PS 199 PARENTS JOIN FIGHT AGAINST TALL BUILDING ON AMSTERDAM: “IT DOESN’T BELONG HERE!”


Jennifer Zana speaks to parents outside PS 199.

By Carol Tannenhauser

“It belongs in midtown or downtown,” said Jennifer Zana, a PS 199 parent, early Tuesday morning. “It would throw shade on the entire school. There will be air pollution for the kids and harmful noise for the next two years. A normal building that fits in the landscape here would be less damaging.”

Then she went back to work.

“Stop the super-tall building that’s going up right above our playground!” she called to parents and children streaming by on West 70th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, toward PS 199 for the morning drop-off. “It’s not a done deal! Sign up here for more information.”

By the time the two-day drive was over, more than 200 parents had joined the fight against 200 Amsterdam – the planned 668-foot building that developers SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America are hoping to make the tallest on the UWS.

Ah, but there’s the zoning lot! Cobbled together back in 1987 by the previous owner, it is now facing a legal challenge filed by community activists and elected officials, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal included. Her opponent in the upcoming City Council Democratic primary, Mel Wymore, was at the PS 199 rally, not as a candidate, he said, “but as a community activist and resident.”

“This is community organizing at the most local level,” said Wymore. “It’s the process of engaging the public in a very specific way – collecting emails, making phone calls, knocking on doors, standing on corners – having people engage over a common purpose. This common purpose is keeping our neighborhood at a livable scale, a human scale, and not having developers take control of our quality of life without any input, which is what happened here.”

As we reported, the Department of Buildings (DOB) has put a hold on issuing any further permits for 200 Amsterdam until the zoning challenge is resolved. The DOB has 75 days to respond to the challenge, beginning May 15th.

Said George Janes, the urban planner who drafted the challenge, “The [hold] action is notable. Challenges don’t normally impact DOB’s permit issuance process until they are resolved. I expect that this will mean that we will get an answer to our challenge sooner, rather than later.”

Said SJP Properties, “We have employed the industry’s leading legal, zoning, architectural and engineering professionals to ensure, with meticulous attention to detail, that 200 Amsterdam conforms to all zoning regulations. We are confident that we will soon commence construction.”

Said Jennifer Zana, to a passing parent, “Are you aware of the tall building that’s going up here? We can fight it!”

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    1. When I was a kid I used to love watching the action at construction sites.

      • John says:

        On the UWS, the action at construction sites consists primarily of picketers trying to shut down the project because buildings cast shadows.

    2. fritz says:

      soon as the proper papers are filed (cash filled envelopes exchanging hands) this project will commence.

      • John says:

        Any evidence of this? If you’re going to accuse someone of being a criminal, you should be able to back it up.

        • fritz says:

          hey John don’t be so naïve….this is nyc govt were talkin about… next to Washington ,the most corrupt state / city in the nation…….everyone is on the take…WAKE UP!!!

          • RK says:

            Excellent and convincing evidence.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            as a NYC employee, i find that offensive.

            we work hard and are monitored very closely.

            Sure, there were corruption scandals with CONSULTANTS under Bloomberg… (see CityPay) De Blasio, despite what the right wingers say, has been relatively scandal free.

            • Then you realize that your salary and your pension (& your union buddies too) is paid by the property taxes on real estate development projects like this, right??

              Hmmmmm.

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              our pensions are paid for by our contributions.

              the public employees make NYC run. if it wasn’t for us, NONE of the rich developers would make any money.

              and the current property tax base of NYC is just fine, thank you.

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              IT’S very interesting how some people glorify rich developers while demonizing NYC workers, who make the city function.

              i work for an agency that basically fund itself, by the way, while giving needed services to over 1 million people annually.

              and let’s not forget that we city workers pay taxes… including property taxes!

          • Christina says:

            fritz… You’re wrong on the corruption front… New Orleans/LA, Mississippi, Florida, Tenn. Alabama, Kentucky and others ARE MORE corrupt than NY/NYC! WAKE UP!

    3. John says:

      The problem with these debates is that NIMBYs will always be able to identify negative externalities in development projects to object to. 100% of projects will negatively affect someone, somehow.

      On the other hand, the hundreds of families that will live in this building and benefit enormously from it have no voice.

      That leaves you with a seemingly lopsided debate between “greedy developers” and “locals looking out for the kids”.

      In reality we should be comparing the benefits of 100s of new homes to the downside of “shade” and other minor inconveniences. In my mind, the benefits massively outweigh the costs. The site is currently a hole in the ground. We can use this site effeciently with a tall building (there are many tall buildings in surrounding blocks) or we can put up a short building and further choke housing supply in Manhattan to the benefit of incumbent owners and the detriment of newcomers.

      • Mark says:

        John, the negative externalizes are borne by those with no stake in the benefits. Then are you saying “screw ’em”?

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        this building will have 112 units of sup;er-luxury apartments, averaging over 2,500 sf. they probably will be condos and average more than $5 million per unit.

        please explain to me the positive effects on “housing supply” of this project.

        • John says:

          Mark, I’m not saying “screw ’em”. I’m saying we need properly weigh benefits and drawbacks. There will always be drawbacks, but that doesn’t mean we need to shut down every project that casts a shadow or generates short term construction noise.

          Bruce, I have no doubt these apartments will be expensive, but you have to consider the effect on the entire housing ecosystem. Believe it or not, the rich have to live somewhere. If they live in this new building, that frees up apartments for the slightly less rich, which frees up apartments for the slightly less rich still. For what it’s worth, I wish the building contained a higher number of more modest, market-rate apartments, but nothing is perfect. If the protesters were demanding that the building contain MORE apartments, I’d be more sympathetic. By blocking construction, we’re achieving the aim you seem to despise, a more limited housing stock which leads to higher prices accessible to only the rich.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            sorry… there is no shortage of $5 million apartments in NYC. there is a shortage of AFFORDABLE housing.

            there will be ZERO effect on middle class housing on the UWS, or, more likely, a NEGATIVE effect, through further gentrification.

            you are postulating a very dogmatic view of supply and demand.

            if you want affordable housing on that site… join the protesters! i am sure they would support a much smaller building that had the same or more AFFORDABLE units.

            • Jay says:

              Before you put a shovel in the ground, building anything in Manhattan costs more than what I am sure you would consider affordable. Frivolous lawsuits and delays like this just increase those costs. So thanks folks, you’re part of the problem.

              The economic illiteracy by those that are protesting this building is mind-numbing. That is part of the reason why it is only a few dozen people protesting.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            you are advocating an extreme form of “trickle down” a plan for affordable housing. it won’t work. let’s just build affordable housing — cooperatives, not for profits, public housing… just like we used to.

            • John says:

              “You are postulating a very dogmatic view of supply and demand.”

              I also have a dogmatic view about the law of gravity. Why do you think the law of supply and demand don’t apply to New York City real estate? Surely, if there are too many $5 million apartments in New York, as you claim, then they won’t be able to sell them. Developers will respond be lowering prices and developing new apartments at a lower price point. Why is that a controversial claim? This has nothing to do with “trickle down” economics which is a different (and mostly bogus) concept.

              “Affordable housing” is synonymous with tax payer subsidized housing. I have no idea why I should have to pay for someone to live in a luxury tower in a luxury neighborhood when I have to pay market rent in a modest building built in the 1950s.

              More housing stock affords the opportunity for more people to live in Manhattan. Construction noise and shadows are not sufficient justifications to stop development of our ever-evolving city.

            • Cato says:

              John said: “Surely, if there are too many $5 million apartments in New York, as you claim, then they won’t be able to sell them. Developers will respond be lowering prices and developing new apartments at a lower price point.”

              Just like the landlords who inflate the rents on their stores, closing down mom-and-pop operations left, right and sideways. The resulting vacancies kick in that “supply and demand” effect you worship blindly, so that the landlords “respond b[y] lowering prices”.

              Well, look around you. That doesn’t happen. The landlords lust for those super-high rents, just like the developers lust for the super-high sales prices. They’re willing to wait (and probably pass the cost of the vacancy along to the next business) and wait and wait until the super-wealthy comes along.

              The glut of super-luxury vertical mansions isn’t going to do a darned thing for the availability of housing for the middle class. It’s naive to think it will. The developers will just exploit a different neighborhood with a new vogue and pass the vacancy costs along to the bankers and oligarchs who *will* buy someplace new and hot.

            • John says:

              Cato, most storefronts in the UWS are full. The empty ones will be full soon when landlords realize they’ve overreached on rent. If you really think landlords are going to run empty storefronts long term, I doubt you’ve ever been a landlord. It makes no sense. Passing the costs of vacancy to the next tenant makes no sense. Why would the next tenant bear them?

              One new residential building won’t make much of a difference to pricing for the middle class, but adding new supply certainly matters in aggregate. There isn’t an endless supply of “oligarchs” and “bankers” to buy an endless supply of luxury housing, and blocking these buildings simply causes that type of buyer to bid up other properties. This doesn’t serve anyone. Pricing is climbing in the city in large part because of all the red-tape and NIMBYs blocking new apartment buildings.

              Think of it another way, would you advocate leveling luxury towers that already exist? What would happen? The current residents would simply go bid up other apartments, making the city even less accessible to the middle class. Blocking new construction is functionally equivalent.

              To be clear, I don’t think super-luxury apartments are the best use of this space. I’d rather see a larger number of more modest, market-rate, apartments. But the plans as they exist are better than nothing, and trying to block them because of noise and shadows is penny wise, pound foolish.

              We need many more apartments in this city along with the infrastructure to support them. That means building, not complaining.

            • Mark says:

              John, Building high priced apartments raises the prices of neighborhood apartments.

            • John says:

              Mark,

              Sigh. Thank you for this incredibly facile observation, but if you think restricting housing supply in the city will lower prices, I’m afraid you’re wrong. The choice here is not between building expensive apartments vs cheap apartments, it’s between building a tall tower with more units and and short tower with fewer units (or no building at all?). The former seems obviously preferable to me, but evidently some people really hate shadows.

            • Jay says:

              What’s incredibly sad is that these parents don’t realize that the school is in shadow primarily because of buildings already built. Not that facts and logic are strong with any of their lame arguments.

            • Mark says:

              Why the “sigh” John?

              Why characterize my comment as “facile”?

              Why do you create a strawman; misinterpreting my comment to mean that I am restricting housing?

              Well, I guess that once you’ve done all that you have made your point. Incorrectly.

    4. Sherman says:

      I’m a PS 199 parent and I’m in favor of this building.

      There seems to be a lot of hysteria and misinformation surrounding it.

      Many of these parents live in the towers on Riverside Blvd. They should keep in mind that there was also tremendous opposition to the construction of these buildings by “community activists” and local politicians.

    5. ScooterStan says:

      Re: “There will be air pollution for the kids and harmful noise for the next two years.”

      SOME noise, MAYBE … depending on whether or not they have to blast through bed-rock for a garage (as happened at neighboring 200 West End…and everyone around SURVIVED).

      But “Air Pollution”?? From what?? Construction equipment is NOT coal-powered, and vehicles are prohibited by city law from idling their engines.

      MAYBE P.S. 199 parents should be MORE WORRIED about the growing push by uber-liberals and social-engineering types (and watch BdB join in once he wins re-election) to RUIN high-performing schools via an assortment of schemes to “integrate” what they call ‘segregated’ NYC public schools.

      Shadows, if they happen at all, are quite temporary, but ruining a high-performing school has LASTING effects.

      So save your outrage for a much more important fight.

    6. Lila says:

      Hope the neighborhood warriors will finally chill. PS 199 parents have too much time on their hands. Same with strange people opposing construction at the Museum. Noise and shade, are you serious? Move to Central Jersey for peace, quiet, and your own lawn mower. City needs to expand and buildings need to be built.

    7. bravo says:

      The ultimate entitlement generation: the little precious ones are entitled to everything the other kids (in the new building) are not. The shadow! The birds might stop chirping!
      Since when denizens of the city have the right to decide what is being built in their neighborhood?
      I hope they waste their money, outrage and time and then shake their fists at the rising building.

      • Mark says:

        “Since when denizens of the city have the right to decide what is being built in their neighborhood?”

        Let the Overlords decide!

    8. beholder says:

      West Side Rag: why do you find it prudent to publicize a bunch of the self-righteous and a few craven ones with political aspirations? Protesting a construction of a residential building? Don’t you find this “idea” preposterous?

      • Mark says:

        Criticizing the WSR for publishing articles that you don’t like?

        suggestion: don’t read them. Plenty to read for you on the internet.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        there’s a city council election this year.

        why don’t you field a candidate who is “gung ho” to build this monstrosity?

        let’s see how that candidate fares!

      • lynn says:

        If it wasn’t for the WSR I wouldn’t have known about a number of things going on in the area, so I’m grateful for everything they share with us, whether I agree with it or not. Just skip the article if you have a problem with it.

    9. Reg Lincoln says:

      The NYC zoning regs, despite needing greater transparency and simplicity, are still adequate to protect PS199 and NYC’s residential neighborhoods from manipulative developers like SJP Properties. They have overcounted the open space they assumed to arrive at 668 feet, and they will be forced to recalculate a shorter height. And rightly so — their current, overreaching plan is twice the height of the buildings across Amsterdam and three times the height of the contiguous buildings on Amsterdam between 69th and 70th streets. Grassroots local response will help them moderate their new building. Go PS199!

    10. Avery West says:

      P.S. 199 parents are great — informed, smart, activist, and effective. They are defending the school’s and their children’s welfare and environment by requiring their NYC elected and regulatory officials to enforce the zoning laws thoroughly. They know that everyone can share the space, obey the law, and keep the UWS a great neighborhood.

    11. Jane Seidel says:

      As a PS 199 parent and proud Upper West Sider, I am happy to welcome a new building to the block. But just like we tell the children on the playground, everyone has to play by the same rules. I am confident that the developers would rather have a legal, proportionate project welcomed by neighbors rather than a manipulation of the zoning rules resulting in an oversized, illegal building that is picketed by PS 199 parents, schoolchildren, and neighbors. Remember the NYC building that was forced to remove illegal floors after they built above the zoned height?

      • Jen says:

        Totally agree.

      • Cato says:

        “I am confident that the developers would rather have a legal, proportionate project welcomed by neighbors rather than a manipulation of the zoning rules resulting in an oversized, illegal building that is picketed by PS 199 parents, schoolchildren, and neighbors.”

        Please. The developers want money. The neighbors can yell and scream all they want. The developers want money, and more and more of it. Then they leave. They would “rather have” the project that will give them the most profits. That’s all.

        Is that a bad thing or a good thing? Other voices here can — and undoubtedly will — take that one on. But please don’t be so naive as to think that developers care about anything other than making moneymoneymoneymoney.

    12. Tom says:

      Maybe a few hundred more residents in the hood will help keep a few local businesses stay open. If you want to stop restaurants etc to stop closing, they need increased foot traffic.

      • bravo says:

        Well, enjoy all the air and light that the whole in the ground, rats, junkies setting up house will provide.

    13. Gabriella Maurer says:

      Do we need the tallest building on the upper west side. I don’t think so. If something is built it should be no higher than the other building in the neighborhood. It’s overcrowded subways are always full platforms narrow. We are also lacking supermarkets. They can do a smaller building. It will be so expensive that only investors will buy and then rent it out. Let’s try to keep a neighborhood as a pleasant as it used to be.

    14. Ps 199 archetype says:

      Just think of the increase in seasonal affective disorder that will befall our precious children due to the 15 minutes of time when the sun is perfectly angled at just the right position to cast a shadow on a subsection of the playground.

      First ps 199 may become partially desegregated (re: new zoning) and now this.

      Can we blame deblasio?

    15. UWS Craig says:

      Most of the people who would be living in that building are not the sort of people I would want as neighbors. We need more low income housing to help people who are really struggling, including the homeless. That would be a far better uses of the lot. I see plenty of homeless who have settled into our community, and we should provide them with permanent residences, hopefully near PS 199 so their kids can go to that school.

      • Jay says:

        I agree, but who’s going to buy the lot, build it and pay for it? In the end, you’ll get the same set of NIMBYs throwing up roadblocks and suing to stop it.

      • WestSideGirl says:

        UWS Craig, have you opened your home to anyone yet?

        Just curious.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          So if one speaks out for housing for the homeless, that means one has to take several homeless into their personal apartments?

      • W 67th St says:

        UWS Craig, I find your comment hurtful. I would love to buy a condo in that new building, as I adore the neighborhood and would like a place large enough for my family. I’m a friendly, involved, contributing member of the UWS. Why wouldn’t you want me as your neighbor?

    16. Jake Black says:

      This building looks nicely designed and brings some activity to a block thats quite dead especially for retail. It also will hopefully obscure the ugly massive Lincoln Towers Complex.

      The retailers in the area are already suffering and Upper West Side needs more development to keep the area vital. There is a lot of great architecture going on in the city and very little on UWS. I remember lots of people objected the Huntington Hartford bldg. in Columbus Circle being updated and the end result was a much nicer building. Some people just hate development even when its good architecture. I personally think the tall buildings going up in NYC are exciting and helps keep pace with other global cities with interesting development.

    17. Wendy says:

      After the movie; “The Towering Inferno”; &, that fire at the tower apt. block in West Kensington, London, England. : what if N.Y.C. stopped building apt. buildings above 10 storeys ? STOP hiring foreign construction workers, who hardly speak our English language on the job. What happened to our Mohawk Indians, the steelworkers in N.Y.C. ? Make ‘housing first” for handicapped citizens; c.f., Pathways for Housing, Inc.. What if “billionaires’ row” helped : N.Y.C.; &, Chicago, IL’s downtrodden citizens ?

      • Confused New Yorker says:

        Wendy, I know I am not alone in that I cannot understand almost any of your posts. This one doesn’t make sense, the one in the water main break doesn’t make sense, etc. Not trying to be nasty, but is there any way you can write in sentences…and with a singular topic?

      • lynn says:

        I understand what you’re saying Wendy, and I don’t see that this has veered off topic in any shape or form (literally). I for one love reading your comments on the WSR.

    18. David says:

      Let’s face it! Most of these building opponents are the “usual suspects” who gather themselves together at every opportunity to “”protest” something…..ANYTHING, really……just so long as they can get out there with their crudely lettered signs, crying their chants, getting signatures on their petitions! This is their “raison d’etre” and they are over the moon when the occasion presents itself for them to engage in this activity! The new building will “throw shadow over the school!” Quelle catastrophe!!! What a disaster! This is yet another UWS protest movement that is rooted in silliness!

      • Jen says:

        You can’t be serious with assumptions like this. The comment is presumptuous and infantile, and generously peppering it with French doesn’t make it any better.

        • David says:

          My comment can hardly be construed as any kind of assumption! As to its being “presumptuous and infantile,” I should say that those two words might be far more accurately applied to the behavior of those who are carrying on this very silly “protest” against building development in a city whose reputation for such is renowned around the world!

          • Jen says:

            “..Renowned around the world..”? By whose ranking, yours , since you can embed French in your posts? I would say it is infamous and not “renowned ” for its development practices and regulations, and not just around the world but anywhere in the US or even much closer, tri-state area. Oh, wait, even closer, in 10023-10024 zip code as well.

            au revoir,
            Jen

        • GG says:

          I know, right? The french was really kinda cringy. “I’m so sophisticated and international”. This is why they hate us in the Red States.:)

    19. Uws momma says:

      Please do not assume that PS199 is leading a protest coalition against this building. I am a PS199 parent and as far as I know, the school has not taken an official stance on this. They have provided parents with information regarding the construction and mentioned that community neighbors are rallying against it but to my knowledge PS199 parents who are protesting are not doing so on behalf of the school.

    20. THIS WEEK: Save New York Summit, Thursday, June 22, 6pm at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Central Park West & 65th Street– Join with other New Yorkers concerned with threats to parks, playgrounds, light, air, landmarks, small businesses, and community quality of life. ALL ARE INVITED to participate in an action-oriented discussion about why so many of these towers are invading our city, and WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT! RSVP at this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/save-new-york-summit-tickets-35249662690

    21. Janet says:

      I am willing and able to join the fight against the building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue.

      Do the rights of 10,000 residents already living in the neighborhood count for nothing?

      Are we robots to be steam rolled by special interests and money ?

      Come into our neighborhood and do what you like to us and we just take it?

      NO! NO! And Again NO!

      I am ready to fight this terrible wrong in the name of the residents of the UWS>

    22. B.B. says:

      Not mentioned in this whole debate from the “concerned” parents of P.S. 199 is that this lot sits (IIRC) squarely within the newly rezoned district. Thus whatever residential that is built will have the potential to up the competition for seats at that coveted school.

      Last thing some of these professional “concerned” parents likely want is a wave of other parents with perhaps more money and or clout moving into their area. It just ups the ante.