When the Turtle Bay Association (TBA) was founded in 1957, it was created in response to the growing need to protect the residential neighborhood from the surging development pressures associated with the City’s Central Business District just to the West. Today, more than 60 years later we still find ourselves in that same role—working to offset those same development pressures, now not only from the West, but every direction.
Case in point: In August 2017, the New York City Council approved the Greater East Midtown Rezoning, an effort to revitalize the area just to the West of Turtle Bay, by changing the zoning to allow not only denser construction, but what is now called supertall buildings. JPMorgan Chase at 270 Park was the first to take advantage of the plan, and is in the process of demolishing their 40 story building, and replacing it with a new 70 story behemoth. Others are following. The City’s development of this rezoning effort took a number of years and two Administrations, and as it happens, the TBA was hard at work during all that time making the case for exempting the east side of Third Avenue from the upzoning that could over-crowd, over-shadow and otherwise impact the historic brownstones, NYC landmarks, and the Turtle Bay Gardens Historic District that lay just beyond. We are happy to say however that in the final hours, the TBA was granted an exemption from the upzoning in the area on the east side of Third Avenue, from 46th Street to 51st Street.
While the Greater East Midtown Rezoning was developed for the purpose of revitalizing the existing office district mostly to the west of Turtle Bay, there has been no shortage of development in Turtle Bay itself — witness at 138 East 50th Street the very recent debut of Cerruzi Properties’ The Centrale residential tower — a supertall topping out at 803 feet. In recent years much development activity has taken place in the area near Grand Central Terminal, the area surrounding Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, and along Second Avenue as well — and it is expected that there will be more development to come on or near Second Avenue as there appears to be a number of potential sites there. Note that Minrav Holdings’ luxury condo development is already underway on East 52nd Street, only the site just off Second Avenue where the Turtle Bay Music School was (it having moved to East 38th Street).
As a matter of fact, the Second Avenue corridor has increasingly become the subject of TBA’s concern, and it is considering ways in which residents, merchants and the City can be organized in order to help keep the area clean, repair infrastructure, replace trees, and create public amenities. It should be noted that TBA has begun the process, as we are sure you have seen that we maintain trash receptacles with scheduled pick up service along the Avenue. We are sorry to say that in the recent City budget process however, TBA’s suggested projects regarding the rejuvenation of Second Avenue did not make it into the finals (with the exception perhaps of some tree replacement). It has to be said though that TBA will continue to press for change because the conditions along the Second Avenue corridor are the second most heard complaints from our Membership — next to that of bikes.
We have all seen the surge in the use of bicycles in the city, the development of bike-sharing programs, and the construction of protected bike lanes on the avenues. All of these projects have been well planned and strongly supported by the City’s Department of Transportation, and the Community Boards have generally approved them as important environmentally friendly projects. And so it goes that at this writing there is a proposed second phase for the construction of protected bike lanes which are to go cross town on 55th and 52nd Streets — similar to ones already established in the East 20’s. Since all three Community Boards, which span the island cross town from river to river have approved the project, we consider the proposal a fait accompli. In CB5’s case however, it did add a strongly worded resolution on the need for bike safety regulations, and TBA has adopted that resolution, and is vigorously seeking support for it. The feeling is that the construction of miles of bike lanes and rental racks, and the surge in biking itself, has reached a pivotal point where the issue of bike etiquette and safety regarding the well-being of the community (not to mention the bikers themselves) have to be newly addressed.
We should take a moment here to mention land use matters that are affecting TBA’s neighbors. We support the Sutton community’s effort to scale back the planned 800 feet supertall residential tower at 432 East 58th Street, into a more scaled back design more in keeping with the Sutton neighborhood. We also support the coalition of groups in the Sutton area that are trying to have the proposed bridge into Clara Coffey Park from the future East River Greenway redesigned or relocated. And in the Beekman neighborhood, hats off to the Beekman Place Association and Community Board 6, which finally got the City to install the long sought after gates at the 51st Street stairs, and on the bridge to the esplanade in Peter Detmold Park.
Much of the past year has been a year of land use changes, that is to say that TBA has joined with other groups — like the Historic District Council and Community Board 6 to name just two out of many — in advocating improved land use practices; such as:
• Strengthening the New York City Landmarks Commission proposed rules that govern and maintain the landmarking process (the initial proposed rules would have dramatically weakened the City’s ability to preserve its architectural history).
• Advocating that the new 2019 Charter Revision Commission maintain a strong public review process within the Community Boards (TBA felt that the 2018 Commission had somewhat limited the public review process).
• Supporting the City Council’s efforts to place limits on developers’ use of so called “voids” to construct supertall buildings (these empty lobby, floor, or mechanical spaces do not count in the allowable zoning calculations); and
• Joining with a coalition of Eastside residential groups to advocate for a full, or partial exemption for long time residents from the proposed Congestion Pricing rules which are planned for cars traveling below 61st Street Manhattan.
Land use does matter in the preservation and enhancement of the quality of life in our communities — office and residential towers can crowd out brownstones, community facilities can erode residential tranquility, and gentrification can change the character and diversity of neighborhoods. We care about how land use changes our community, because it is vigorous, involved communities where people both live and work.