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Skyscraper Foes File Rezoning Plan to Impose Sutton Place Height Limit

By Noah Hurowitz | January 22, 2016 8:42am
 A rendering of the planned Sutton Place tower shows the skyscraper towering over its surroundings.
A rendering of the planned Sutton Place tower shows the skyscraper towering over its surroundings.
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Foster + Partners

SUTTON PLACE — A neighborhood activist group has filed an application to rezone Sutton Place in an effort to block the building of new super tall skyscrapers and mandate the inclusion of affordable housing in any new development.

The East River Fifties Alliance, a community group that has fought tooth and nail against a planned 900-foot skyscraper on East 58th Street, filed the application on Thursday with the Department of City Planning seeking to impose a height cap on any new building east of First Avenue from 52nd Street to 59th Street.

Opponents of skyscrapers and neighbors in the area banded together in hopes of maintaining a contextual feel to the area and stop the demolition of affordable housing to make way for luxury towers, according to Alan Kersh, president of the East River Fifties Alliance.

“We are doing this so that the neighborhood isn’t ripped apart to the advantage of developers but to the ruin of the community,” said Kersh.

The proposed rezoning, like the existing R10 zoning that currently applies to the area, would also ban any commercial development— except for “community uses” such as medical offices and day cares — as well as impose a height cap limiting any new development to 260 feet, or about 25 stories.

The plan would also mandate that 25 percent of any new development be dedicated to on-site below-market-rate housing. In order to ease the fears of squeamish developers, the rezoning would allow a slight increase in maximum floor-area ratio, from 12 to 13, which would make way for slightly higher density than current zoning allows.

The group submitted the plan with co-signers including Borough President Gale Brewer and councilmen Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick — all of whom would have to sign off on the rezoning if it were to pass a land-use review process — and State Senator Liz Krueger.

Unlike many residential neighborhoods in the city, Sutton Place currently has no height limit on new buildings, so developers can combine lots and buy unused development rights from neighboring lots in order to build towers like the one planned for East 58th Street.

Under the current R10 zoning, developers like Bauhouse Group, which is in the process of demolishing buildings on East 58th Street to make way for their planned skyscraper, are able to build so-called supertall towers as-of-right as long as they are able to assemble enough lot area and development rights to meet the maximum floor-area ratio.

The rezoning application came as a direct response to the planned Bauhouse tower, with the East River 50s Alliance going door to door to raise money to hire planners and lawyers in order to make the application airtight and guide it through the review process.

Although demolition has already started at the site of the East 58th Street tower, building permits have yet to be filed, city records show. According to critics the firm is still struggling to finance the project, and Kallos said the rezoning effort could stop it in its tracks.

“Anyone who is thinking of investing in this place would walk away from the deal,” Kallos said. “If Bauhouse didn’t believe us before, the proof is here, and we will succeed.”

But according to a spokesman for the developer, the building will be towering over Sutton place long before the rezoning could have an impact on the area.

“We are moving forward with our project on an as-of-right basis and have already begun demolition," the Bauhouse spokesman said. "Our project will be nearing completion by the time any rezoning would be heard."