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High Rises in Turtle Bay
BY BRUCE A. SILBERBLATT
CHAIR OF LANDUSE COMMITTEE

Turtle Bay residents have noticed an unusual amount of new construction going on in our community. Given the past several years of prosperity in New York and the proximity of Turtle Bay to the booming Midtown business district, this activity is not at all unusual. There are four major sites involved:

The most notorious is, of course, the overwhelming Trump World Tower, an out-of-scale edifice without architectural distinction other than being very, very tall (860 feet!). TBA led in creating a coalition that fought Trump tooth and nail only to be defeated in the New York State Appellate Division. That august body unanimously ruled that the Department of Buildings (DOB) had the sole expertise to decide the issue and that it, the Court, must defer to such wisdom. In effect, that means that there is no appeal from any Department of Buildings action - and that, of course, goes far beyond Trump World Tower. This is indeed a dangerous law.

DOB, in practice, enforces some parts of the zoning and ignores others. In the case of the 1st Avenue sign adorning the Trump World Tower, it has done exactly that. The language of the zoning is, in this case, crystal clear - not the usual obfuscatory, murky stuff that beclouds most of its text. On any apartment house, the identifying sign must be no larger than twelve square feet. As might be expected given everything else related to this building, the sign is at least fifteen times bigger than allowed! Despite this, DOB issued a permit for it! TBA has voiced its objections; whether or not DOB will rescind the permit is not as yet known.

At 931 First Avenue, the Beekman Regent is being enclosed with brick and stone masonry. The developer preserved the facade of the century-old school that once occupied the site and the edifice is, unlike the Trump megalith, entirely compatible with its environs, in large part due to a community drive spearheaded by TBA. Construction has had its problems, starting with asbestos removal from the old school and continuing with stabilizing the old facade while removing the structure within and putting down foundations to bedrock.

Diagonally across from the Beekman Regent will rise the 32-story Grand Beekman. Here our concerns are not so much zoning (with which it appears to comply) or scale, but rather the location of its entrance, planned to be on East 51st Street, and the problems inherent in building at this particular location. With an entrance sited on 51st, the occupants of the Grand Beekman must approach via Beekman Place, which is narrower than most side-streets. Together with 50th and 51st streets, this area is already difficult to get through. Adding any more traffic here could very well make it virtually impossible for ambulances, and police and fire vehicles, to get through. TBA notified both the builder and Fire Commissioner Von Essen of our concerns, only to be greeted by silence. Actual construction will create more problems, since there is practically no space to site a crane either on 51st Street or 1st Avenue. Given the indifference of the DOB and, apparently, the Fire Commissioner himself, TBA has urged Council Member Gifford Miller to establish a community action committee to ensure that public safety is paramount and to avoid any upheaval in the neighborhood.

At 301 East 53rd Street, the Macklowe organization has assembled a plot but its plans are not as yet known. The architect may be the renowned Frank Gehry. TBA will watch for further developments here.

It is neither the goal nor the function of the Turtle Bay Association to stifle all building in our neighborhood; rather, it is to try to make certain that what goes up is in keeping with it. Thus, while we vigorously, albeit unsuccessfully, fought Trump World Tower as being too big and too tall, we welcomed Beekman Regent as it was the end-result of a lengthy community effort to preserve an unofficial local landmark. Now we urge the builder of Grand Beekman to work with us, not against us, to guarantee safety and minimize construction disturbance. New York City changes as it inevitably must; it is a living creature. TBA recognizes that fact; we strive to achieve the proper balance between the new and the old that we cherish so.

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The Turtle Bay Association is a nonprofit (501c3) community organization.

224 East 47th Street, New York City 10017
(212) 751-5465
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