Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sutton Place South Co-Op Finally Relents Over Backyard Park

A verdant little jewel atop Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive between E. 56/57th streets - has served as a lush private backyard for one of the city's most exclusive addresses for more than half a century. The City and the co-op board finally came to terms in a deal that will return a portion the property - 10,000 square feet - for a public park overlooking the East River. (Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

When the 13-story Italian Renaissance building at 1 Sutton Place South was built in 1927, the land in back sloped down to the East River and residents had access to the waterfront. (Photo: Vincent Laforet/The New York Times - 2005)

In 1939, the city took most of the co-op backyard under eminent domain to build the East River Drive (Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive). The city agreed to lease the land atop the highway back to 1 Sutton Place South and its residents for $1 a year. But once the lease expired in 1990, the co-op - and a park commissioner - kept quiet about the status of its valued outdoor amenity. The co-op board even swore prospective buyers to secrecy according to the New York Times - Geoffrey Croft


Large wrought iron fences currently keep the public out.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has plans to turn slightly more than half of the backyard garden into a quarter-acre park. (Rendering: New York City Parks Department - 2005)

An exclusive East Side co-op has released its ownership claim on a 10,000-square-foot patch of its elevated backyard overlooking the East River, ending a decade-long boundary dispute with the city, according to the New York Times.

As part of a settlement, the owners of the apartment building at 1 Sutton Place South, between 56th and 57th Streets, will share with the city the $2 million cost of building a public park on the site.

The area behind the co-op was the focus of a quarrel between the co-op’s owners and the parks department over the past decade as the city tried to claim a portion of the yard for public use.

According to the agreement, announced in a joint statement on Tuesday, the city and the Sutton Place South Corporation, which owns the 13-story apartment building, will each contribute $1 million to the park’s construction. The site will connect two existing community parks on the eastern ends of 56th and 57th Streets.

“Every square foot of parkland is precious, particularly on the Upper East Side,” said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the parks department. “I’d say, in the long run, it’s worth the protracted negotiation.”

The yard’s history dates back more than 70 years. In 1939, as the city planned to build what is now the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, it moved to control most of the co-op’s backyard under eminent domain. In return, the city agreed to pour soil over the drive’s roof, ensuring residents would not be disturbed by the din of passing vehicles.

Sutton Place Park. Two existing park properties North and South will connect to the reclaimed park when it is completed next year.

The co-op rented that deck from the city for $1 a year, but once the lease expired in 1990, the co-op kept quiet about the status of its valued outdoor amenity, even swearing prospective buyers to secrecy. The city eventually moved to retake control of the space; in 2007, the co-op filed a lawsuit disputing the boundaries of the area to which the city was entitled.

“This has been something very special to the building for a great deal of time,” said Lucy Lamphere, president of the Sutton Place South Corporation. “However, it became clear that something needed to happen.”

Under the agreement, the co-op will release its ownership claim to the part of the deck closest to the East River. The city, in turn, will release its claim to the part closest to the building, leaving the co-op with less than 4,000 square feet of the disputed area.

The city’s slice will be converted, using an architect enlisted by the co-op, to a park intended mostly for quiet leisure, not active recreation. Mr. Benepe said he hoped construction would begin within the year.

1 Sutton Place South. The triple-arched porte-cochere still opens to a glass-walled lobby with views of the garden and the East River. The owners of the exclusive 13-story Italian Renaissance co-op building attempted to block the city from seizing the park in court. The co-op originally sought $10 million in compensation for the property if it lost the case. The co-op is now paying the city $1 milllon dollars.

The city acquired the land in a condemnation proceeding in the 1940's to build the East River Drive (Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive). After the lease ran out in 1990, the co-op board passed a resolution requiring prospective apartment buyers to review the semi-secret status of the garden and to sign a strict confidentiality agreement.

Read More:

Co-op Ends Fight With City Over Its East Side Backyard
New York Times - November 1, 2011 - By Matt Flegenheimer

New York Observer - November 2, 2011 - By Matt Chaban

DNAinfo - November 1, 2011 - By Amy Zimmer

New York Times - December 31, 2003 - By Charles V. Bagli

A Park? Not With My Backyard; Sutton Place Resists City's Grand Plans for Its Garden
New York Times - January 9, 2005 - By Charles V. Bagli

New York Times - June 19, 2007 - By Charles V. Bagli

City Council Member Jessica Lappin released the following statement:

I have some exciting news to share. A new 10,000-square-foot waterfront park will be opening to the public, thanks to an agreement signed by the New York City Parks Department and Sutton Place South Corporation (SPSC). The new parkland sits atop a roof deck over the FDR Drive, and will connect existing parks at the eastern ends of 56th and 57th Streets.

This historic agreement resolves a 10-year boundary dispute by transforming a portion of One Sutton Place South’s current backyard into a public green space overlooking the East River. To meet the anticipated costs of construction and design, I secured $1 million in city capital funding and SPSC, which owns the co-op at One Sutton Place, has agreed to contribute another $1 million.

We accomplished what many said we never could. The city and One Sutton Place South worked together in a collaborative way to give the public greater access to the waterfront.

Here is what the Parks Department and SPSC had to say about this monumental achievement.

“It is always gratifying to generate a positive outcome from a difficult situation,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “Instead of prolonging a boundary-line dispute, neighborhood and building residents will enjoy a public garden terrace overlooking the East River. We are grateful to the Sutton Place South Corporation for partnering with the city to create a beautiful new park, and to Council Member Jessica Lappin for allocating essential funds that will help make these improvements a reality.”

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that provides a valuable amenity for our community,” said SPSC President Lucy Lamphere. “We thank Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and his colleagues for their assistance in creating a plan that respects the building’s architectural integrity and balances its residents’ desire to maintain a reasonable degree of privacy while providing beautiful and much-needed park space for our neighbors. We are also grateful for the support of our City Council Member Jessica Lappin for securing a portion of the funding necessary for this project.”

I will keep you updated as we begin building this new green space.


Jessica Lappin

1 comment:

  1. Why did the city sell 4,000 sq. ft. to the building for only $1 million? Waterfront land on the East Side has to be worth more than this.