Council Member Calls 66th Street Tower Proposal A ‘Bait-and-Switch’

Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

By Carol Tannenhauser

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal accused Extell Development Company of pulling a “classic bait-and-switch” to triple the height of the building it is planning for 50 West 66th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. If the proposed building is constructed, it will be the newest tallest building on the Upper West Side, surpassing 200 Amsterdam Avenue by 107 feet.

“In 2016, Extell got permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB) to excavate a plot of land for a 25-story building,” Rosenthal said, in an interview with WSR. “That was the bait. This week, they submitted new renderings and said, ‘It’s not going to be 25 stories; it’s going to be about 75. All of a sudden, it grew by 500 feet and 50 stories.

“Based on these new renderings,” Rosenthal contended, “it is clear that Extell did not present either neighbors or the DOB with a truthful description of their plans. Without the complete plans, DOB granted permits to excavate a foundation that would support a 25-story building — one-third of Extell’s intended building. This raises serious process concerns.”

“We respectfully disagree with Council Member Rosenthal’s perception of the process and the project,” said a spokesperson from Extell.

Rosenthal’s perception of the project is clear: “It’s nearly mid block and it’s 775 feet tall. It’s completely out of context. And it’s not like it achieves anything the city cares about. These are going to be ultra-luxury apartments and there will only be 127 units. It will bring in some real estate property tax, but there will be no affordable housing. These apartments are for the ultra rich. Even if you believe in flooding the market with supply of apartments, this is not the market we’re looking to flood. We want affordable housing for low-income families, low-to-moderate income families, even higher-middle-income families: traditional Upper West Side families.This building gives us nothing in terms of meeting those goals. The city has to find a way to stand up and say no to it and others. If current zoning can’t get it done, we have to change the zoning.”

Extell perspective is strikingly different: “This splendid building will not only be an elegant addition to the neighborhood but will enhance the skyline of the city. We have carefully and patiently assembled this site over several years including the Lighthouse site just two weeks ago and some air rights that enabled us to develop this 100% as-of-right building.”

“As of right” means that the only approval the developer needs is from the DOB, certifying that the building is going up safely.

“If Extell is correct and under current law they can build that high by manipulating or doing a variety of things, I think the city should also rethink our as-of-right policy,” Rosenthal responded.

For now, Rosenthal and her team must wait for Extell to file its plans with the DOB before taking action. She wants the company to start the approval process from the beginning, not submit amended plans. “DOB should not allow Extell to make an end-run around its review process,” she stated, in a press release. “It should force Extell to return to square one, and seek approval for plans that accurately depict what they intend to build.”

“We’re watching it very closely,” she said. “We’re not going to take our eye off the ball. Our math only adds up to 35 stories, at worst, maybe to 40, 41 stories. We don’t see how he can get to as much height as he’s saying his lawyers are assuring him he can. Our lawyers in the City Council are telling us, ‘no, this is higher than he’s allowed.’

Rosenthal is appealing directly to Extell. “We’re basically saying to them, ‘Come on guys. We’ve asked you to be transparent. And you haven’t done that. We’re asking you now to slow it down and show us your drawings.”

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 46 comments | permalink
    1. John says:

      This area is full of tall commercial and residential. They’re not knocking down brownstones. If you’re going to build something, you might as well go tall and get the maximum use out of the footprint.

      I agree that it should have more apartments rather than a small number of large, ultra-luxury. Of course, if there were more apartments, the complaint would be that it’s too taxing on schools and subway. There’s really no winning when it comes to fighting NIMBYs who will always find something to object to in their attempt to shut down any and all development.

      • sam says:

        Not sure what you mean by “tall”. I have family on that block, and I’m fairly certain there are no buildings taller than 15-20 stories between Columbus and CPW. In fact, The ABC television complex/Armory takes up most of the block.

        I’m not generally a nimby-ite, but 75 stories would be a significant aberration from the rest of the neighborhood.

        If they go through the proper approvals process and are honest, that’s one thing – individuals may get cranky but that’s the way with all change. But to get approval for 25 (which is at least in the vicinity of current structures) and then pull a bait-and-switch is shady as hell.

      • jezbel says:

        Have you been to that block? I used to live next door at 10 W. 66th Street. There is nothing else on that block over 6 or 7 stories.Take a look at the rendering above – does that look like it fits in that area? It’s absurd, wit only 127 apartments in a building of well over 25 stories is a joke. Next thing you know they won’t want the crosstown M66 bus running on their block and there will be changes made to traffic flow again. PLUS the gold glass facade is horrible looking. Cities were using gold glass decades ago and now looks grossly ostentatious and out-of-place. No – this is just WRONG on so many levels.

    2. fritz says:

      LOLOLOLOLOL….Absolutely hilarious how the city gets scammed by these developers, then the politicians scream and carry on and then line up for the payoffs, the projects get built and everybody lives happily ever after till the next project…then repeat cycle

    3. James Berry says:

      Agree completely with Ms. Rosenthal. Another issue is will a taller building cast a shadow over Central Oark? If so, that would be disastrous for the flora. This must be stopped.

    4. Bobby says:

      Hey, where else are Putin’s cronies, the kin of Chinese politicians, and the buddies of Latin American strongmen supposed to live?!

    5. Robert says:

      If the developer is within current law, why should the project be denied?

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        you apparently didn’t read the article to the end. whether or not it is within current zoning law is disputed.

        further, it is not “within current law” in terms of permits.

      • George says:

        Many of us believe that change is inevitable but this is not what the UWS needs or wants and community leaders will support the Councilmember in opposing a bad corporate member. We have enough of housing inequity in NYC.

    6. UWS Blogger says:

      Does anyone recall the lack of good faith dealing of Extell when they built the “Ariel” east and west towers at 100th and Bway? We should never underestimate this company’s way of dealing. Keep on truckin’ Helen, and call them out.

    7. Alex Dean says:

      Why should Extell be transparent? Even though Extell’s project is as of right, these neighborhood groups would have started opposing this project that much sooner. Gary’s strategy is the right one. Helen is like a child that tries to change the rules of the game midway through, making inaccurate statements about the legality of the zoning. It is not bait and switch but rather a necessary approach when dealing with children.

    8. Carlos says:

      It is too little, too late, but to create change, we really need to be changing the laws, not fighting these projects one by one, which is a losing proposition. Unfortunately, it will take a miracle to change the laws.

      With all of the high rise buildings, the area below roughly West 70th feels a lot more like midtown than the UWS – it should be reclassified as its own neighborhood.

    9. UpperWestSider says:

      they did pull the old bait and switch, and honestly how many more luxury condos can go up around here? who’s buying these?? – they’re already adding over 500 with Waterline Square, and the super tall 200 Amsterdam will be condos too.

      i dont care how tall it is honestly but the least they could do is make it mixed use and add affordable housing. leave those full floor ridiculously lavish apartments for Central Park West and the Upper East Side.

    10. evaY says:

      The high-rise buildings going up on the UWS remind me of what happens to “unspoiled” towns in foreign countries. One tourist tells another about the charms of the town, so the town puts up high-rise hotels to accommodate the tourists, and before you know it the place looks like every other tourist town. The charm of the UWS lies in its old brownstones etc. Soon we’ll have nothing but glass monstrosities.

    11. Ivan says:

      We need to reexamine the air rights issue as well. This is not good for the long term health of NYC

    12. Sherman says:

      “And it’s not like it achieves anything the city cares about”.

      I care about increasing the supply of housing in the area.

      I care about welcoming productive and responsible new people to the neighborhood to keep the area exciting and dynamic and will support local businesses and pay taxes.

      I care about living in a city with an everchanging skyline.

      Helen Rosenthal cares about pandering to folks living on entitlements so she can get their votes.

      Helen Rosenthal does not speak for me.

    13. Paul Bunten says:

      “If current zoning can’t get it done, we have to change the zoning.”

      When the 1961 Zoning Resolution was passed into law, legendary architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable characterized it as the most permissive zoning law in the nation and remarked that the only thing that would prevent the city from being built out to the full extent authorized by law was that no one could ever afford to do it.

      That game has changed! Real estate developers are awash in cash, and advances in construction engineering have resulted in new kinds of buildings that wouldn’t have been possible even 15 years ago.

      So yes, a brand new Zoning Resolution is long overdue. Who will have the political will to get it done?

    14. Art Lasky says:

      These souless developers have no concern for the neighborhood they will be casting into shadows, or the health of Central Park who’s sunlight they steal. It’s all about a quick buck, then on to the next neighborhood they can ruin. We cannot rely on them to be honest or fair, we must demand that the city government reign them in. Thank you for your vigilance Councilmember Rosenthal.

    15. West88 says:

      They bought the appropriate air rights from the center for the blind and the synagogue. The filed the correct paperwork. Where’s the issue? The Bed Bath and Beyond building is a block away among numerous other high rises. This building isn’t out of the ordinary for the neighborhood. NYC grows every year. How else is the city supposed to expand except vertically?

    16. Adam Cherson says:

      A foundation for a 25 story building was approved and now a 75 story tower is proposed? How does that work without a new engineering study? This is not about air-rights. It’s about engineering. Not sure if everyone knows this but Manhattan is at moderate risk for earthquakes and this section of West 66th Street sits on top of what used to be a swamp or bayou. Therefore, I would think that some serious engineering expertise would need to evaluate the stability of a foundation for a 75 story building at this location.

      • Woody says:

        I’m pretty sure that engineers can figure this out. Nice try though.

      • Billy says:

        New buildings are required by code to comply with seismic requirements. The building will be required to submit s new peer review report which would need to meet the approval of the DOB’s chief structural engineer.

    17. Adam Cherson says:

      And, oh yeah, there is a tremendous amount of wind shear at this location, which will be increasing as the climate continues to change. There is a big difference between wind forces at 25 stories and at 75 stories. So the engineering should be prepared for hurricane force winds.

      • Woody says:

        Engineers do that analysis, too. Any other engineering issues they should be aware of that only you thought of?

    18. Jan says:

      She should talk bait and switch !
      Appropriating Millions of dollars to AMNH
      without taxpayer knowledge to destroy the
      Teddy Roosevelt PUBLIC Park to build what
      Architect Jeanne Gang says is an unnecessary building is what
      I would call bait and switch also. She reps the
      Taxpayers and we don’t want that bldg or all that
      Money going into it. Better to send that kind of
      money to the schools so our kids can learn to
      read and write

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re1: “Appropriating Millions of dollars to AMNH without taxpayer knowledge to destroy the Teddy Roosevelt PUBLIC Park” and;

        Re2: “Better to send that kind of
        money to the schools so our kids can learn to
        read and write”

        But “that kind of money” will go INDIRECTLY to the schools because the new Gilder Science Center will fascinate and encourage untold generations of kids to not only understand science but also to think about careers in science.

        Oh, b/t/w: “our kids” can already “read and write” thanks to their dedicated teachers, but their schools cannot begin to inspire kids’ fertile imaginations the way the proposed science center will.

    19. Kenneth says:

      If the developers are working within the existing law, zoning and building codes then Helen Rosenthal and all the other lawmakers are to blame – not the developers. With all the screaming and hand wringing, they got nowhere stopping the building at Amsterdam/W70th. Change the zoning and code or sit down and be quiet.

    20. Buddy Hilzen says:

      Why should the project be denied, and you may as well go tall and get the maximum use out of the footprint?

      Because the quality of life in our community and neighborhoods has been destroyed by incessant overdevelopment that threatens the livability of this area. Duh!

      • Josh P. says:

        People say “the neighborhood has been destroyed!” by these tall buildings when in reality they are thriving, popular areas. Where on the UWS has been become a depopulated slum because of these buildings? Or is the complaint that *too many* people want to live in these “destroyed” areas? “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded!”
        People love living in these neighborhoods, you just want to impose your aesthetic standards or make sure only the “right kind” of people are moving in.

    21. Fed up says:

      Love how Rosenthal finds this project too tall..but kept silent about the monstrosity being built on Amsterdam Avenue. When she finally did speak up it was right before the election when she saw it to be a good political move, buttoo little too late which she banked on Hmm..guess the developers on the w66 street project didn’t pay up enough.

    22. ScooterStan says:

      Re: Rosenthal is appealing directly to Extell. “We’re basically saying to them, … We’re asking you now to slow it down and show us your drawings.”

      So Rosenthal is “Itching to see their Etchings?”

    23. Chris says:

      Cross town traffic will not be able to move while this building is going up. All the steel being delivered will clog up those two blocks.

    24. Jake Black says:

      Why do people hate tall buildings. I think they look great and enhance the skyline. Most of the architecture has been very good with new tall buildings and so much better than the awful buildings that blighted the UWS in the 60’s and 70’s. And the reality is due to land costs and NYC construction costs no one is building for lower middle class or even the middle class in NYC anymore. Thats just the reality. Plenty of other boroughs for that. I welcome the new Tall buildings as long as the architecture is nice and well thought out.

    25. JeWhoSoFat says:

      bookmarked this so that anytime the crybaby class gets on this site crying “waaaa Helen R. never does anything”

    26. A. Ford says:

      Just for clarification, is council-person Rosenthal proposing a public housing project on that site?

      And to Jezebel’s many-times-stated concern, should Rosenthal’s proposed public housing project be made of cinderblock, rather than gold glass?

      • Sherman says:

        I think Helen Rosenthal does want a housing project on this site as the residents will be guaranteed to vote for her.

      • your neighbor says:

        Excellent comment A. Ford !

      • jezbel says:

        the name is j-e-z-b-e-l NOT jezabel! Gold glass is an abberation. It’s ugly. It outdated. It’s classless. It’s gaudy. It screams wretched excess in the middle of a block of smaller and more modest buildings.
        Any questions?

        • Josh P. says:

          The Dakota, The San Remo, the blocks and blocks of beautiful UWS brownstones, the Ansonia, The Dorilton, The Apthorp. Take your pick of your favorite piece of UWS architecture. What do they all have in common?
          1. They were built by greedy developers for rich people – no affordable housing was originally in any of them!
          2. They were out of scale for the neighborhood and replaced either much smaller buildings or open space (blocking light and air and creating shadows!)
          3. Their designs weren’t subject to the micromanaging control of a bunch of local busybodies.
          People who profess to love the beautiful UWS we have now seem shockingly ignorant of how it was actually built.

    27. rosenrosenrosen says:

      the apartments in these monster hi-rises are used 10% of the year. They are mostly empty and used to hide foreign money. The rules need to change.

      • Jay says:

        Why do you care how people spend their money? So many complaints about how this building will cause overcrowding, bus traffic problems, subway overcrowding, the plague, etc.; you say none of that will be an issue.

        So, the nimbys should really pick a horse. Either towers will cause the end of the world or it will be an empty vessel.

    28. John says:

      When they get done paying off the build them tall mayor this will rise to 100 stories

    29. Evan Sarzin says:

      If you live in UWS and you consider the scale of the building a quality of life issue, it needs to be approached on several tracks:
      zoning, permitting process, local approval, neighborhood ntegrity..
      Extell has no stake in the area or the impact of the structure. It’s comment about enhancing the skyline is the kind of stupid remark that demonstrate Extell’s exploitive view.