put into effect as construction was under way on Sutton 58, the project the alliance calls a “monstrous, out-of-place mega-tower.”

In granting Gamma a six-month extension Tuesday, the board “ignored the law and the facts in order to rubber-stamp a developer’s bad conduct,” Ben Kallos, the city councilman who led the rezoning campaign, said in a phone interview. “We’re going to have to go to the courts, which will hopefully have less political influence.”

Work on Sutton 58, in the Sutton Place neighborhood along the East River, was halted in December when the city council approved regulations capping the height of all new buildings in the area. Gamma had been racing against the clock to lay the tower’s foundation before the vote, which would have exempted the project from the new rules. At the time, the developer said it was just 10 work days away from completing the foundation, so the six-month extension effectively would allow the tower to be built to its full height.

If built to its full 799 feet (244 meters), Sutton 58 would stand twice the height of the current tallest building in the zoning area, which covers 52nd to 59th streets, east of First Avenue and to the edge of the East River.

A spokesman for Gamma said the developer had no comment on the board’s decision or the alliance’s plans to fight it. Representatives for the Board of Standards and Appeals weren’t available for comment.

After-Hours Permit

The alliance said it intends to petition the state Supreme Court to overturn the board’s ruling. Its challenge will center on the validity of the after-hours work variance that Gamma obtained in its rush to complete the foundation, and permits that allowed the developer to close down streets, even on weekends, according to Michael Hiller, the zoning and land-use attorney for the group.

“We are looking forward to get this case to the Supreme Court,” Hiller said by phone. “There are no lobbyists in the courtroom.”

The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade organization for the city’s powerful real estate industry, issued a statement Tuesday calling the ruling “a sensible decision, recognizing the importance of as-of-right development to our city’s continued growth and success.”

At the heart of the neighborhood battle is a much broader question, according to Lisa Mercurio, communications director for the East River 50s Alliance.

“This is a ‘Who is New York for?’ issue at this point,” she said. “New York City is under siege with respect to over-development.”

After the written decision is issued, the group will have 30 days to file its claim and move on to the next phase of its campaign to preserve the quiet character of Sutton Place.

“We live to fight another day,” Mercurio said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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