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Developer Hit With Stop Work Order For Manipulating Zoning Code: Officials

By Shaye Weaver | May 27, 2016 2:54pm | Updated on May 31, 2016 8:30am
 A rendering of what the top of the condominium will look like.
A rendering of what the top of the condominium will look like.
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The developer of what would become one of the tallest buildings in the neighborhood was hit with a stop work order on Tuesday for violating city zoning rules, according to officials.

DDG, the developer of 180 E. 88th St., tried to skirt zoning codes so it could build higher, officials said — shaving off a 4-foot-wide portion of the L-shaped lot nearest East 88th Street so it could claim the building doesn't front the side street and therefore doesn't have to comply with the rules that apply there. 

"Our audit found that the developer created an unbuildable lot for the sole purpose of evading zoning restrictions," said Rick Chandler, commissioner of the city’s Department of Buildings. "Accordingly, we stopped work on the site and are requiring the developer to submit new plans.”

 A view of the site at 180 E. 88th St. on Thursday where the separate 4-foot piece of land was planned.
A view of the site at 180 E. 88th St. on Thursday where the separate 4-foot piece of land was planned.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

Though the developer will have to go back to the drawing board, initial renderings for the new luxury condo tower show a 50-story skyscraper with private terraces, vaulted archways, a wine room, children’s playroom, a game room and basketball court.

Construction of the building has barely started and prices for units at the new development were listed on StreetEasy at $3.2 million for a two-bedroom to $15.5 million for a four-bedroom apartment.

The Department of Buildings approved the plan in June 2015, but it wasn't until neighbors and their lawyers discovered the loophole that the agency launched its own audit of the project, according to a DOB spokesman.

An attorney hired by the Carnegie Hill Neighbors, a group of residents, found that the planned tower was six stories higher than zoning should've allowed, according to a New York Times article.

In its audit, the DOB found that the developer was able to build higher by carving out a plot of land four feet from the edge of its property line and calling it a "rear yard" for resident use, according to the agency spokesman and the stop work order issued on Tuesday.

When asked how the plans got past the DOB, the agency's spokesman said project approvals are up to individual examiners who make their own judgments, but those interpretations could be challenged by an audit.

“Developers regularly submit creative plans to maximize the square footage they can build," said Chandler, the DOB commissioner. "To ensure that projects meet zoning laws, DOB routinely audits new building applications."

READ: Pols Push for Zoning Change That Would Put Cap on Height of UES Towers

For neighbors, including the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, the DOB's ruling is a victory, they say.

"The creation of this 4-foot lot subsequent to DOB determination obscures the applicant's intent and decreases much-needed, but sorely lacking, transparency in the development process," Rachel Levy, the executive director of Friends, said.

"The Zoning Resolution exists to protect the public while guiding development. Deliberate lack of compliance with the process makes a farce of the Zoning Resolution and we urge city agencies to work together to ensure that interpretation of policy truly serves the public interest."

Councilman Ben Kallos wrote a letter to the DOB pushing the agency to issue the stop work order on May 16.

"New Yorkers have won a rare victory over developers by stopping a skyscraper in a residential neighborhood," Kallos said in a statement. "I am glad we stopped this loophole before it was too late."

DDG defended its design, saying it had always played by the rules and would continue to do so.

“DDG hold ourselves to the highest standards, ensuring we receive all required permits for our projects,” a spokeswoman said Thursday.

“The Department of Buildings' review [for approval] for 180 East 88th Street took place over the course of 11 months, during which period the project was thoroughly vetted. We will continue to work closely with the Department of Buildings to resolve this in a timely manner.”