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Sutton Place rezoning sets stage for potential legal battle

A Sutton Place zoning change approved by city council last week might have set the stage for a legal battle between the city and the would-be developer of an 800-foot-tall luxury apartment building.

On Thursday, the council adopted a text amendment to the area’s zoning that requires at least 45 percent of a building’s square footage to remain below 150 feet tall. This creates a problem for Gamma Real Estate, which has already broken ground on a 67-story, supertall apartment building at 426-432 East 58th Street.

With more than 90 percent of the foundation excavation complete, the developer had banked on a grandfather clause sparing its 125-unit tower. However, no such exception was granted and construction was brought to halt 15 minutes after the zoning change was passed, Jonathan Kalikow of Gamma Real Estate said.

Kalikow said his company will not amend its plan to make the building shorter, nor will it use a tower-on-base model, would allow it to build up to 260 feet high.

“Our building’s foundation is only 10 days away from completion,” he said. “Our building is going to be built as it was designed to 800 feet with the appropriate (floor area ration). That has been known for months.”

Gamma Real Estate will challenge the decision in front of the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, or BSA, a process Kalikow said he believes will be “very objective, very black and white” because of how much progress was made on the site prior to the zoning change.

If the BSA does not grant the appeal, the developer has already taken steps for a potential lawsuit, Kalikow said, including sending a letter to Councilman Ben Kallos, telling him not to delete any emails related to the case.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has championed the re-zoning effort at city hall since a group of his constituents raised the issue in 2015. He said had the proposed change not been stuck in the preapproval stage for more than a year, it would have passed through the council well before construction began on the site.

Kallos expects the BSA to uphold the council’s decision and he’s prepared for a lawsuit if that happens.

“The developer has threatened retaliation and though they also said they would be done with excavation by the time the amendment was approved, I will have to take them at their word,” he said. “Whatever that’s worth.”

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