Although New York is a city whose landscape continues to change, most agree that in recent years we have seen an overabundance of outsized, unneeded, and unwanted development projects. For example, in 2015, the Bauhouse Group publicized a plan to construct a 1,000-foot building on East 58thStreet between First Avenue and Sutton Place—a plan which would have placed a megatower in the middle of a narrow residential side street!
Gamma Real Estate subsequently acquired the property from Bauhouse and is continuing the effort to construct a supertall building on that site.
When that project was first planned, it was possible for a developer to construct a megatower at that site, as well as other “soft sites” in our neighborhood (the residential area from 51st to 59th Streets, east of First Avenue), because of the neighborhood’s uniquely outdated zoning, which failed to protect against such out-of-scale development. In the face of that threat, ERFA worked with urban planners, a legal team, architects, and other professionals to propose a new zoning law for our neighborhood which would maintain the character and livability of our community.
That proposal worked its way through the City process over the next 2 years, and became law on November 30, 2017. This multi-year process involved discussions with the NYC Department of City Planning, and review and approvals by Community Board 6, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. This was a major victory for this neighborhood and a community-led zoning proposal.
Thanks to the unwavering support of thousands of fellow citizens residing both in our own neighborhood and throughout the city, most streets in the East River Fifties are no longer susceptible to the construction of out-of-scale towers.
The exception is the 58th Street site between Sutton Place and First Avenue that called our attention to the problem in the first place.
That lingering threat exists because Gamma Real Estate was able to commence construction of a foundation for a supertall building before the zoning change was enacted. That work enabled Gamma to apply to the Board of Standards & Appeals (“BSA”) to be granted an exception from the new zoning law.
The NYC Zoning Resolution provides that if a developer has made “substantial progress” on a building’s foundation prior to a zoning change, the BSA may grant “grandfather” status for the project—i.e., the right to construct a building in accordance with the plans it submitted to the NYC Deptartment of Buildings before the zoning change was enacted.
The BSA held hearings on Gamma’s application at which ERFA presented compelling evidence that Gamma did not have valid permits for a large amount of the construction work it performed and that the work therefore should not be counted when deciding whether “substantial progress” had been made before the zoning change. However, in disregard of that evidence, and incorrectly rejecting other very strong arguments made by ERFA and its supporters against grandfathering Gamma’s project, the BSA on June 26, 2018 voted to approve Gamma’s application.
ERFA will take the community’s fight against the monstrous, out-of-place 58th Street megatower to the courts to prove, among other things, that the BSA abrogated its responsibilities under the Zoning Resolution and that its decision to grandfather the 58th St. megatower should not stand.
We will continue to fight vigorously on behalf of the East River Fifties to prevent out-of-scale development.