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UES Tower Developer Who Tried to Skirt Zoning Law Is At it Again: Officials

By Shaye Weaver | December 19, 2016 1:36pm
 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 — A developer who was slapped with a stop work order for trying to skirt zoning rules in order to build a 50-story residential tower on East 88th Street has filed new plans that continue to ignore regulations, according to officials and records.

DDG had promised to go back to the drawing board to revise plans for what would be one of the neighborhood's tallest towers on 180 E. 88th St., after the city audited its plans, deemed it in violation of zoning rules, and on May 24, ordered all construction work to stop.

The developer had proposed 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 its height restrictions. But the city's Department of Buildings rejected that plan saying "the developer created an unbuildable lot for the sole purpose of evading zoning restrictions."

On Oct. 21, DDG filed new plans, this time using a 1558 Third Ave. address, records show. The new proposal still shows a 521-foot-tall building, but carves an additional six feet off the width of the portion facing 88th Street, which means the building would be a total of 10 feet away from the street's property line.

Floors four through 14 have been reduced in size as a result of cutting away more of the building, and a new Third Avenue entrance has been added, according to the new plans.

The DOB has not approved the new plans yet and DOB spokesman Joseph Soldevere said DDG will need to further alter its plans because it's still trying to shave off a portion of the lot, which is not allowed, according to DOB spokesman Joseph Soldevere.

The DOB has not lifted the stop work order from May, records show.

"It’s unbelievable. This developer’s response to getting caught with its hand in the cookie jar is to just reach for the cookie again,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who joined residents to formally challenge the project by sending petition forms directly to the DOB.

“This developer is trying to pretend this lot doesn’t have frontage on 88th Street and isn’t subject to 88th Street's zoning rules," Brewer continued. "Nobody’s fooled, and we’re not going to let them ignore this neighborhood’s zoning and illegally build a tower halfway to the moon.”

A rendering shows DDG's plans for 1558 Third Ave. (DDG)

A challenge to a proposed project can be submitted to the DOB within 45 days after a plan is approved, according to the agency's website. The DOB borough commissioner will then make a decision, which the developer can choose to appeal within 15 days.

If the DOB decides to uphold its decision, then the developer can appeal with the city's Board of Standards and Appeals.

The challenge against DDG's plans, which can be submitted by individuals or organizations, was filed by local group Carnegie Hill Neighbors as well as politicians including Brewer, Councilman Ben Kallos, State Senator Liz Krueger and the law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn. 

Their petition argues that DDG has made no changes to resolve zoning issues raised when it first filed plans with the city.

“The idea that illegally slicing off a tiny sliver lot should enable a developer to completely ignore zoning requirements is simply outrageous," Krueger said. "The Department of Buildings must reject this dangerous precedent. We’re already living in the Wild West when it comes to development in Manhattan — ignoring what rules we do have in place is a recipe for chaos."

Initial renderings and descriptions for the new 50-story luxury condo tower show private terraces, vaulted archways, a wine room, children’s playroom, a game room and basketball court.

Prices for units at the new development were listed on StreetEasy at $3.2 million for a two-bedroom and $15.5 million for a four-bedroom apartment.

Construction of the building had barely started in May, when the DOB, at the request of neighbors, launched an audit and found that DDG was in violation.

DDG, issued a statement last week saying it looks forward to resuming construction and that it has "been highly responsive to the issues raised by the DOB audit and understand that all the stop work order items have been addressed."