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DDG’s ‘zoning gymnastics’ draw ire of Upper East Side community

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A stop-work order has stalled DDG’s 521-foot UES condo since May

Back in May, developer DDG Partners was slapped with a stop work order on what would have been one of the Upper East Side’s tallest towers at 180 East 88th Street. The city’s Department of Buildings found that the developer had created a four-foot lot on East 88th Street to circumvent existing zoning laws (re: height requirement), and in turn construct a taller building.

The investigation came about after increasing pushback from local residents, preservationists and elected officials, even though the DOB had first signed off on the project without expressing similar concerns.

You’d think after all of that brouhaha the developer might want to scale back a little—but think again. Instead the developer proposed increasing that four-foot lot to 10 feet (they think that size makes a it a developable site on its own), and is now waiting on the city to lift the stop-work order, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The city will also have to contend with an official challenge filed by the same group of people who pointed out the developer’s error the first time around. Community group Carnegie Hill Neighbors, along with city officials, are spearheading this second pushback. Work can resume when the city completes its review of DDG’s proposal (and finds it suitable), and if it finds merit in the community’s challenge work could be stopped again.

“This developer’s response to getting caught with its hand in the cookie jar is to just reach for the cookie again,” Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said in a statement. “This developer is trying to pretend this lot doesn’t have frontage on 88th Street and isn’t subject to 88th Street's zoning rules. Nobody’s fooled, and we’re not going to let them ignore this neighborhood’s zoning and illegally build a tower halfway to the moon.”

A spokesperson for the DOB told the Wall Street Journal that DDG’s new proposal presented with them with a property size that they considered developable as opposed to a lot that was simply created to increase the height on the adjacent building. In addition, the new plans also call for the square footage on the building to be reduced by 1,200 feet, and creates two exits on Third Avenue, since a previous proposed exit on East 88th Street was deemed illegal.

DDG’s project got the green light in the summer of 2015, and construction was already underway when the city issued the stop work order. Sales had also started at the condo with apartments asking anywhere between $3 million and $15 million (many are still listed on StreetEasy). Real estate experts have questioned whether the project will lose funding if it’s not restarted soon enough. Even though a stop-worker order is currently in place, some complaints filed with the DOB suggest that work might have taken place at the site in the interim.

A zoning expert hired by Carnegie Hill Neighbors had this to say to the Wall Street Journal about the whole shenanigan: “[It’s]the most-amazing zoning gymnastics I have seen in a long time.”