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Deals & Dealmakers

Sutton Place dispute heats up as Gamma accuses opponents of withholding documents

Gamma Real Estate is accusing opponents of a planned 700-foot tall residential tower on East 58th Street of withholding documents ahead of a public hearing on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago, Jeffrey Braun, the counsel for Gamma Real Estate, said that four co-applicants to the proposal – State Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick – provided “non-committal” responses to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

“We cannot help but infer from these responses that the co-applicants… are deliberately delaying the production of documents – and deliberately delaying their definitive responses to our requests – until after the City Planning Commission has closed its public hearing and voted on the application,”the letter read.

The document, which includes print-outs of emails between Braun and the staff members of said public officials, was obtained by Real Estate Weekly through a source. It showed estimates ranging from five business days to 60 business days for getting a response. Braun was requesting all records related to the 432 East 58th Street site, including documents on land use, complaints, demolition and potential development.

Gamma submitted its requests on September 25. About a week after that date, neighborhood group East River Fifties Alliance submitted a new rezoning plan for the portion of First Avenue between East 51st and East 59th Street.

Kallos dismissed Gamma’s assertions as “patently false and pure fiction,” saying that he would be “thrilled” to get a response in 30 days for a similar request. The City Council’s FOIL officer gave estimates of 60 days for the Garodnick and Kallos requests, citing the “extensive nature” of the documents covered.

According to guidelines form the state’s Committee on Open Government, agencies that receive a FOIL request must deny or approve the request within five business days. If more time is needed, the agency can provide an estimate for a response, usually not exceeding 20 more days. The city’s OPENRecord portal showed estimates ranging from one week to seven months for active FOIL applications.

Krueger was similarly dismissive of Gamma’s complaint. “The protocol for any Senate office receiving a FOIL request is to pass it on to the Secretary of the Senate’s FOIL officer for response. This is what I have done, passing on Gamma’s request on the same day it was received,” she said.

Krueger blamed the timeline for Gamma’s Senate application on the company’s own filing error. According to Krueger, Gamma was instructed to send its request to the Secretary of the Senate. Instead, it sent the application to the Counsel for the Republican Conference. This was considered as an appeal, giving the Secretary of the Senate 20 days to respond.

Unlike Gamma’s search for documents, the Sutton Place rezoning plan is moving at an expedited pace. Both Community Board 6 and Borough President Gale Brewer have waived their right to the review the application.

REBNY President John Banks criticized this move, calling it a “shameful exploitation of publicly-entrusted government responsibility.” “Regardless if you have the point of view in support of a new building or if you’re opposed to the project – we should not cavalierly waive the public review process.  To put this in proper context, imagine the public outcry if a private applicant was able to skirt the public review process,” Banks said during his weekly REBNY Watch column.

Gamma, meanwhile, is racing to finish the foundation. If it completes the task before the area is rezoned, it would be grandfathered under the old zoning rules.

Garodnick declined to comment. Brewer did not respond to a request for a statement.

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