Sutton tower gets green light

A rendering of an earlier proposal for the East 58th Street site that called for a 950-foot condominium development.
City rules in developer’s favor in appeal; local group vows to take case to court
By Michael Garofalo

An 800-foot-tall condominium tower is poised to rise on East 58th Street following a June 26 ruling by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to allow the project to move forward, but a local opposition group has vowed to continue its long-running fight to block the skyscraper in court.

Work on Gamma Real Estate’s proposed 64-story tower at 430 East 58th St., a mid-block lot between First Avenue and Sutton Place, was temporarily stopped late last year following the City Council’s approval of a zoning change intended to prevent supertall developments in the Sutton Area neighborhood.

Gamma brought its case to the Board of Standards and Appeals, the city agency responsible for reviewing land use determinations, arguing that construction on the 159-unit condo building should be allowed to proceed because its foundation was substantially complete when the rezoning was enacted last November. The Board of Standards and Appeals ruled in the developer’s favor, paving the way for the project to continue.

The East River Fifties Alliance, a local group that helped lead the 2017 rezoning effort, criticized the Board of Standards and Appeals’ decision and pledged to file a lawsuit to stop the project. “The East River Fifties Alliance will now take the community’s fight against this monstrous, out-of-place mega-tower to the courts and away from a city agency,” Lisa Mercurio, the East River Fifties Alliance’s communications director, said in an emailed statement.

The group and other opponents of the development accused Gamma of violating city construction regulations in a rush to finish the building’s foundation before the zoning amendment was approved. “Unfortunately for the community and the City at large, the Board of Standards and Appeals abrogated its responsibilities under the Zoning Resolution, including especially its obligation to independently assess the invalidity of ill-gotten, after-hours work variances and alleged street closure permits that allowed the tower’s developer to engage in a race to complete the foundation,” Mercurio said.

There is currently no timeline for when the group expects to file its lawsuit. Gamma Real Estate did not respond to a request for comment.

The Daily News reported in June that the law firm representing Gamma Real Estate in its appeal, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, had lobbied the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017 on Gamma’s behalf to add a grandfather clause to the rezoning proposal that would have allowed for the completion of the building. The administration added the provision to a draft of the zoning amendment, but the City Council subsequently voted to remove the clause in the final text.

As reported by the Daily News, Kramer Levin represented de Blasio during state and federal investigations into his fundraising practices (prosecutors concluded the probes in 2017 without bringing charges against de Blasio), for which the mayor owes the firm $300,000 in outstanding legal debts. The administration has denied that the relationship played any role in the decision reached by the members of the Board of Standards and Appeals, who are appointed by the mayor.

“The fight to preserve our residential communities against super-tall buildings will likely have to continue in court before a judiciary less likely to be tainted by the political process after today’s irresponsible decision by the Board of Standards and Appeals,” Ben Kallos, who represents the area in the City Council and championed the 2017 rezoning, said in a statement following the June 26 decision. “Once again the city is allowing a developer to ignore the laws, having hurtled forward with its illegal foundation, in full knowledge of the zoning change, then asking the city for special treatment after the fact,” he continued.

“If [Gamma Real Estate President Jonathan] Kalikow’s behavior is any indication of what the city is prepared to let developers get away with, then no law on the books will prevent developers from abusing the system and winning, until the courts step in,” Kallos said.