MANHATTAN — After a 10-year fight to keep the public out of its backyard, the exclusive co-op at One Sutton Place South, has reached an agreement with the city to transform the green oasis with stunning East River views into a new 10,000-square-foot waterfront park, city officials announced Tuesday.
The Upper East Side's City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin secured $1 million in city funding to build a park in the gated greenspace. The Sutton Place South Corporation, which owns the tony 13-story co-op once home to the likes of socialite C.Z. Guest, fashion designer Bill Blass and actress Sigourney Weaver, agreed to contribute $1 million.
“We've done what people said we never could," said Lappin, who herself has never set foot on the property, but once saw it from the co-op's lobby.
"It's a very special piece of waterfront property," said Lappin. She said she was often stopped in grocery stores and building elevators by constituents asking her about when the deal would be completed.
The Sutton Place building will get to keep less than 4,000 square feet of its backyard private.
The co-op's president Lucy Lamphere said the plan "respects the building’s architectural integrity and balances its residents’ desire to maintain a reasonable degree of privacy while providing beautiful and much-needed park space for our neighbors."
The feud over the land dates back to a complicated deal from 1939 when the city gave the co-op a 50-year lease for the outdoor space for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR Drive, which the green space was built atop. When the lease expired in 1990, no one paid much attention, but the garden's ownership attracted scrutiny when the FDR Drive's renovation came up for review in 2003.
Public officials accused the well-heeled co-op of squatting on the open space, and four years ago, state and city agencies tried to retake roughly half of the land to build a quarter-acre park. That didn't go over well with the co-op's residents, who filed a lawsuit to thwart any groundbreaking and sought $10 million in compensation for the property, according to reports.
“This agreement ends a decade-long dispute, including litigation, while enabling the construction of a stunning new waterfront park,” New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said in a statement. “It is the result of years of hard work, and we are gratified that the public will benefit from the outcome.”
The new park, estimated to cost $2 million for design and construction, will be open from dawn to dusk and connect with two existing community parks located at the eastern ends of East 56th and 57th streets, city officials said.
Lappin anticipates that it will have a promenade for strolling and some grass for passive recreation.
Once completed, the design will need to go before Community Board 6 for approval.