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Controversial Sutton Place project may be out of reach of opponents

A few weeks ago, an East Midtown community group unveiled a rezoning plan that aims to prohibit the development of tall towers in an area covering 52nd to 59th Street east of First Avenue. The organization, called the East River Fifties Alliance, fiercely opposed the development of a 68-story tower in Sutton Place at 426-432 East 58th Street, going so far as raising money themselves to pay for lawyers and city planners for a rezoning bid.

While the plan has generated a lot of support, particularly from politicians such as State Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, it may be off on at least one aspect: timing. According to a spokesperson from Bauhouse Group, the project, called 3 Sutton Place, would go on even if a rezoning happens.

“The demolition of the Bauhouse site is nearing completion, and foundation permits will be submitted in the next several weeks. Any rezoning matters do not apply to this “as of right” site, and even if a rezoning were to occur, the building will be at or near completion by the time such matters would be resolved,” the company said.

Steven Barshov, a principal at law firm Sive, Paget & Riesel, agreed with Bauhouse’s comments, saying that the company cannot be prevented from constructing a tall tower at this point. “While I appreciate that the people who are proposing to change the zoning have seized upon that development as the reason why they want to propose changes to the zoning, I don’t think it’s possible for a building that is about to begin construction within weeks to be affected by district zoning unless for some reason they just don’t build what they’re allowed to build. That’s highly unlikely,” he said.

The East River Fifties Alliance submitted its rezoning plan to the Department of City Planning late last month. The proposal, which is meant to replace the area’s R10 zoning designation, imposes a building limit of 260 feet, which comes to about 25 stories. Currently, the zoning in the area imposes no height restrictions. The plan also included an affordable housing requirement, with at least 25 percent of units in new residential developments set aside for affordable housing.

“Our ‘people’s plan’ is one of the largest and most comprehensive re-zoning proposals put together by a community in the City’s history. It’s also the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component. We’ve worked hard to create a plan that will not only maintain the character of our own neighborhood, but will potentially serve as a template for other communities too,” said Alan Kersh, the president of the ERFA.

“We are drawing a line on the march of superscrapers at billionaire’s row to protect our city’s residential neighborhoods,” added Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood. “The outdated zoning laws developers currently use for self-enrichment will be updated to protect residential neighborhoods from over-development. The East River Fifties Alliance has proposed a rare community application to rezone a neighborhood, making it impossible to build superscrapers ‘as of right.'”

According to an earlier report from DNAInfo, opponents of the 3 Sutton Place tower went door to door to raise money for the rezoning bid. The group, which already had “hundreds of thousands of dollars” last October, was said to have been working on imposing the height cap before the start of construction.

Even if Bauhouse manages to just shrug off community pushback, it still faces other obstacles in constructing the project. The number of stories planned for the building has gone down from 80 stories to 68 stories. According to a report from the Real Deal, the company is struggling to secure financing for the development. Bauhouse was said to have been seeking an $80 million loan for the property.

The project represents a large investment for Bauhouse. In January of last year, the company bought properties on 58th Street for $32 million. Seven months later, it assembled the air rights for the project for $37.9 million. In total, the project is expected to cost around $750 million.

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