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Developers of Upper East Side Skyscraper May Have Skirted Zoning Regulations

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Opponents of the building say that the 521-foot tower flouts current zoning rules

One of the Upper East Side's tallest planned residential buildings may only have been made possible by circumventing existing zoning laws, a New York Times investigation has revealed. The development, called 180 East 88th Street, will rise to 521 feet tall when completed. It occupies an L-shaped lot that abuts East 88th Street on one side, and Third Avenue on the other, and opponents of the project are now arguing that it sits on an "unbuildable lot."

By creating a four-foot wide lot away from East 88th Street, development firm DDG was able to avoid the requirements for a tall tower that would directly touch the street. Local residents and politicians are now protesting this move and say the developer has found a clever way around the existing zoning laws to building a taller building.

Here's the Times's explanation:

In March 2014, the department said the project could go forward with the adjacent lot along 88th Street. But at the time of that approval, the lot proposed by the developer was more than 30 feet deep — a size that could be developed into a separate building.

After that determination, the developers shrunk its size and filed papers with the city that created the new four-foot-wide property, known as Tax Lot 138. Plans describe the space between the building, Tax Lot 37, and the side street, designed as a garden for residents that is open to the street, as a "rear yard."

By creating that small lot—and cutting down the size of the 88th Street-facing side of the building—its opponents argue that DDG was able to get around current zoning laws, which would have required a shorter building on a wider lot. Thanks to the change, the building's entrance is on Third Avenue.

Opponents include Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, who told the Times that "The zoning here is what it is, not what the developer wishes it were." City council member Ben Kallos, whose districts include the Upper East Side and Midtown East, has requested a stop-work order with the Department of Buildings, and the DOB told the Times that it's currently "auditing this project for compliance with the city’s construction codes and zoning resolution."

Also in question is DDG's relationship to the De Blasio administration: According to the Times, the developer contributed to De Blasio's mayoral campaign, as well as the Campaign for One New York, a non-profit that has come under fire for the influence that contributors may have had over City Hall. The non-profit has since shut down.