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MAS Comments on East River Fifties Alliance/Sutton Place Zoning

Full Title: MAS Comments on East River Fifties Alliance/Sutton Place Zoning Text Amendment, City Planning Commission, ULURP No. N180082 ZRM, Manhattan, NY.

Over the past year, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has supported the East River Fifties Alliance’s (ERFA) rezoning proposal as an effective community-driven plan designed to prevent out-of-scale development and promote affordable housing in Sutton Place. The proposal was a practical model for local stakeholders seeking to rationalize zoning in their neighborhoods and maintain the character of their communities. While we were pleased with the proposal’s affordable housing goals, we expressed concern that it did not go far enough, and urged the City to work with ERFA and the co-applicants to arrive at an even stronger affordability requirement.

We commend the exhaustive effort ERFA, the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and NYS Senator Liz Krueger have made in finding common ground with the City.

And yet, the Sutton Place community is now faced with a zoning text amendment that lacks the specific height restrictions and mandatory affordable housing component that would have best preserved neighborhood character. While the current plan is certainly an improvement on the lack of protections under current zoning, we feel the proposal falls short of the neighborhood’s long-term vision.

Equally concerning to MAS is the process that led to the current proposal. It sends a message to other communities, especially those do not have the same resources as Sutton Place, that grassroots, community-based planning initiatives will be met with strong resistance from the City.

Background

The original ERFA proposal included reasonable height limits for future construction (initially 260 feet and later increased to 350 feet), allowed bonuses with a maximum of 13 FAR for residential uses with Inclusionary Housing and community facilities, and would have added 92 affordable housing units and 84,000 sf of new community facility uses.

In contrast, the current proposal certified by CPC would require all new residential buildings constructed in the rezoning area to conform to tower-on-a-base (TOB) provisions for R10 districts and would maintain the FAR (10 base, 2 bonus) and affordable housing requirements (4.76 percent) under current zoning.

Position

MAS is pleased that the new TOB regulations would impose limitations on a developer’s ability to utilize air rights assembled through the use of zoning lot mergers on any particular site. And while the resulting building heights are expected to be taller than what was permitted under the original ERFA proposal, we recognize that they will be significantly shorter than what current zoning allows.

We do however, strongly urge the CPC to work with ERFA and the co-applicants, to find a way to incorporate a mandatory inclusionary housing component to the rezoning that would better protect lower income residents of Sutton Place from potential displacement, and include provisions for more community facilities.

Conclusion

The original ERFA proposal represented sound community planning measures which embody the concerns of the people who live and work in Sutton Place. They created a blueprint for managing future development and framing critical land use decisions.

The current proposal is a tentative step in the right direction for preserving neighborhood character. But given the effort and resources needed for the Sutton Place community to arrive at this level of compromise, we remain greatly concerned that lower income communities would not have the capacity to wage a similar effort.

Throughout the entire rezoning process, ERFA and the co-applicants worked in good faith with the Department of City Planning to meet the numerous strict requirements set by the City. While MAS is disappointed by many of the changes to ERFA’s original proposal, we support the current iteration and urge the City to explore our recommendations regarding affordable housing and the inclusion of community facilities.