City Planning Commission Testimony by Alan Kersh, President, East River Fifties Alliance

By Team ERFA,



OCTOBER 18, 2017


Good morning Chair Lago and members of the City Planning Commission.  My name is Alan Kersh and I am the President of the East River Fifties Alliance (“ERFA”).

My organization is a co-applicant with Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick and State Senator Liz Krueger on the rezoning application that is the subject of today’s hearing.

As many of you have heard, we had a rude awakening two and a half years ago when we learned that our local zoning would allow the construction of a 1,000-foot-tall tower, midblock, on a narrow, quiet residential side street.  To put that news in context, I want to emphasize that the majority of existing buildings in the neighborhood are mid-rise, with 14-20 stories.  We quickly discovered that towers of unlimited height are permitted as-of-right on every narrow street in the East River Fifties.

We also learned that the East River Fifties is the only residential neighborhood in the city still zoned R10 without any type of height control and contextual protections.  It is thus uniquely vulnerable to as-of-right development of supertall towers, a building form that wasn’t contemplated when the R10 district was created in 1961.  This is an anomaly that super luxury housing developers identified and want to exploit.  Residential side streets in all other neighborhoods in the city are protected against supertall towers by lower density zoning designations, contextual protections, or both.  We are simply asking for protections that every other residential neighborhood in NYC has already received.

Thus began our over two year effort to fight these out-of-context developments and encourage the creation of additional affordable housing within our neighborhood. We eagerly and whole-heartedly embraced a steep learning curve as we retained, at our own expense, experts in city planning, land use, and environmental issues. With this team we explored options to right-size the zoning in our community, while still allowing new housing development for a growing City.

Our effort quickly received the support of many elected officials and civic organizations, and ERFA’s membership grew to include 45 buildings, represented by co-op boards, condo boards and individual owners, and over 2600 individual supporters living in more than 500 buildings within and beyond the rezoning area. All of us, together, seek to defend the East River Fifties community against out-of-scale development that clashes with community character, and tends to produce very few, very large, very expensive apartments that do little to address the City’s housing needs.

ERFA and its co-applicants have been working with the Department of City Planning for over two years to develop an application that could address these community concerns, align with the City’s larger planning goals, and, ultimately, earn your support.  After countless meetings, planning studies, and airing of concerns on earlier proposals, we are confident that the current application achieves the first two goals, and hopeful that it achieves the third.

Our zoning text amendment to apply modified tower‐on‐a‐base (“TOB”) rules in lieu of tower zoning regulations for narrow streets in the East River Fifties will result in new development across the district that is consistent with neighborhood context and built character.  The amendment’s minimum tower coverage requirements, modified packing rules, and base height and set back rules will prevent unlimited zoning lot mergers and the development of mega-towers, while providing more than enough room to facilitate and encourage housing development.

I urge you to protect the character of the East River Fifties and to encourage the construction of human-scale housing for New Yorkers over ultra-luxury apartments for investors by voting to approve our application at your upcoming November 1st meeting.


Thank you.


Message from Alan Kersh, ERFA President

By Team ERFA,



As you know, when ERFA’s re-zoning application was certified by the City Planning Commission (CPC) in June 2017, the Department of City Planning (DCP) expressed numerous “concerns.” It became clear to ERFA’s leadership and our elected officials that ERFA’s application faced likely rejection by the City Planning Commission (CPC) if it were to be brought to a vote. Following public feedback from CPC Chair Marisa Lago illustrating a path forward, ERFA submitted a new application to DCP in September, which was certified by CPC on October 2nd. ERFA’s original, related application, about which DCP had raised concerns, has been withdrawn.

At the CPC’s public meeting on October 4th, CPC approved calendaring ERFA’s new rezoning application for public hearing at its upcoming public meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on October 18th at Spector Hall, 22 Reade Street, New York, NY. Members of ERFA’s leadership and our elected officials will be attending and speaking at that meeting.

In a nutshell, ERFA’s new zoning amendment will require all new residential buildings that are constructed in the rezoned area (north of 51st Street to 59th Street, east of First Avenue) to conform to “tower-on-a base” rules (TOB), irrespective of whether the building has wide street or narrow street frontage.

Specifics of the text amendment that will soon be voted on by CPC can be found by going to the following link:

The tower-on-a-base (TOB) so-called packing rules that normally apply to the avenues and wide streets were modified to provide, among other things, that at least 45 percent of the total floor area permitted on the zoning lot must be located in stories located either partially or entirely below a height of 150 feet. TOB also imposes rules and limitations on a developer’s ability to assemble air rights through the use of zoning lot mergers.

Under the new application, developers are eligible to receive bonus FAR by utilizing the bonus structure currently in place under the 1987 Inclusionary Housing program for R10 zoned districts.

Under ERFA’s new zoning application, new buildings will be constructed with livable heights and contextual street fronts. The resulting building heights will likely be taller than what was proposed in ERFA’s earlier application but significantly shorter than what development under the current R10 rules would permit if the existing zoning remained in place.

The district map was adjusted slightly from the original application. The new Application covers the area north of 51st Street up to the south side of 59th Street, east of First Avenue. Previously, the application excluded portions along the south side of 59th Street with commercial overlays or commercial equivalent zoning.

The re-zoning is pro development. It is not a downzoning. Density will remain at 10 FAR with the opportunity to expand that to 12 FAR with the creation of affordable housing.

Utilizing TOB rules will prevent out-of-scale development that could be built under the current R10 zoning.

ERFA’s justification — and mission — continues to be to right the wrong of an aberration in the 1961 zoning law which allowed unlimited building heights on the side streets of our community. The new zoning plan will block the development of megatowers in the East River Fifties.

Following discussion at CPC’s meeting on October 18th, it is anticipated that the City Planning Commissioners will vote on ERFA’s application at their next meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on November 1st at 22 Reade Street, New York, NY.

Upon receiving a vote of approval by CPC, the Application will then go to the City Council where it will be voted on at its meetings in mid-November.

After almost three years, we look forward to seeing you at the finish line.  Our work is not done until the rezoning amendment is passed by the City Council and becomes law.  ERFA still needs the professional expertise it has assembled to support this application right up to the vote.

As we look at this final stretch of our rezoning effort, we need your help.  We have worked to protect this entire neighborhood and hope we can count on you to join us by making a financial contribution.  Click here to do that now.


Alan Kersh, President

East River Fifties Alliance