'Billionaires' Row' supertower fight may be resolved via rezoning

Developer Gamma Real Estate is planning a new luxury-condominium supertower called The Sovereign on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. It has already purchased and demolished the four-story walkups that were there and has begun digging for the new tower's foundation.

In late June, however, inspectors found small cracks in the foundation of a building next door to the supertower, so the Buildings Department stopped work on the site.

Led by local city councilman Ben Kallos, opponents of the supertower now have another chance to fight what they claim is a project far too large for the character of the existing neighborhood. They fear the construction will threaten their own buildings, which is how the small foundation cracks were found. Kallos urged neighbors to call 911 if the demolition seemed to be putting their buildings in jeopardy.

They have applied for a zoning change that would limit towers on side streets to a height of about 21 stories. If they can obtain a zoning change by Labor Day, the tower would have to be reconsidered.

If Gamma is able to block the zoning change or restart construction before September, the 800-foot tower will likely go forward.

Does building mega-towers change the neighborhood?

Critics of the project say it will change both the physical and the financial character of the neighborhood. They worry, for one thing, that it will price middle-income people out of the neighborhood altogether.

"New Yorkers are exhausted by overdevelopment," said Kallos. "This is about standing up and showing the city that there's another way to do things."

A local resident and founding member of a neighborhood group opposing the tower said that the zoning change would protect side streets from mega-towers. Also, developers would be able to add a couple of extra floors if they were willing to reserve units for poor and middle-income tenants in the area.

Gamma took over the project after a default, and the tower is actually smaller than it would have been under the previous developer. The prior plan would have had a $43.5-million penthouse, and the entire building would likely have been marketed to wealthy foreigners. The new version will likely attract wealthy New Yorkers.

"This is very much New York," said the president of Gamma.

"This would set a horrendous precedent in New York, enabling rich folks to stop a nearby building they didn't like," he added.

If you or your organization is involved in a real estate or construction dispute, time is of the essence. We recommend seeking quality representation at the first sign of a disagreement.

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