Sutton Place community rallies for a “race against time”
Residents of Sutton Place, the neighborhood between First Avenue and the East River from 53rd to 59th Streets, are pinning their hopes on Marisa Lago, the incoming director of the Department of City Planning. When Lago’s tenure begins on March 1, her desk could be piled high with objections from the community to the proposed construction of an 850-foot luxury residential tower at 430 East 58th Street.
“I think there’s nothing better than getting a shitload of letters before you even start,” Borough President Gale Brewer told attendees of a town hall on Friday, Feb. 10, encouraging them to raise their voices. “It is necessary to make sure the advocacy is there.” Approximately 80 people gathered in the Skytop Lounge of the Plaza 400 to hear updates on the tower’s progress, sign a petition and donate to the cost of opposing it.
After plans for the tower were announced in 2015, neighbors sprang into action to form the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA). The group hired planners and consultants to help develop a zoning text amendment that would limit building heights to 260 feet, as well as requesting more affordable housing, which the Alliance filed to the Department of City Planning this past December. “ERFA is proposing a contextual district that would prevent supertowers through height limits, and would provide greater incentives for affordable housing, and design controls for wide buildings,” the application reads. It cited, as inspiration for the zoning text amendment, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “mandate to make all of New York City a diverse and balanced community.” The Department of City Planning has yet to certify the group’s application as complete so that it may begin undergoing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
Meanwhile, the Sutton Place tower has been beset by issues — both financial and social — since the beginning, and was sold to Gamma Real Estate at a foreclosure auction this past December. In January, the plans to move forward with construction were rejected by the Department of Buildings as incomplete, though a spokesperson for the agency told DNAinfo at the time that this was not unusual for new building permits.
With both the rezoning application and the Sutton place plans currently stalled, it is now a question of what will be approved first. “We are all in a race against time,” Lisa Mercurio, the Alliance’s director of communications, said at the town hall. “We believe we’ve filed a complete application, and frankly we can’t understand why this process is taking so long. If the foundation is poured for [the tower] before the zoning law can be amended, it’s game over.”
Brewer suggested that the city planning commission’s concern was setting a precedent, which she called “a ridiculous reason” not to approve the community’s application. Zoning tends to be regulated by the city, and the efforts of the East River Fifties neighborhoods to determine its own fate are rare. Brewer was joined at the town hall by State Senator Liz Krueger, Council Member Ben Kallos and Council Member Dan Garodnick, who expressed their unwavering support for the Alliance’s proposed zoning text amendment.
Kallos, who has secured several stop work orders against the construction already underway on the project, assured residents that he would continue fighting the developers at every turn. “We will be there as a community to stop them,” he said. The East River Fifties residents will likely be some of the first New Yorkers to schedule an appointment with Lago when she takes office in March.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com
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