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Thread: Sutton Place: A Park? Not With My Backyard

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    Default Sutton Place: A Park? Not With My Backyard

    January 9, 2005

    A Park? Not With My Backyard

    By CHARLES V. BAGLI




    The backyard garden at 1 Sutton Place, on a deck atop Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, has been in place for decades, but the co-op's lease for the land has expired. The city wants to remove the fence and let the public in.

    The unusual civic tussle over the garden at 1 Sutton Place, an emerald oasis atop a deck over Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive that forms the lush backyard of one of the city's most exclusive co-ops, first surfaced a little more than a year ago.

    The co-op along the East River regarded the land for the garden, which it began to lease from the city more than 60 years ago, as its private jewel and a compelling amenity for a building where residents routinely pay millions of dollars for their apartments.

    The city, which acquired the land in a condemnation proceeding in the 1940's, says the lease expired long ago and the land, the size of two tennis courts, should be turned over to the public.

    And now, in a city starved for land, the dispute - one suffused with old money, dusty documents and questions of privileged entitlement and eminent domain - is entering the second, perhaps inevitable, act of its public staging.

    The Parks Department is preparing to physically seize more than half of the co-op's backyard and has designs to remove the fences that now keep the public out and turn it into a park. It would link two tiny parks to the north and south, while furthering the city's effort to build a publicly accessible green necklace along the Manhattan waterfront.

    The residents - including Ann Cox Chambers, a billionaire who together with her sister controls Cox Communications; Carolyne Roehm, the fashion designer; Sigourney Weaver, the actress; and George Gould, a former undersecretary of the United States treasury - are irate and ready to go to court. They say the Bloomberg administration has got it all wrong.

    In the coming months, more will be revealed about this classic real estate story, one replete with secret agreements, disputes over an 1820 land survey, and the city's intentions more than six decades ago. Already the struggle has attracted the attention of urban planners and law students from as far away as California, as well as the local community board and supporters of public parks.

    "We're proceeding on the assumption that this is in fact city parkland, even though we've heard to the contrary from the building owners," said Adrian Benepe, the city's parks commissioner. "There's an attempt to maintain a contemplative, gardenesque setting. We're not building a hockey rink in their backyard. We're sensitive to the fact it's cheek-by-jowl with a residential building."

    A little history may be necessary.

    Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia snatched most of the co-op's backyard under eminent domain in 1939 to build what is now known as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. The city, in turn, leased the land on the deck over the highway back to the co-op.

    But that lease expired 15 years ago. The co-op initially tried to extend the lease in 1989 and 1990, but subsequently decided to keep mum. For unknown reasons, neither the Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani nor Bloomberg administrations negotiated a new lease, or repossessed the land. The co-op's plan of strategic silence appeared to have succeeded.

    The issue of the expired lease finally surfaced publicly in 2003 after the state moved to rehabilitate the highway and wanted to know who owned the land overhead. Mr. Benepe now wants the land back under city control.

    The co-op has deployed two law firms to mount a defense of its rhododendron-lined garden. They have descended on the municipal archives where the corners of yellowing documents flutter to the floor when pulled from their folders.

    Mr. Gould, the avuncular chairman of the co-op, said the proposed park, and presumably any gawkers, would come within 30 or 35 feet of the rear of the building.

    "Look at this from the point of view of someone who lives in the building," Mr. Gould said. "If you live on the lower floors, that's a change in lifestyle."

    The co-op argues that in 1940 the city simply wanted to build the highway, not a park. In compensation for taking the co-op's land, the city provided the deck beneath its backyard and layered on two feet of earth. Lawyers for the co-op say that the building paid $15,000 toward the cost of building the deck and the garden.

    Mr. Gould emphasized that talks with the city are amicable. But, he said, if all else fails, "a court may have to decide" whether the co-op gets to keep its whole backyard, or at least a major portion of it.

    In the meantime, the State Department of Transportation is moving forward on a $136 million rehabilitation of the F.D.R. from 54th to 63rd Streets. Work on the tunnel beneath the co-op's garden is set to begin next fall. It will require ripping up the backyard, replacing the waterproof membrane over the tunnel and restoring the land.

    The city has given the state its plan for a new park, which would link two pocket parks - one at 56th Street and one at 57th Street - that would also be renovated.

    Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, said the city is doing the right thing. "Every piece of green space is special in an urban environment like New York City," she said.

    Mr. Benepe said land disputes are not uncommon at the Parks Department, which oversees 29,000 acres of parkland and 500 separate pieces of property.

    But, he acknowledged, there has been "nothing quite like this."

    For his part, Mr. Gould said the matter has inflamed co-op board meetings, where residents of the building's 42 apartments complain of the loss of their garden and the diminished value of their property. "I've gotten a thousand suggestions," he said. "I'm afraid to walk into the lobby for fear of getting another suggestion for how this should be done."

    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. The Vanderbilts, Morgans, Delanos and other members of the city's aristocracy were in the midst of migrating farther east from Fifth and Park Avenues.

    The Phipps family, a major landowner along the East River whose fortune was based in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, erected 1 Sutton Place as an elegant home for itself and its friends. The triple-arched porte-cochere still opens to a glass-walled lobby with views of the garden and the East River.

    Amy Phipps originally occupied the 6,400-square-foot penthouse, which featured a large ballroom at one end of the apartment and a library with a marble fireplace at the other. She passed it on to her son, Winston Churchill Guest, and his wife C. Z. Guest, a socialite who adorned the cover of Time magazine in 1962.

    In 2000, Richard Perry, president of Perry Capital, a hedge fund, paid $10.9 million for the 17-room penthouse and did an extensive renovation.

    Under the terms of a 1939 agreement, Paul Hammond, then president of 1 Sutton Place, agreed to limit the co-op's claim for its land to $1 in return for the city's promise to build a double-decked roadway that would be covered by two feet of soil "suitable for planting."

    In turn, the co-op leased the land above the highway for 50 years, with rent starting at $1 a year and, with an escalator clause, it rose to $1.46 in 1980. The building's lawyers provided letters showing that the co-op tried to renew the lease in 1989 and 1990, as responsibility for the property passed from one city agency to another. But nothing came of it.

    The co-op board later passed a resolution requiring prospective apartment buyers to review the semi-secret status of the garden and to sign a strict confidentiality agreement. The resolution states that the board "upon the advice of counsel, decided not to seek the renewal or extension of the lease." Mr. Gould said he did not live in the building at the time and could not explain it.

    The city has drawn a line between the co-op property and the city's land based on an 1820 survey of the high water mark, which the co-op disputes.

    The co-op's lawyers cite an article written in 1940 by Stanley M. Isaacs, the borough president at the time, who said that the city tried to come to terms with property owners in a way that allowed the city to acquire the land for the highway cheaply, while preserving the privacy and property values of the "costly residential development at Sutton Place."

    But in contrast with 1 Sutton Place, the owners of Sutton Square, an enclave of townhouses just to the north, retained ownership of their property and their garden, while granting the city an easement for the highway. There was no lease. "It's a better deal," concluded Robert Appel, a lawyer for Sutton Square, although he says his neighbors should be allowed to keep their garden, all of it.

    Community Board 6, whose district includes Sutton Place, has passed a resolution supporting the city's efforts to take back the land and create a park in a neighborhood where there is little open space. A community board member, Edward Rubin, said the Parks Department seems "fairly optimistic that they can withstand any legal challenge this well-heeled co-op may bring."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Sutton Place Squatters Finally Giving Up Back Yard Fight?

    December 20, 2010, by Sara Polsky



    It's the most hotly contested strip of grass over an expressway in all of Manhattan: the quarter-acre lawn between 1 Sutton Place South and the East River. The building leased the lawn from the city for $1/year back in 1939. A pretty sweet deal—until the lease expired in 1990. The co-op board decided to pretend nothing had changed, swearing all new buyers to secrecy about the lease expiration. The city eventually woke up and made plans to replace the private garden with a public park. The building filed suit to keep the space private in 2007. Our money was on their money, but it looks like we were wrong: the Post reports that the co-op board appears close to an agreement to give up the lawn to the city. The residents' lawsuit originally asked for $10 million in exchange. Will Manhattan's deepest-pocketed squatters get their dough?

    City fights residents of a Sutton Place co-op for control of park space [NYP]
    1 Sutton Place South coverage [Curbed]

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2010/1...yard_fight.php

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    I really hope they get nothing on this.

    If they wanted to talk "fair" all they needed to do was ask for a greenway between the mini-parks. maybe a good 10-15 foot wide pathway that would allow passage along the river, with a belt of green buffer still available to the co-op AT A FEE.

    This is what I do not get. If the co-op was leasing from the city in a sweet deal, what gives them the right to get money for something they never really owned?

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    What gives them the right?

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    In reference to the link, I have seen that at every level. From the rich saying that that leased space is actually their private property and they are the only ones that have the right to access it, even if they don't, to the poor that will walk along the sidewalk and toss cigarette wrappers, ATM receipts and other trash right on the street as tehy walk feeling that it is "not their job" to clean up and there is someone below them that will (I have seen that action more often among the have-nots than the have's for some strange reason)

    As for "them", it has always been "their" fault. It has just taken time for everyone to accept that as the norm. Hopefully automated service will catch up with our own sence of entitlement or we all will be heading for a very top-heavy face plow into reality.

  6. #6

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    Adverse possession?

    Wouldn't be holding my breath about winning, though (and apparently they didn't)

    My sister used to live in that neighborhood. I'd walk by there, and you could see a tantalizing peek of the garden out the back of the lobby.

    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post
    What gives them the right?

  7. #7
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Sutton Place's Exclusive Gated Garden Will Finally Open to the Public

    The private green oasis of one of Manhattan's most exclusive co-ops is in final negotiations to become a public park.

    By Amy Zimmer

    Private open space for Sutton Place built above FDR Drive deck. (Flickr/Zachary Korb)

    MANHATTAN — After a long and drawn-out fight, a private waterfront patch of green space is getting closer to becoming a new public park.

    One Sutton Place South, one of New York's most exclusive co-ops, has tried for years to keep the public out of its backyard plot, with its stunning East River views.
    But city officials expect to reclaim the land shortly.

    City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin has already secured $1 million to transform the gated oasis into a public park, she told Community Board 6 members in January.

    There is still one outstanding issue that needs to be hashed out, according to people familiar with the negotiations between the building and various government agencies. But after that's resolved — which insiders say is likely — it's just a matter of crossing "T"s and dotting "I"s before the new park can be built.

    "Discussions are ongoing," Elizabeth Thomas, of the New York City Law Department said of the land deal. "We remain hopeful that the matter will be resolved amicably."
    The co-op's lawyer, Peter Neger, concurred.

    The spat over the land stems back to a complicated deal worked out in 1939 when the city gave the tony building a 50-year lease for the outdoor space for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR Drive, which the green space now sits atop.

    No one paid much attention when the lease expired in 1990, but the ownership of the garden attracted scrutiny when the FDR's renovation came up for review in 2003.

    A ploy four years ago by state and city agencies to retake roughly half of the land to build a quarter-acre park didn't go over well with residents of the 13-story elite enclave at 57th Street, once home to the likes of socialite C.Z. Guest, fashion designer Bill Blass and actress Sigourney Weaver.

    Public officials accused the well-heeled co-op of squatting on the open space. The co-op filed a lawsuit to thwart any groundbreaking and sought $10 million in compensation for the property, according to reports.

    Community Board 6, which has a dearth of open space and has been working on reclaiming its waterfront, clamored for the land to be transferred to the public.

    "Community Board 6 fought hard to make sure that this public space was returned to the people of New York," the CB6 Chair Mark Thompson told DNAinfo. "We're proud of the work we've done and look forward to enjoying the new park in a few years."

    Lappin, who has been working with the neighborhood on securing the space, also said she looked forward to the day it opens.

    "This park, while small in size," she said, "is a huge and critical piece of our efforts to build a continuous loop of green space around the island of Manhattan."

    http://www.dnainfo.com/20110203/uppe...#ixzz1CzYPNfJS

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    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Gated Garden at Sutton Place to Become Public Park

    By Amy Zimmer

    MANHATTAN — After a 10-year fight to keep the public out of its backyard, the exclusive co-op at One Sutton Place South, has reached an agreement with the city to transform the green oasis with stunning East River views into a new 10,000-square-foot waterfront park, city officials announced Tuesday.

    The Upper East Side's City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin secured $1 million in city funding to build a park in the gated greenspace. The Sutton Place South Corporation, which owns the tony 13-story co-op once home to the likes of socialite C.Z. Guest, fashion designer Bill Blass and actress Sigourney Weaver, agreed to contribute $1 million.

    “We've done what people said we never could," said Lappin, who herself has never set foot on the property, but once saw it from the co-op's lobby.

    "It's a very special piece of waterfront property," said Lappin. She said she was often stopped in grocery stores and building elevators by constituents asking her about when the deal would be completed.

    The Sutton Place building will get to keep less than 4,000 square feet of its backyard private.

    The co-op's president Lucy Lamphere said the plan "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."

    The feud over the land dates back to a complicated deal from 1939 when the city gave the co-op a 50-year lease for the outdoor space for $1 a year in exchange for building the FDR Drive, which the green space was built atop. When the lease expired in 1990, no one paid much attention, but the garden's ownership attracted scrutiny when the FDR Drive's renovation came up for review in 2003.

    Public officials accused the well-heeled co-op of squatting on the open space, and four years ago, state and city agencies tried to retake roughly half of the land to build a quarter-acre park.

    That didn't go over well with the co-op's residents, who filed a lawsuit to thwart any groundbreaking and sought $10 million in compensation for the property, according to reports.

    “This agreement ends a decade-long dispute, including litigation, while enabling the construction of a stunning new waterfront park,” New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said in a statement. “It is the result of years of hard work, and we are gratified that the public will benefit from the outcome.”

    The new park, estimated to cost $2 million for design and construction, will be open from dawn to dusk and connect with two existing community parks located at the eastern ends of East 56th and 57th streets, city officials said.

    Lappin anticipates that it will have a promenade for strolling and some grass for passive recreation.

    Once completed, the design will need to go before Community Board 6 for approval.

    http://www.dnainfo.com/20111101/uppe...#ixzz1cXirqFlY

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    If it goes public, they will have to pave/tile over it. That grass won't last a week.....

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    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Heavily used parks all over the city have areas of grass and they do just fine.

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Um... Last time I checked, those areas were fenced in with "do not even THINK of walking on grass" signs.... (Washington Square....)

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    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Madison Square allows people on the lawn. They rotate the public areas around the park.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ninjahedge View Post
    Um... Last time I checked, those areas were fenced in with "do not even THINK of walking on grass" signs.... (Washington Square....)
    Was this right after renovation?

    The Washington Square lawns aren't fenced in. There is post and chain fencing that's easily stepped over. Using the lawns isn't prohibited.

    Many heavily used lawns are closed in the winter, when they are dormant, so they can rebound and put out new grass in the spring - Sheep Meadow, BPC lawns.

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    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    Some people just work in Manhattan and seem to go mostly go from their job to the train station...so they wouldn't know much about when the lawns are open or closed with fences.

    The fact is that there are open lawns all over the place.

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    excellent, just in time for #OccupyEastSide

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