- The New York City Council approved the rezoning of the East River Fifties on November 30, 2017.
- The new zoning requires buildings constructed in the East River Fifties to comply with “tower-on-a-base” requirements.
- The megatower that Gamma Real Estate had planned to construct at the 430 E. 58th Street site would not comply with the new zoning. Since the foundation that Gamma had been constructing at that site was based on plans for a megatower which Gamma had filed with the DOB, the DOB issued a stop work order to halt construction of the building’s foundation.
- Gamma obtained a partial lifting of the stop work order on the theory that additional work on the foundation was necessary to stabilize the site and thus prevent potential damage to the buildings on either side. That’s why residents of our neighborhood saw construction work taking place during December and January.
- At this point, ALL construction at the site has been halted. Gamma will not be able to construct the megatower it had planned unless it receives approval to do from the Board of Standards and Appeals (“BSA”).
- Gamma has submitted an appeal to the BSA to allow it to proceed with its planned construction.
- ERFA has retained Michael Hiller, Esq., to oppose the BSA’s granting of such approval.
- Mr. Hiller made a presentation at the Feb. 8th Town Hall explaining why he believes ERFA can win this fight and further emphasized that Gamma’s work on the foundation, occurring many weeks after the rezoning, will have no effect on the BSA decision.
- The BSA will hold one or more hearings during the next few months. ERFA supporters will be encouraged to attend.
- Timing: The BSA will most likely make a decision on Gamma’s appeal during or after the summer of 2018.
Category: Blog Post
As you know, ERFA was successful in its years-long effort to secure rezoning for this neighborhood to protect it from out-of-scale development. As we reported in early December, despite this victory we believed that Gamma Real Estate would continue its efforts to develop the 58th Street site (at 430 East 58th) according to its original plans with an appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). That is exactly what is happening.
I’m writing to tell you that the fight is not over, to brief you on what ERFA is doing, and how you can help.
When the zoning law was changed on November 30th, the 430 East 58th Street site came under that new law. Gamma Real Estate’s construction permit automatically lapsed because the building plan that Gamma had submitted to the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) for approval did not comport with the new zoning. Accordingly, the DOB immediately issued a Stop Work Order (SWO) for construction at that site. The net result: the new applicable law means that Gamma could not move forward with construction of the supertall tower it had planned unless and until it receives approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
ERFA has learned that Gamma has filed an appeal with BSA. Because Gamma had commenced construction of the building’s foundation before the new zoning law was adopted, it is eligible to seek “grandfather” status for the project – i.e., the right to construct a building in accordance with the plans it submitted to DOB before the zoning change. While we do not yet know the details of Gamma’s presentation, we are aware that in considering such applications for grandfathering one of the main factors BSA considers is whether “substantial progress” was made on the foundation prior to the zoning change. ERFA expects that the amount of work that was done on the foundation prior to November 30th (not after that date) will be an important focus for BSA.
ERFA was surprised to learn last week that despite the zoning change the DOB has partially rescinded its SWO and has given Gamma permission to perform additional work on the 58th Street building’s foundation. In response to questions, DOB explained to Councilmember Ben Kallos that the additional work was authorized in order to stabilize the buildings next to the construction site, but that the new foundation work was unlikely to help Gamma with its BSA appeal.
Gamma’s BSA appeal has just begun and is at a very early stage. In evaluating requests for grandfathering, BSA generally requires a great deal of information to be provided by the applicant and conducts public hearings before making a decision. ERFA will be a very strong voice for this neighborhood in opposition to BSA approval of Gamma’s request.
What ERFA is doing
Construction Site: ERFA continues to question DOB why/how the new work can be justified. DOB has said that its expects the stabilization work to take four weeks. The four-week projected timeframe seems inconsistent with public statements that Jonathan Kalikow, representing Gamma, made at the time the zoning was changed.
ERFA’s consulting engineer has viewed the site, and ERFA continues to monitor and document construction efforts. If you have pictures, please send them to info@ERFA.nyc. Please make sure that we have the date and time of the photograph, as well as the location the photograph was taken. These photos will help us to demonstrate the amount of work that was done on the foundation after November 30th.
BSA Appeal: ERFA is not giving up and will fight Gamma as it goes through the process of seeking grandfather status for its construction project on East 58th Street. To that end, ERFA has hired a new legal team which specializes in BSA appeals. At this point, the time estimate for the process is believed to be four to six months.
What You Can Do
ERFA will schedule a Town Hall in January to update everyone on where we are. Come and show your continued support to fight this fight. We can also come to your building if you are interested in gathering with your neighbors. Inquiries should go to email@example.com. We will send a notice out shortly with the date, time and location. Stay tuned.
Keeping this fight going will take resources. ERFA needs your financial support and will be embarking on a new fundraising campaign in the new year. You can make a contribution, however, at any time. To donate now, please click here.
This fight can be successful only if we have your support. You’ve helped the community get this far; we need you again and to the end.
If you are affected by the continued construction on East 58th Street, contact DOB if you feel the work is outside of the permit – e.g. after hours, unsafe conditions, etc. As always, we do not encourage spurious complaints. Use the online form or call 311. If you call 311, please get a complaint number and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we approach the end of this year, and look to 2018 and to a successful end to this long hard-fought battle, we thank all of our friends across the city and neighbors closer to home for joining us in ensuring the quality of life in this neighborhood.
We knew this would be a long and hard fight. And, we knew that if we stuck together, we would prevail. We are – and we will. Stay with us. Support ERFA today.
With best wishes for the new year,
President, East River Fifties Alliance
Alan Kersh, ERFA President
Today the New York City Council Land Use Committee voted 17 – 0 (with one abstention) to approve a rezoning measure preserving the context and character of Sutton Place’s quiet residential side streets.
In addition to approving the measure – as approved last week by the New York City Planning Commission – the Council Land Use Committee also removed a special vesting provision that would have benefited a single property owner and undermined the uniform application of the new zoning text.
The rezoning will impose “tower on a base” standards in the area, which means that 45 to 50 percent of a building would need to be built below 150 feet.
Today’s action represents a significant milestone in a years-long effort by the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA) to correct an aberration of the 1961-era zoning law that allows buildings of unlimited height on residential side streets in the district, roughly the area between 51st and 59th Streets east of First Avenue. Every other residential community in New York City has legal protections in the form of lower-density zoning or contextual regulations that prevent the construction of supertall towers.
EFRA’s zoning text amendment application was co-signed and vigorously supported from the start by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council members Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger. The ERFA team is also supported by more than 2,600 residents in several hundred buildings throughout Manhattan.
Today’s action is a milestone in our citizen-led initiative to ensure that future development in our neighborhood is consistent with community character, and that our residential streets receive the same protections against out-of-scale development as other residential areas. The proposed modified tower-on-a-base rules will prevent construction of towers with unlimited heights, while still accommodating future housing growth.
I urge the City Council to vote ‘yes’ on the East River Fifties Text Amendment.
TESTIMONY OF ALAN KERSH, PRESIDENT, EAST RIVER FIFTIES ALLIANCE
BEFORE CITY PLANNING COMMISSION
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.
MESSAGE TO ERFA MEMBERSHIP
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: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/about/commission/calendar.pdf?v=100402
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