By Carol Tannenhauser
It was the proverbial “done deal.” The Department of Buildings had issued SJP Properties a permit to dig the foundation for 200 Amsterdam Avenue, at 69th Street, and preparations had begun for what was to become the tallest building on the Upper West Side.
But developers SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America hadn’t figured on Olive Freud, president of the nonprofit Committee for Environmentally Sound Development. After reading about the project in January, Freud hired George Janes, an urban planner, to study the complicated zoning lot that SJP had pieced together, allowing it to build 668 feet high, twice the height of the buildings immediately surrounding it. Janes was looking for an error in the zoning lot that would force the DOB to reconsider the project.
On Tuesday morning, at a community rally in front of the building site, Janes told a crowd of about 100 that he had found something – several things, in fact – and that Freud and he, with the signed support of City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Kate Wood, president of the nonprofit Landmark West, had filed a “Zoning Challenge” with the DOB on May 16.
“I think the arguments that we have in the challenge are real; they’re substantial; they’re not things that can just be brushed away,” Janes said at the rally. “Most deal with the use of the open space. I’m not going to get into the technical details, but they’re really contrary to the zoning code.
“The Department of Buildings will review the challenge and within 75 days, make a decision,” Janes explained. “We can appeal that decision within 15 days of that, and if we still don’t like what they’re saying, we can appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals. So, even if they decide against us on our first pass, we have a second and third bite of the apple.”
We’ve posted the challenge here. A spokesperson for SJP Properties recently told us that “the building is being built in full compliance with all zoning.”
Janes and Freud emphasized that their action could be the start of something bigger. Freud told WSR that she was “already getting calls from the Upper East Side.”
“This is the first of these very tall buildings to go up on the Upper West Side, but it sets a precedent,” she said. “Maybe the Upper West Side is the place to start [to show] that this isn’t going to happen in the city. With Helen’s help, we’re going to all 51 Council members. There has to be an ordinance limiting the height of buildings. The builders have ‘as-of-right,’ but what about the rights of the people who live here? Do we have a right to the sky, to the sun?”
“Yeah!” “Sure!” “Good for you!” crowd members shouted back.
“I don’t know where this is going,” Freud concluded. “It may be that it’s going to a lawsuit, because we’re not going to let it happen. My committee is known for undoing done deals.”
Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.