The Board of Standards and Appeals on Tuesday cleared the way for Gamma Real Estate to build an 800-foot-tall condo tower on the Upper East Side, following a long battle over whether a rezoning in the area should impact the project.
The developer had sought exemption from the recent rezoning of 10 blocks in the neighborhood, which would’ve limited the height of the tower planned for 428-432 East 58th Street — known as Sutton 58. Under city law, a project can potentially avoid new rezoning laws if excavation is complete and there is “substantial progress made on the foundations.” Following the City Council’s November vote in favor of the rezoning, Gamma halted construction but asked the board for an extension to complete the foundation as planned for the 64-story tower. The board voted in favor of letting the project continue as described on building permits issued before the City Council’s decision.
A representative for the East River 50s Alliance (ERFA) — a group of city officials and residents from neighboring buildings who’ve opposed the project— said in a statement that the group will now “take the community’s fight against this monstrous, out-of-place mega-tower to the courts.”
“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,” Lisa Mercurio, a spokesperson for ERFA, said in a statement. “The board committed multiple errors of law based upon a misapprehension of what the zoning resolution provides.”
Leading up to Tuesday’s decision, the group had argued that Gamma managed to finish 89 percent of the project’s foundation only because they illegally poured more than 2,000 cubic yards of concrete. ERFA alleged that Gamma didn’t have the necessary permits to shut down parts of East 58th Street to quickly usher in concrete trucks. DOB records indicate that the project’s general contractor, Lendlease, secured several after-hours work permits at the site, including three after the City Council’s approval of the rezoning. The permits were for debris clean up, but ERFA claimed the work went beyond that.
Gamma denied all of these claims. During Monday’s executive session, board members declined to weigh in on the validity of these permits.
Earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported that shortly after a politically connected lobbying firm — Kramer Levin — appealed to two of Mayor Bill de Blasio aides, the City Planning Commission approved exempting Gamma’s project from the rezoning. The mayor rejected that the firm — which represented Gamma in its BSA case — had any hand in his administration’s decision.
“The city has been complicit in ignoring the law in order to help a developer beat the community,” Council member Ben Kallos, who helped lead the charge for the rezoning, said in a statement. “If [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.”
Under the rezoning, properties in the area must adhere to “tower on a base” standards — meaning that 45 to 50 percent of a building must be built below 150 feet. Efforts to rezone the area started before Gamma took control of the property from Joseph Beninati’s Bauhouse Group in December 2016. Beninati had planned a taller, 1,000-foot building. Gamma’s Jonathan Kalikow has contended that the rezoning was driven solely by residents of the Sovereign, a post-war co-op building next door to the construction site, because they feared his project would block their views.