Naftali accused of violating zoning laws at UES development

Area resident alleges developer’s plans violate zoning law

Miki Naftali and 1045 Madison Avenue (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)
Miki Naftali and the site at 1045 Madison Avenue (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)

A resident who lives across the street from the Naftali Group’s proposed Upper East Side development is trying to put a stop to the project, which the developer has been planning for years.

Plaintiff Kim Fennebresque alleges in the complaint, filed last week in New York County Supreme Court, that Naftali’s proposed mixed-use project at 1045 Madison Avenue violates zoning laws. The development as planned would be too close to the co-operative next door, with which the new project shares a tax lot, the complaint states.

Charles Weinstock, Fennebresque’s attorney, said in an emailed statement that the case represents more than the loss of light and air and increased street congestion.

“It’s also, less tangibly, the further erosion of a principle — that zoning laws are, in fact, laws,” Weinstock said. “Developers can’t blithely ignore them, and they certainly can’t be let off the hook just because they persuaded the Buildings Department to approve their plans.”

A spokesperson for Naftali’s project, also in an emailed statement, said the development is an as-of-right project and has secured the required permits and approvals from the DOB.

“This architecturally significant building and its contextual design will integrate seamlessly into the Upper East Side, and will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to progressing construction and not being hindered by a frivolous lawsuit.”

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It took Naftali roughly two years to assemble the parcels that now comprise the site, namely four townhouses that dated to the early 20th century but have since been demolished.

Naftali merged the site’s four tax lots earlier this year to pave the way for the 18-story development, which would be located in the Special Madison Avenue Preservation District, according to the complaint. In doing so, Naftali looped in a fifth tax lot next door that is home to a 14-story co-op building at 39 East 79th Street from which Naftali bought excess development rights, property records show.

Between the co-op and the proposed tower, there is just 10 feet of space — an amount that falls short of state law and local zoning requirements that call for space between multiple residential buildings located on the same tax lot to provide enough light and air, the filing states.

The lawsuit states that the developer likely is relying on the “Former Lot Line Theory,” a memorandum issued in the 1980s by the DOB commissioner at the time that said a new building would have been legal if it had remained on a different tax lot from its neighbor. But the plaintiff alleges that this theory is a “fiction” and “fatally vague.”

“Would a property owner be permitted to cite a lot line eliminated in a merger dating back to the Lindsay Administration? The LaGuardia Administration? The Civil War?” the filing questions.

Naftali in July secured $120.4 million in construction financing for the site, which sits between 79th and 80th Streets, from Bank Hapoalim. The developer filed plans for the project in 2018. Once built, it will have 16 residential units plus retail space.

The lawsuit was not the only challenge filed against the project. In May, urban planner George Janes filed an appeal of the project’s zoning diagram, also raising issues with the proposed spacing between the buildings, the complaint states. Meanwhile, another area resident, Stuart Goode, filed an appeal of the building permit with the Board of Standards and Appeals, according to court records. (Weinstock also is representing Goode, and no hearing on the appeal has been scheduled yet)

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