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



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.


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