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Sutton Place's Gated Garden Will Finally Open to the Public

By Amy Zimmer | February 3, 2011 10:06pm | Updated on February 4, 2011 6:44am
Private open space for Sutton Place built above FDR Drive deck.
Private open space for Sutton Place built above FDR Drive deck.
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Flickr/Zachary Korb

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — After a long and drawn-out fight, a private waterfront patch of green space is getting closer to becoming a new public park.

One Sutton Place South, one of New York's most exclusive co-ops, has tried for years to keep the public out of its backyard plot, with its stunning East River views.

But city officials expect to reclaim the land shortly.

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin has already secured $1 million to transform the gated oasis into a public park, she told Community Board 6 members in January.

There is still one outstanding issue that needs to be hashed out, according to people familiar with the negotiations between the building and various government agencies. But after that's resolved — which insiders say is likely — it's just a matter of crossing "T"s and dotting "I"s before the new park can be built.  

"Discussions are ongoing," Elizabeth Thomas, of the New York City Law Department said of the land deal. "We remain hopeful that the matter will be resolved amicably."

The co-op's lawyer, Peter Neger, concurred. 

The spat over the land stems back to a complicated deal worked out in 1939 when the city gave the tony building a 50-year lease for the outdoor space for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR Drive, which the green space now sits atop.

No one paid much attention when the lease expired in 1990, but the ownership of the garden attracted scrutiny when the FDR's renovation came up for review in 2003. 

A ploy four years ago by state and city agencies to retake roughly half of the land to build a quarter-acre park didn't go over well with residents of the 13-story elite enclave at 57th Street, once home to the likes of socialite C.Z. Guest, fashion designer Bill Blass and actress Sigourney Weaver.

Public officials accused the well-heeled co-op of squatting on the open space. The co-op filed a lawsuit to thwart any groundbreaking and sought $10 million in compensation for the property, according to reports.

Community Board 6, which has a dearth of open space and has been working on reclaiming its waterfront, clamored for the land to be transferred to the public.

"Community Board 6 fought hard to make sure that this public space was returned to the people of New York," the CB6 Chair Mark Thompson told DNAinfo. "We're proud of the work we've done and look forward to enjoying the new park in a few years."

Lappin, who has been working with the neighborhood on securing the space, also said she looked forward to the day it opens.

"This park, while small in size," she said, "is a huge and critical piece of our efforts to build a continuous loop of green space around the island of Manhattan."