SUTTON PLACE — The city has delayed plans to transform the backyard of an exclusive co-op into a public esplanade by more than a year, according to the Parks Department.
The park was initially set to be completed by fall of this year, but after some community members opposed certain aspects of the design, the agency decided to delay construction and take time to consider alternatives, according to Parks spokesman Sam Biederman.
The new deadline for completion of the park — which will sit on top of FDR Drive and connect to existing parks on East 56th and East 57th streets — is closer to early 2017, he said.
“The extended design period is due to the reexamination of the initial design spurred in part by input from the community and the Public Design Commission,” Biederman said. “Members of the community expressed concerns about accessibility and park hours in our initial design, while [the Public Design Commission] had aesthetic concerns regarding fences separating the new park space from the existing street and parks.”
Residents were opposed to the city's initial proposal to install tall fences and gates at two ends of the park that would’ve been locked as early as 6 p.m. and would've blocked it off from the parks on either side of it, Biederman said.
The new design removed the fences and gates, and extended the park’s hours until 9 p.m. from May to October, he said.
The adjusted plan has already gotten approvals from the Parks Department, Public Design Commissioner Faith Rose, and advisory approval from Community Board 6.
Now, it’s waiting for a green light from the State DOT, which will most likely happen in the next few weeks. The plan is also waiting for approval from the Department of Environmental Protection, and will need a legal review. Construction is expected to begin this fall, Biederman said.
The project must go through the State DOT because FDR Drive is in the state’s jurisdiction.
Once completed, the park will feature a wide walkway, seating, a lawn, plantings and views of the East River and the 59th Street Bridge, Biederman said.
Former City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin allocated $1 million from her budget to fund the renovation of the green space, and the 1 Sutton Place South co-op pitched in another $1 million.
Some area residents said they’ve been disappointed to pass by the park site month after month and see no construction activity.
“People are starting to believe that it will never happen,” said Dieter Seelig, president of the Sutton Area Community, a group of residents who’ve been involved in the initial stages of getting the city to open a park there.
“How can you keep telling people it’s going to happen, and then have one delay after another? It’s frustrating.”
In 1939, the city leased the land that will now be used as public park space to the co-op at 1 Sutton Place South for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR.
The 50-year lease expired in 1990, but the city didn’t take action to reclaim the land until years later.
In 2011, the city reached an agreement to let the co-op keep some of the land, and take back the rest and transform it into a public park.