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Sutton Place rezoning to restrict skyscraper heights gets community board backing

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The City Planning Commission and City Council still have to vote on the proposal

Gamma Real Estate’s Thomas Juul-Hansen designed Midtown East skyscraper is in jeopardy now that the local community board has pushed forward a rezoning proposal that would prevent its construction.

Community Board 6 voted to approve a resolution in support of the zoning change put forward by a community group, the East River Fifties Alliance, Real Estate Weekly reports. Among other things, the rezoning proposal sets a height limit of 260 feet on new buildings.

Gamma’s project, after it took over the site from the embattled Bauhouse Group, initially called for an 850-foot skyscraper with 389 apartments. A few months later, when Gamma tapped Thomas Juul-Hansen to design, it was also revealed that the project had been scaled back to 700 feet.

Local residents weren’t pacified however, and submitted their proposal to the City Planning Commission to be certified last month. They did so, and now the project is moving through the public review process. Initially the City Planning Commission had expressed concerns that such a rezoning would stymie affordable housing, but part of the Alliance’s proposal also calls for 20 percent of the units at all new developments to be affordable.

This zoning proposal roughly concerns the area east of First Avenue between East 52nd and East 58th/59th Streets which is currently zoned as R10—the city’s highest-density zoning category, which means it is easier to build skyscrapers in this particular area. Research conducted by the Alliance shows that the height limit they selected (260 feet) is based on the fact that 91 percent of the buildings in the area are near or less than this height.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council members Daniel Garodnick and Ben Kallos, and State Senator Liz Krueger were all co-applicants on this zoning change proposal, and hailed the community board’s decision as a first victory.

“This is victory for thousands of residents from hundreds of buildings in and out of the neighborhood who have organized a grassroots application that would use height as an incentive to include affordable housing in any new building,” Kallos said in a statement.

Community Board 6 will now provide its comments to the City Planning Commission, as will the Manhattan Borough President’s office. The Planning Commission and the City Council will then seal the fate of this zoning change proposal.

Gamma declined to issue Curbed a comment, but Gamma president Jonathan Kalikow said the following to Real Estate Weekly:

“This self-serving proposal is not about community zoning. Rather, it is designed to protect the special interests of a small group of Community Board 6 members, many of whom reside at The Sovereign, a large luxury apartment building located adjacent to the Sutton 58 site. At every step, this application has been wholly driven by the desire of these residents to preserve views, not to benefit their community.”

Construction is already underway on that skyscraper and will be forced shutdown (or alter plans) if the zoning change goes through.