A proposed development by the Bauhouse Group to build a 900-foot tall residential tower in the historic Sutton Place neighborhood shocked many when it was revealed by Our Town in April. Since then, according to Community Board 6 and Councilmember Ben Kallos, residents who live in the area have joined forces in a plan to stop, or at least limit, the scope of the project.
Bauhouse began years ago to build an assemblage allowing for a 268,000-square-foot tower that would be the one of the tallest in the city and the second-tallest on the Upper East Side, behind the in-progress 1,400-foot 432 Park Avenue. The development includes 58,000 square feet of inclusionary housing rights, and consists of four building lots totaling 80 feet of frontage on East 58th Street between 1st Avenue and Sutton Place.
According to sources with knowledge of the development, Bauhouse is actually looking to unload the parcel to another developer. In response to the proposal, CB6 passed a resolution that could serve to limit how high a buyer can build on Sutton Place.
“The community expressed strong opinions that the proposed construction will ruin the scale and character of their neighborhood,” said CB6 in its resolution, referring to a meeting this month at which more than 100 people voiced their concerns about the project. The board said it invited Bauhouse to the meeting and were told that company was not yet prepared to make a presentation.
The resolution, citing Our Town’s story in April, supports rezoning mid-block areas in CB6’s territory to a lower density than the current R10 zoning allows for, which is the highest residential zoning designation in the city.
It also proposes government action such as a Department of Buildings delay upon receiving an application for approval of plans. Other government action could include a moratorium on super-high towers, according to the resolution.
The board’s position is that the long-term impact of mega-towers on surrounding neighborhoods, which they call a “recent innovation,” cannot be fairly and completely assessed since the technology that made them possible was not around in 1961 when the city’s zoning districts were created. These impacts include those on infrastructure, traffic, parking, waste removal, and fire and ambulance services, according to the board.
“Thus further investigation and study is needed, especially since this development…appears to be as of right,” said the board in its resolution.
When asked to comment on the board’s resolution, a spokesperson for the Bauhouse Group said the company “is aware of the community’s concerns, as laid out by Community Board 6’s resolution. We respect and are open to hearing the viewpoints of community members and we look forward to a productive dialogue.”
Councilmember Kallos said of the three options put forth by the community board, he believes down-zoning midblock areas is the most viable.
“I do support the community call for a moratorium, but that would be completely up to the mayor,” said Kallos. “The ultimate thing we need to look at is contextual zoning for a height cap.”
Kallos said he was struck by the speed at which the community moved to block the Sutton Place development.
“In less than 45 days, from the first publication [about the Sutton Place development], the issue went to the community board land use committee, was heard, voted on, went to the full board for a vote, passed, and has been sent to City Planning,” said Kallos.
The resolution was sent to City Planning on May 15. Kallos said his office and CB6 have already started an environmental assessment study, which would be included in their forthcoming City Planning application to down zone mid-block areas in the district.
“We’re working with the Sutton area community and we’ve already begun starting work on the EAS,” said Kallos, who has been raising awareness about the development and collecting funds from area residents to pay for the study. “Interest in this issue has been tremendous.”
Kallos said just because a development is as of right does not mean the community cannot push back against a project they’re opposed to. A zoning change by City Planning would trump a developer’s right to build as large as they want in an R10 area.
“We are redefining their rights and trying to change the law,” said Kallos.
The plan, said Kallos, is to get the zoning change through the ULURP process before a developer, whoever it may be, breaks ground on the lot.
Whoever buys the development from Bauhouse would still need to file designs with DOB. Once approved, a developer can begin excavating the base, but that can only be done in warmer months. In total, the process could take six months to a year to complete before any ground can be broken.
“We’re moving full steam ahead in a way that hasn’t happened with any of the other mega-towers we’re seeing crop up across the city,” said Kallos. “We have to draw the line when it comes to residential areas. “They’re just going to keep creeping up throughout the city.”