One Sutton Place South Sues City Over New Park

The city's plan to build a park on the property of the upscale apartment building One Sutton Place South just hit a snag.

Sutton Place South Corporation, the owner of the co-op at 57th Street along the East River that's included C.Z. Guest, Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Sigourney Weaver as residents, has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court to prevent the city from building a park on land that belongs to the building. The lawsuit was filed after the Department of Transportation alerted the building on May 31 of its plans to start construction at the end of June.

According to a press release, the 1925 deed for One Sutton Place South states that the eastern boundary of the property is the "high water line" of the East River. An agreement between the city and the building in 1939 allowed the city to construct a part of the East River Drive on the building's property, above the high water line. However, according to the release, this agreement did not affect ownership of the property, and both agreed that the boundary between the building's property and the city's riverbed depends upon the location of the "high water line."

The lawsuit asks the court to establish the location of the high water line as well as issue a permanent injunction against the city and the state from trespassing on the building's property.

The full press release is below.



The City
Proposes To Build A Park On Property It Does Not Own

York, NY – June 18, 2007
– Sutton Place South
Corporation, the owner of One Sutton Place South, announced today that it has
filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking an
injunction to prevent the City of New York – and the State of New York,
on the City’s behalf – from taking waterfront property that belongs
to the building for a City park. The City does not own the property, has never
acquired the property and has not taken the legally mandated steps necessary to
develop a park at this location. The building has researched its rights
meticulously and is confident that they will be recognized by the Court.

Sutton Place South
is located
between 56th and 57th Streets on the east side of Sutton Place. The
building looks out over the East River with a
waterfront lawn that sits, in part, on top of a roof deck over the FDR Drive. It is
the right to the use of a portion of the lawn that is in dispute.

Efforts to reach an
amicable resolution to the dispute have failed, and the New York State
Department of Transportation (acting in cooperation with the City’s Parks
Department) advised the building on May 31 that it intends to commence the
process of converting the building’s backyard garden into a park by the
end of June.

The Building’s Property Extends to the “High Water
Line” of the East River

building's deed to its property (dating from 1925) provides that the eastern
boundary is the "high water line" of the East
River. In 1939, the City and the building entered into a
written agreement that enabled the City to build a portion of the East River Drive on
the building’s property, above the high water line; the balance of the
roadway extends onto piers sunk into the riverbed. The 1939 agreement did not
affect ownership of the property. Rather, the building granted the City a
permanent easement, below street level, for purposes of the roadway only. The
building and the City acknowledged in 1939 that the boundary between the
building’s property and the City’s riverbed depends upon the
location of the “high water line.”

there is nothing in the 1939 agreement – or in any subsequent agreement
entered into by the parties – which identifies the now-disputed location
of the “high water line.” That line is at the heart of the dispute
over where – if anywhere – the proposed park could rightly be
built, because the only place it could legally be built is below the high water

photographs taken by the City during construction of the Drive in 1939 and the
City’s own construction drawing for the Drive place the “high water
line” substantially farther east than where the City now contends it is
located. The City has sited its proposed park in reliance on its contention
that the “high water line” can be derived from a map created almost
two-hundred years ago. Based upon the building’s evidence, a large
portion of the City’s proposed park sits squarely on the building’s
private property.

building’s lawsuit asks the Court to hold that the building’s
evidence establishes the location of the “high water line.” To
preserve the status quo while the
Court weighs the parties’ proof, the building also seeks a temporary
restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the City and the State
from entering onto the disputed property pending determination of the case.

As part of the 1939
agreement, the building agreed to limit to $1.00 the amount of compensation it
was to be paid by the City for the permanent easement the City acquired. In
return, the building was given the right to use the entire roof deck (including
both the portion it owned and the
portion situated east of the “high water line” of the East River) for 50 years at a rental of $1.00 per year.
(The 50-year lease was the longest term then permitted by law for the lease of
that sort of City-owned property.)

The lease expired in
1990. The building and the City had several discussions about extending the
lease, both in the years prior to its expiration and since, but final
arrangements were never agreed upon. Although the lease has expired, the
building still retains all of its ownership rights in its land.

In 1995, without
following the land use review procedures mandated by the City Charter, the City
purported to transfer jurisdiction over the property from what was then the
Department of Docks to the Parks Department. Although its ownership rights in
– and even its jurisdiction over – the disputed property are
subject to considerable doubt, the Parks Department is now taking steps to
convert almost all of the roof deck into a park, again without following the
legal procedures required by the Charter for the “mapping” of city

Building’s Legal Claims

In its complaint filed
today, the building seeks, among other relief:

  • A declaratory
    judgment by the court, determining the eastern boundary of its property by
    fixing the “high water line” of the East River between 56th
    and 57th Streets;

  • A permanent
    injunction against the City and the State, preventing them from
    trespassing on the building’s private property; and

  • A declaration
    that the City violated the land use review procedures mandated by the City
    Charter in transferring jurisdiction over the disputed property from one
    city agency to another and in designating the property as a public park, and
    an injunction against the conversion of the property into a public park
    without obtaining the Charter-mandated approvals.

For further information,
please contact Henry Miller or Jessie duPont at Goodman Media: (212) 576-2700.