DDG’s Upper East Side penthouse asks $33M, thanks to zoning loophole

Subdivision strategy enabled 180 East 88th Street to soar 524 feet

DDG's Joseph McMillan and a rendering of 180 East 88th Street (March Made/DDG; Illustration by The Real Deal)
DDG's Joseph McMillan and a rendering of 180 East 88th Street (March Made/DDG; Illustration by The Real Deal)

High above East 88th Street, a penthouse apartment asking $33 million owes its hefty price tag to a practically worthless parcel just a fraction of its size.

The 50th-floor unit sits atop a condominium at 180 East 88th Street built by Joseph McMillan’s DDG, which used the “tiny lot loophole” to become, at 524 feet, the tallest building north of East 72nd Street.

The story behind the project, a saga of zoning controversy and construction delays, began seven years ago, and led to DDG’s asking $6,000 per square foot for the penthouse, which boasts 28-foot ceilings, arched windows, sculptural interior design and 3,500 square feet of terrace.

The project’s height was achieved by exploiting a zoning loophole that DDG used to circumvent New York City’s “sliver law,” which in some parts of the city restricts how far up buildings narrower than 45 feet can go.

“Apparently [some] people don’t like tall, skinny buildings,” architect Jorge Fontan said in a 2019 video explaining the law. “If a building is less than 45 feet wide, it cannot be more than 100 feet [tall] or more than the width of the streets in which it’s located, whichever is less.”

That’s where the tiny lot came in.

DDG subdivided the building’s original lot in two, creating a second one only 10 feet deep. The minuscule parcel technically keeps the condo building from fronting East 88th Street, sparing it from the sliver law’s restrictions.

The tiny lot loophole exists because of another quirk of the zoning code: no subdivision regulation.

Apparently people don’t like tall, skinny buildings.
Jorge Fontan, architect

“You couldn’t do this sort of thing anywhere else,” lamented local activist George Janes, who recalled a developer creating a lot in Harlem just three inches wide.

Janes, representing a community group against DDG’s East 88th Street building in 2018, was present when the Board of Standards and Appeals kicked the issue to the Department of City Planning.

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“Do I think the subdivision was done to intentionally [avoid zoning regulations]? Yes,” said Marjorie Perlmutter, who chaired the Board of Standards and Appeals at the time. “Do I think it should have been allowed to do that? No.”

“Such a clarification would be easy for City Planning if it were willing to look at it, and I encourage them to do so,” Perlmutter concluded four years ago, according to Janes.

Janes credits the agency for examining the issue, although it concluded that creating minimum zoning lot sizes and banning subdivisions risked unintended consequences.

Subdivisions are useful, according to the department, for sites with irregular geometries, older buildings that straddle property lines, community facilities with unique ownership structures, future street mappings, and even elevated highway infrastructure.

DDG was thus able to build its tower and shoot for the eight-figure sums that spectacular views command on the Upper East Side. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.

You couldn’t do this sort of thing anywhere else.
George Janes, local activist

Buyers have purchased 25 apartments in the building — just over half of the units — at an average discount of 6.7 percent since sales began in 2019, according to StreetEasy.

The sales have generated $149 million, bringing the project nearly halfway to its targeted sell-out of $312 million with 23 apartments left, including the penthouse.

The interior of the top-floor apartment was designed by Interior Marketing Group. Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group is in charge of sales.

Elsewhere, at 325 West Broadway in Soho, a DDG penthouse asking $18.5 million was the second priciest Manhattan home to go into contract last week.

That project dates back even longer: The developer bought the site in 2012 and finished the building’s exterior four years later. The condominium needed Landmarks Preservation Commission approval, but no tiny lot.