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Pols Push For Zoning Change That Would Put Cap on Height of UES Towers

By Shaye Weaver | July 27, 2015 2:04pm
 The new condo tower on East 88th Street will be the tallest building, at 469 feet, in the Upper East Side.
180 East 88th St.
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LENOX HILL — Elected officials gathered along with 200 residents at a forum Thursday to discuss a way to put a stop to a recent influx of tall skyscrapers in the neighborhood.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who hosted the meeting at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, and other elected officials urged residents to rally for a height cap in zoning districts where one doesn't exist.

“We don’t want to be Shanghaied,” said City Councilman Dan Garodnick. “We want to make sure these buildings are in the context of what we have and what we want to be. We want to make sure we don’t have the dog wagging the tail when it comes to planning.”

Parts of the Upper East Side, mainly on Park Avenue from East 60th to East 96th streets, are currently zoned as an R10 district, which allows for a higher density of people on a single lot and permits developers to build as high as they want without being required to go through a public review.

Because there is no limit on height, some developers, especially in Midtown, have built well beyond what is typical, according to Kallos. Developers can also buy air rights for millions of dollars to build even higher than the lots' floor ratio allows, Kallos said.

Kallos pointed to DDG's 31-story condominium at 180 E. 88th St. as one example of a development that he says is too tall for the context of the neighborhood. It's currently under construction, and while it's not the tallest tower on the east side — that title goes to the 1,400-foot tower that's being built at 423 Park Ave. on 57th Street — it's the first of many coming, Kallos said.

For Carnegie Hill residents, who are already facing the coming condominium at East 88th Street, time is of the essence in gathering the troops, said Lo van der Valk, the president of the Carnegie Hill Neighbors organization.

“This is certainly a great lead up to the battles we see coming up,” he said. “The building that is coming on 88th and Third Avenue is a point of great concern. It will be the tallest building in our community.”

His neighbors are concerned that the tall towers will cast long shadows on their homes and create a “canyon impact,” van der Valk said.

“[The R10 zoning] violates whole thrust of contextual and neighborhood zoning,” he added. “It was said that the Upper East Side is the densest residential neighborhood in the country. Do we really need more height?”

Kallos urged residents to combine their efforts and push Community Board 8 to adopt a resolution to support a zone change from R10 to R10A, for example, which has a height cap of 210 feet and requires developments to stick within the heights of other buildings in the neighborhood. 

Community Board 6 adopted a resolution this past spring to put a moratorium on the construction of tall towers while it funds an environmental assessment and ULURP for a zone change in that district. The resolution was sent to the City Planning Commission in May, said Kallos, who has been working with that board on the issue.

CB6 is fighting specifically against 3 Sutton Place, a planned 900-foot-tall tower by Bauhouse Group, which has not yet submitted its plans to the city’s building department.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who attended the forum, said Upper East Side residents need to start the fight, too.

“We are supportive of what you’re doing,” she said. “This is not something that should exist in a neighborhood that already has a certain kind of zoning.”