1299 Third Avenue Update: FRIENDS Appeals DOB’s Endorsement of Segmented Approvals

Current zoning approvals indicate a narrow, 33-story residential tower with significant cantilevers over neighboring buildings. Cantilevers of 12 feet to the north and 19 feet to the south allow the tower to be 78% wider than it would be otherwise.

In the last week there have been not one, but two, significant developments related to the long-stalled project at 1297-1299 Third Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets which has sat vacant for nearly three years. This is a T-shaped zoning lot on the block containing the iconic J.G. Melon restaurant, with narrow wings facing both side streets. FRIENDS has been monitoring this site since 2016 when conceptual renderings were first released. Most recently, in April 2021 FRIENDS had filed a zoning challenge to the Department of Buildings (DOB). Plans for the 33-story 421-foot cantilever building were rife with technical issues that were the basis for the challenge. The DOB finally issued a response last week, over a year since the challenge was submitted.

The one-story base at East 74th Street, which serves as the entrance to the building, is being processed as part of two separate applications to “enlarge” the rear of the two existing tenement buildings, rather than as part of the complete tower proposal.

Most egregiously, the DOB endorsed the applicant’s tactic of separating the one-story entrance facing 74th Street into separate projects from the tower itself. This portion of the building is located at the rear of existing tenement buildings at the NE corner of 74th and Third Avenue, home to J.G. Melon and Mezzaluna restaurants, and framed as enlargements to those structures rather than as part of the tower itself. In doing so, the applicant has gained approval for a building that would not otherwise be legal, undermining the predictability and very purpose of zoning regulation. If this absurd interpretation of three separate approvals for one building is upheld, it will open a new path to evading zoning regulations in the city, and will certainly lead to greater use of this tactic. In response, FRIENDS has filed a community appeal to the DOB urging the agency to rethink its approval of this building as planned.

It also cannot be overlooked that the DOB’s inexplicably delayed response to FRIENDS’ original challenge came in the same week as news broke that the project site has been sold to a new developer, the Elad Group, owner of the Plaza Hotel. In fact, although the DOB ultimately denied the challenge, the Department actually agreed with several issues. But rather than issuing a notice of intent to revoke the zoning approval, it appears that DOB used the Challenge to identify errors in the approved plan, and then worked with the applicant to correct the errors, while leaving the Zoning Challenge unanswered until new plans had been filed and a new owner secured.

This kind of obfuscation of true intent has become the norm for this site. In an earlier iteration of this project, the applicant had two dramatically different versions of a building in front of two different New York City agencies for the same site, at the same time – a tower resembling the current proposal as part of a Board of Standards and Appeals application, and a 6-story building before the DOB, which it had no intention of building. This is one example of the many areas where DOB reform is sorely needed.

We will continue to monitor this site. Meanwhile, another developer, EJS Group, has recently released preliminary plans for a 214 foot, 18-story building containing 38 residential units at the 75th Street corner of this same block.

Read FRIENDS’ complete community appeal for 1299 Third Avenue filed with the DOB HERE.