NYC Condo Skyscraper's Builder Wins a Round -- With a Catch

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The Queensboro Bridge leads into Manhattan’s East Side. 

Photographer: Education Images/Universal Images Group Editorial

The battle over whether an 800-foot condo tower planned for Manhattan’s East Side can be built to its full height took a step forward Wednesday -- with city officials saying both yes, and no.

A years-long neighborhood lobbying effort to cap the height of new towers near the East 50s riverfront won an endorsement Wednesday from the planning commission, which agreed to rezone the area in a way that would make skyscraping condo towers impossible to build. But commissioners also voted to allow Sutton 58, the under-construction project that inspired the rezoning push, to be grandfathered in under the new law, and proceed as is.

“This result says, ‘You guys wanted a rezoning? We’re going to accommodate that. But we’re going to exempt the one building you guys said specifically wasn’t the target,’” said Jonathan Kalikow, president of Gamma Real Estate, the developer building the tall condo project at the site. “We’re very pleased at the recognition.”

The pleasure may be fleeting though. Councilman Ben Kallos, one of the applicants on the rezoning proposal, said he’ll attempt to remove the grandfathering clause when the full city council considers the matter later this month -- the final step in a long bureaucratic process.

“This is a citywide push against overdevelopment,” Kallos said in an interview. “It has to do with a Billionaires’ Row tower that has no place in residential neighborhoods.”

Kalikow’s construction workers have been working on weekends in an effort to complete the foundation for his building before the new rules -- which would cut the 67-story tower by about half -- can be approved. If they win that race, the tower can be built to its planned height without special exemptions. That’s not likely to happen before Nov. 30, when the city council is scheduled to vote, Kalikow said.

“We are hopeful that the hundred workers employed at this site aren’t laid off in the midst of the holiday season just because the councilman has a vendetta against our project,” Kalikow said.

The East River 50s Alliance, the group behind the rezoning push, said it was never just about one project. It was an effort to deter developers from amassing parcels containing low-rise, often rent-stabilized housing and demolishing those buildings in favor of their own megatower.

“We are very optimistic that the city council will see the wisdom of reversing the grandfather provision,” Alan Kersh, the group’s president, said in a statement.

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