Sutton Place skyscraper allowed by City Planning Commission, despite new zoning restrictions

Sutton Place is getting a new skyscraper even though the City Planning Commission passed a recent rezoning proposal.
Sutton Place is getting a new skyscraper even though the City Planning Commission passed a recent rezoning proposal. Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

A skyscraper slated for Sutton Place appears to have withstood a neighborhood group’s attempt to block it — at least for now.

The City Planning Commission voted Wednesday to pass a zoning proposal put forward by the East River 50s Alliance, limiting the proliferation of tall, skinny towers in the neighborhood.

But the commission also opted to grandfather in Gamma Real Estate’s project, a nearly 800-foot-high co-op building, that inspired the neighborhood to examine — and oppose — rules that would allow skyscrapers on a few local sites.

Should the City Council pass the proposal as is, Gamma would have a year to get its project going before the new rules take effect, according to a spokeswoman for the developer. A project is generally guaranteed to meet grandfathering provisions if its foundation is finished.

But the local City Councilman, Ben Kallos, says he plans to remove the grandfathering clause and promptly pass the prior plan.

“This took more than three years to bring it from a community concern about billionaire’s row extending into a residential neighborhood,” Kallos said, referencing several luxury residential skyscrapers in the works just south of Central Park. “New Yorkers are frustrated with overdevelopment, regardless of what neighborhood that they’re in.”

Kenneth Knuckles, vice chairman of the Planning Commission, said it made sense to address the community’s concerns about out-of-character projects by imposing a tower-on-a-base design standard for new, taller buildings. This model would require that 45 to 50 percent of a building’s bulk be concentrated below an altitude of 150 feet; the remainder of the structure could be built in a tower atop that base.

But Knuckles noted that it would not be appropriate to use land-use decisions to target individual developments.

“The proposal before us today strikes an appropriate balance,” Knuckles said. “As with many area-wide text amendments that come before us, I believe it to be important that we include a grandfathering provision to ensure that property owners are not left in the lurch with rules that change midstream.”

Gamma’s president, Jonathan Kalikow, has long argued that the zoning proposal was a veiled attempt to halt his project. Kalikow previously said the East River 50s Alliance’s plan would have halved how tall Gamma could build at 438 E. 58th St. and would have rendered it financially infeasible to build for co-ops there.

“Their [the Planning Commission’s] decision recognizes first and foremost that ERFA’s efforts are, without a doubt, a blatant attempt at illegal spot zoning, and working families should not have to pay as a result,” Kalikow said in a statement suggesting that the project would employ many construction workers. “We call on our Council members to also put aside the politics and influence of the handful of New Yorkers who are leading ERFA’s self-interested charge and consider these many more lives who are depending on our project.”

Kallos disagreed with the idea that spot zoning occurred and that the Gamma site should be grandfathered in under the old rules. He said Kalikow purchased the property while aware that the community had been discussing rezoning it.

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