Work halts at New York City condo tower after council rules it’s too tall

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NEW YORK — Workers building a Manhattan condo tower were in the middle of pouring concrete Thursday afternoon when the city’s building department came to shut everything down.

Fifteen minutes earlier, the New York City Council voted to rezone the neighborhood along the East River where the Sutton 58 development is located, capping the height of all new buildings in the area. Gamma Real Estate’s project, slated to rise 799 feet (244 meters), was suddenly illegal.

“The council vote occurred at 4:10 and we were stopped at 4:25 — that is a display of the craziness that has been thrust upon us,” Jonathan Kalikow, president of Gamma Real Estate, said in an interview Friday.

Gamma had been racing to finish foundation work ahead of the zoning change, which would require the planned 67-storey tower to be cut by about half. If the foundation had been completed before the ruling, the building would have been exempt from the restrictions.

Council members voted to approve the rezoning, covering the areas from 52nd to 59th streets, east of First Avenue and to the edge of the East River. At the time of the vote, Gamma was 10 work days away from completing the foundation, or about 95% done, said Mr. Kalikow, whose firm plans to seek a reprieve from the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The council’s decision fulfilled a years-long push by the East River 50s Alliance to preserve the character of the neighborhood’s quiet residential side streets, Alan Kersh, the group’s president, said in a statement. “This is an unprecedented victory for a community-led effort.”

The new zoning designation requires builders to spread wider, rather than higher. As much as 50% of their allowed square footage must be built in a structure that is no taller than 150 feet. The remaining square footage can be used to build vertically, atop that base, according to Mr. Kersh.

With his foundation nearly complete, and a full building permit secured, the Sutton 58 site meets criteria for getting relief from the rule change, according to Mr. Kalikow. The city planning commission took a similar view last month when it approved the rezoning but exempted Gamma’s project. The council removed that exemption from what it approved.

In the meantime, crews are securing the property for a shutdown over the winter months, putting in protections against water accumulation or other weather damage, Mr. Kalikow said.

“There is zero probability that we will not be grandfathered,” he said. “It will take time, but we are absolutely building this building.” — Bloomberg