Powerful Forces Clash at Zoning Hearing Over Tower on Amsterdam Avenue


There was a packed house at the Board of Standards and Appeals on Tuesday.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Four hours of testimony on Tuesday from politicians, unions, architects, and community activists apparently wasn’t enough for a city board to determine the fate of a planned apartment tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue at 69th Street.

After listening to arguments on both sides about whether or not the permit for the proposed 668’ building (rendering below) should be revoked, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) decided they need more testimony. A follow-up hearing is scheduled for June 5th.

Opponents expressed concern about the delay given that work is already underway at the site and could continue for the next several months. “We want to see if we can get an injunction to stop them from going further,” said Olive Freud, who has led the fight to stop the building.

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal led a parade of speakers who filled Spector Hall, at 22 Reade Street, snaking out the door into the hallway. The BSA’s administrator said she’d never seen such a crowd. Passionate critics and proponents of the building, followed by attorneys from both sides and the Department of Buildings (DOB), filed to the microphone to argue their cases.

What made this gathering unique was that the community finally got to hear, albeit by written statement, from SJP Properties, the developer of 200 Amsterdam, and its supporters. Representatives from labor unions, the American Institute of Architects, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and others spoke out in favor of the project, alternating with elected officials, community activists and residents, who vehemently oppose the building on legal, aesthetic, and environmental grounds. See our latest article for details.

Should the building permit be revoked? An appeal filed by the nonprofit Committee for Environmentally Sound Development says yes, because it was granted in error by the Department of Buildings — an error the DOB itself now acknowledges. The problem is, the same mistake was made for the past 40 years! The developer claims he was playing by one set of rules and it would be “arbitrary and capricious” to change those rules mid-game.

Before the meeting, representatives of SJP Properties, one of the developers on the project, handed WSR the following statement:

“We purchased the 200 Amsterdam site as of right in 2015 with the approved zoning already in place. This building was meticulously designed according to the NYC zoning code, with an aesthetic that is contextual to its Lincoln Square neighborhood. Our application for 200 Amsterdam went through an exhaustive review and subsequent audit by the Department of Buildings (DOB), a process that lasted approximately one year, which reaffirmed that the zoning and building design are in compliance. DOB’s decision was based on recognition that, for close to 40 years, it had consistently interpreted the Zoning Resolution in a way that permitted the kind of zoning lot on which 200 Amsterdam is based. This interpretation was reflected in a definitive DOB Departmental Memorandum and has resulted in at least 15 permanent certificate of occupancy approvals, including three buildings that have already been completed — 170 Amsterdam Avenue, 180 Amsterdam Avenue, and 200 West End Avenue — with essentially the same zoning and on the same block, and with the acceptance of this view by the City Planning Commission, the Board of Estimate and the City Council.

“Upon receipt of all building permits, we commenced construction on 200 Amsterdam in September 2017. We have the utmost confidence that the BSA will uphold the DOB’s carefully rendered decision to grant the building permit for 200 Amsterdam. We look forward to making continued progress in delivering a great building that will enhance the neighborhood, create hundreds of jobs, and generate over $7 million in property taxes annually for New York City.”

Council Member Rosenthal stood firmly opposed. “The Board of Standards and Appeals should revoke the permit and require the developer to submit new plans that are consistent with the Zoning Resolution,” she said. “The proposal at 200 Amsterdam violates the spirit and the letter of the Zoning Resolution and, in doing so, results in a development that is entirely out of scale and out of context for this neighborhood. Its gerrymandered zoning lot violates the Zoning Resolution and raises serious questions about the integrity of the land-use and development process.”

A community resident introducing herself as Ms. Taylor brought it down to earth. “I live opposite the hole in the ground,” she said, “the site where the building would be. It is acknowledged that a mistake was made in approving this building. The argument now is that it would be arbitrary and capricious to reverse the approval. But the building site is currently a hole in the ground. Given the impact on the community of this proposed, outsized building, I believe it would be arbitrary and capricious to allow the project to go forward. What would be proper would be for you to send it back, requesting a proposal for a smaller building that obeys the rules — and will provide jobs and all of those other nice things — but that obeys the rules.”

NEWS | 66 comments | permalink
    1. Josh P. says:

      People aren’t concerned about the rule. They don’t want a tall building. When they moved to the neighborhood, it had a certain mix of space and density. Now the city is growing and needs new housing. The density is increasing and they’re unhappy about it. Stopping change is impossible – either the city grows or you create a game of musical chairs where only the richest are left with a seat.
      Where should the people who would live here live instead? If your answer is a hand wavey “somewhere else” you are not serious about the problem. These people will live somewhere (*especially if they are rich*). Why should you have the right to push them into another neighborhood?

      • dannyboy says:

        ” Stopping change is impossible – either the city grows or you create a game of musical chairs where only the richest are left with a seat.”

        Stop turning this topsy-turvy. The building of 200 Amsterdam Avenue is not for the Middle-Class, affordable, or any such thing.

      • Cjberk says:

        Josh: Have you been on West End Avenue lately? Starting at 57th street heading north, the new buildings are three deep towards the river. Seems like an abundance of places to live in the neighborhood. We need services to support this influx not another huge unsightly inappropriate building.

      • Jane says:

        This is (or will be) a luxury building of maybe 100 apartments at most, all selling for millions of dollars. If you think it’s going to meaningfully provide housing to average people, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

        • Josh P. says:

          Rich people will live somewhere. They don’t disappear when you block a building in your neighborhood, you just push them somewhere else. Then people complain about gentrification and why don’t we have any more cheap, unique neighborhoods. The UWS has been pushing rich people into other neighborhoods for decades. We need to take the burden of some of that growth here.

          • dannyboy says:

            Yes, the burden of the rich.

            Just don’t get their fair share of Privilege.

            They’re kinda’ underprivileged that way.

          • Uws dad says:

            Josh…come on…this neighborhood has taken more than their share of luxury tenants. The entire West border of the hood has been redeveloped over the past decade from 72 to 60th street. Your argument is just plain silly. The proposed building in no way fits the hood the are trying to join. UWS are not against change…but we do love the place we live and want to keep it real.

      • Guillermo says:

        Current residents should have the right to prevent this building from being erected because it will be so disastrous to their property or rental. It is out of proportion to the rest of the area. It will create a massive shadow unto other people’s home, which will create problems from depression to higher heating bills. So those of you who will be affected – Please SUE SJP, before it gets built (or just pay more).

    2. dannyboy says:

      “SJP Properties, the developer of 200 Amsterdam, and its supporters. Representatives from labor unions, the American Institute of Architects, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and others spoke out in favor of the project”
      MONEY, MONEY, MONEY talks

      “alternating with elected officials, community activists and residents, who vehemently oppose the building on legal, aesthetic, and environmental grounds.”
      COMMUNITY, ENVIRONMENT and THE LAW tried their best against MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

      not really a fair fight because…
      …well money.

      • $$$ says:

        Well it sounds like you have it figured out. Money makes the world go ’round. Always has and always will. To think otherwise is living in la la land. No matter how idealistic anyone is, you will never, ever, ever be able to change the fabric of humankind which is tightly woven with the almighty dollar.

        • Jen says:

          What is your point exactly? Not to fight decisions and rules instilled by money? Colonialism, Madoff’s scam were powered by money, just a few examples.

        • dannyboy says:

          Now $$$, for your second lesson in life skill:

          Money is the FALSE idea that anything can be equated to something else, when actually everything is priceless!!!

          example:
          100 U.S. Dollars = 1 hour of your life
          1 Million U.S. Dollars = 1 hour of someone else’s life who is better than you.

          You seeing?

          • dannyboy says:

            $$$, your third less, since you are a great student:

            Money is the only thing you cannot buy.
            – I thought you couldn’t buy love?

            See how Money is the FALSE idea that anything can be equated to something else, when actually everything is priceless!!!

      • Josh P. says:

        You know the Lincoln Towers development where a lot of these people live is full of million dollar apartments right? It’s a luxury development with a PRIVATE, GATED park. These are not the little guys. They want to protect their million dollar investment from competition.

        • dannyboy says:

          Josh P,

          I am “the little guy” (not really after 30 years on Wall Street, but I identify with “the little guy”).

          We currently have a Maginot Line above Lincoln Square. Let’s strengthen it with Zoning Law (but don’t worry about me, I’m ‘Historic District’ in all directions).

          • Josh P. says:

            You’re comments aren’t wrong, but they are kind of rambling and incoherent. Hope you’re doing ok!

            • dannyboy says:

              April Fools Joke, right.

              I mentioned several Comments back that I was quoting definitions from the “Urban Dictionary”.

              Take a look, it’s a hoot!

    3. dannyboy says:

      ” I believe it would be arbitrary and capricious to allow the project to go forward. What would be proper would be for you to send it back, requesting a proposal for a smaller building that obeys the rules — and will provide jobs and all of those other nice things — but that obeys the rules.”

      vs.

      money
      The currency that dominates your life.

    4. Stef Lev says:

      Good to hear, but the building continues.

      • dannyboy says:

        Now for the Money course:

        Bacon — Possibly originated from the 12th century, when a church in the English town of Dunmow promised a side of bacon to any married man who could show marital devotion.

        Bees and honey — Cockney rhyming slang for money.

        Cabbage — An informal term for money.

        Cake

        Cheddar

        Cheese

        Clams

        Dough

        Gouda

        Gravy

        Juice — Money, power, respect. He’s got the juice.

        Meal ticket

        Squid

        Sugar — Informal term for money. Frequently used in the terms “sugar daddy” or “sugar momma.”

        And you thought the Eskimos had a lot of words for snow!

    5. Sherman says:

      I hope this building goes up ASAP.

      It’s pretty cool looking and it will enhance the UWS and we need housing for productive people who will contribute value and energy to the neighborhood.

      I also hope that when this building is erected it will be a political black eye for Helen Rosenthal.

      • dannyboy says:

        “we need housing for productive people who will contribute value and energy to the neighborhood” – Sherman

        Again with the dog-whistling.

        What is it Sherm, do you hate your ‘unproductive’ current neighbors?

        • Sherman says:

          Folks who have been freeloading for decades are unproductive, yes.

          • dannyboy says:

            Sherman YOU are unproductive. You add nothing to Community. You are divisive in our beautiful neighborhood.

            Show some initiative and do more than travel to Florida to commiserate with your buds about how bad things here have gotten.

      • Kate says:

        “we need housing for productive people who will contribute value and energy to the neighborhood.”

        Not sure what this word salad means. It will be, what, a little over 100 apartments for the ultra-rich. It’s really not that many people, for one. What “energy” are they contributing to the neighborhood? Is it like a magic forcefield or something?

        • Jen says:

          Like “ word salad” to describe Sherman’s post. That’s exactly how I feel about his statements. No logic or true facts, just a mix of some empty meaningless slogans.

    6. Bernard P. Rabble says:

      Helen Rosenthal makes herself look like utter hypocritical garbage. I wish that the developer could sue her personally. I would consider damages, beginning at $1 billion.

    7. James says:

      I live nearby. I favor the project. But if NYC wants to revoke the permit, they should pay damages to the developer — which I think should be a lot of money — more than they invested and including expectations of projected profits. This is a fiasco brought on by NYC’s error(s).

      • dannyboy says:

        James,

        Can you cover it – “damages to the developer — which I think should be a lot of money — more than they invested and including expectations of projected profits. ” since you feel that way?

        I don’t.

    8. Phoebe says:

      No one really thinks this building would solve any “housing crisis.” Those who say anything of the kind care nothing for the needs of the people whose lives have been part of this city for generations. Of course, we have no right to stay, live or thrive here. We should be buying cars, and driving around like successful people do. And then, we should take our “winnings” to New Jersey, where we can bask in the views of concrete beauty and soul destruction, and be glad we live on the sunny side of the street. Well, at least it’s good for New Jersey.

    9. Lin says:

      A smaller building like the one they built on West End Ave/70th would be very acceptable.

    10. Dr Barbara chasen says:

      The building is beautiful, and will be more beautiful at half the size. Being the tallest building on the west side does not aesthetically “fit in” with the neighborhood!! Thank you community activists and politicians who want this project to be in keeping with the needs of the neighborhood.

    11. GroundControl says:

      No. The Upper West Side does not need more luxury condominiums and luxury rentals. It is such a specious argument that these buildings do anything for low income housing. There is none planned for this building! And in fact the developers who think they can get in and out quickly enough with bundles of money refuse to consider that they are overbuilding in every borough of New York and filling it with 90% luxury housing which is not needed or wanted. Which not only eliminates low and middle income housing but succeeds in pushing out those who live in the immediate neighborhood by pushing up the property taxes and goods and services. As of this morning, the Wall Street Journal sites a slow-down in sales of condos which will likely become a depression in sales of apartments few New Yorkers can afford to buy or rent.

      “Sales of Manhattan apartments slowed during the first quarter to the slowest pace in five years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

      Brokers said sales were dampened by a slowdown in closings in new luxury buildings, as well as a rebellion by condo buyers against high asking prices”.

      So no. We don’t need a super tall tower full of luxury apartments on an illegally gerrymandered lot seeking to take unfair advantage of our community. I commend Olive Freund, Helen Rosenthal and all those who fight against great odds for a greater good.

      • Jay says:

        If there’s no demand for these apartments then they won’t sell and the developer will be forced to drop their price. So, your argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

        Anyone who wants to purchase a lot and build “affordable housing” on it is free to do so at anytime. Developers are in the business to make money and “luxury” apartments are the best way to make money in this town considering the acquisition and development costs.

        I’m pretty sure, if it were your money invested you’d want the highest return too.

    12. Rob G. says:

      This sleek new building will go along way in apologizing for the sea of mediocre crap that currently surrounds it. The people that oppose it are an embarrassment to the neighborhood. Maybe they’d be better off living in a gated community like Del Boca Vista Phase 3!

      Hoping this and other nice new buildings that are planned for the neighborhood get built pronto. We have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the city.

      • dannyboy says:

        “The people that oppose it are an embarrassment to the neighborhood. Maybe they’d be better off living in a gated community like Del Boca Vista Phase 3!”

        Hate your neighbors much?

    13. Reed says:

      I understand the concerns of the southern tip of the Upper West Side regarding density, zoning and height, however I do not understand the overt bigotry of the people and political representation regarding this community vs. the northern end. Community Board 7, the politicians from council members to our Borough President are highly ‘protective’ of the area south of West 96 Street……and yet when it comes to Manhattan Valley, a known impoverished community… zoning laws are not enforced and environmental reports are ignored. Clearly there is an unspoken policy that has evolved over the years that is responsible for a segregated Manhattan Valley where health issues due to exposure to toxic fumes and waste are of no concern and where zoning laws are constantly changed to suit the needs of people from outside of our community.
      While the northern end of the Upper West Side continues to fall into poverty and despair the southern sector along with CB 7 and the politicians enforce protective zoning and to protect a neighborhood that is becoming wealthier and less inclusive.

      • dannyboy says:

        Money is the only language politicians understand.

        The love of money is the root of evil.

    14. Linda says:

      where will be the location for the next meeting in June 5th, I would like to attend.

      Thanks!

    15. Veronica says:

      Thank you Ms. Taylor. The first person to make sense of all this,

    16. Reason says:

      The city desperately needs more housing, which this provides in a highly dense, transit rich neighborhood.

      Bring it on.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Bring it on.”

        the foreign investors

        the domestic investors

        people speculating on our neighborhood

        Bring it on!

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        why do people keep insisting that this building “brings more housing”?

        we have been through this over and over again. it brings 100 units of ultra-expensive housing. it will have little or no effect on the middle income and even the upper middle income housing markets in the area. if anything, it will result in HIGHER prices in the immediate area.

        if you are interested in “more housing” for poor and middle income people, you should be looking to the strengthening of rent regulations and also the expansion of affordable housing funding.

        • P says:

          I don’t follow. More supply -> lower prices.

          There’s scale of demand for housing. It’s not bucketed into “high” “middle” and “low” where the bottom of “high” doesn’t overlap with the top of ‘middle.”

          If some rich person buys one of these units, it means they aren’t buying some other unit–so that unit has to go for less. This has a very small impact on the price of every unit in the market. As you add more and more units over time, prices go down (as long as you are adding units faster than the growth in demand).

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          in response to P:

          you are making quite a few Economics 101 mistakes.

          In fact, the housing market IS segmented. Adding a unit of ultra-luxury housing has pretty much zero affect on middle income and lower income housing. this is pure trickle down theory.

          In addition, housing is not just a use commodity but an asset. you are ignoring the asset speculation effect of these ultra-luxury units, which tends to raise prices in the vicinity. this vastly complicates the supply and demand equation.

          many ultra-high end units lay empty after being bought, serving as pied-a-terres. the expansion of this was shown in a recent report, covered in WSR.

          further, this building is a condo, which is an entirely different market than the rental market.

          you further ignore that the speculation and run-up of housing prices actually DESTROYS affordable units, as luxury redevelopments take their place. see The Williams on 95th and West End, where 600 affordable senior units are in the process of giving way to luxury condos. Do you think the sum total of those units be anywhere near 600? Another example recently covered in WSR is the Park 79 Hotel.

          finally, the “trickle down” people grossly misstate the economic model of “supply and demand”, used by economists. Here is how Nobel prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow stated the law, in a seminal paper on the price of medical insurance (“Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care”, 1963):

          “The “norm” that the economist usually uses for the purposes of such comparisons is the operation of a competitive model,
          that is, the flows of services that would be offered and purchased and the prices that would be paid for them if each
          individual in the market offered or purchased services at the going prices as if his decisions had no influence over them, and the going prices were such that the amounts of services which were available equaled the total amounts which
          other individuals were willing to purchase, with no imposed restrictions on supply or demand.”

          Note all the conditions. Of course, housing in Manhattan has “imposed” restrictions on supply. The most important of these are the restricted space, zoning laws, and the presence of existing building on almost all available space.

          if you are interested in expanding low and middle income housing, trickle down economics is the worst possible way to do so.

          • Sherman says:

            Hi Bruce

            Since you’re such an genius in economics why don’t you quote Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck who said “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique known to destroy a city – except for bombing”.

            Sherm

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              in response to Sherman:

              I didn’t realize NYC has been “destroyed”, much like Dresden after the war.

    17. Sue S says:

      Make 200 Amsterdam about the same height as One Sherman Square, 201 W70th St. (71st & Amsterdam ) NYC with 41 floors, built 1972, to make it in appropriate proportions to the rest of the area.

      • Jay says:

        There are already buildings in the neighborhood above 500 feet. The neighborhood has already changed. You are too late.

      • JOYCE HELMAN says:

        AS A RESIDENT OF ONE SHERMAN SQUARE, I AGREE A BUILDING OF LIKE SIZE WOULD BE APPROPRIATE FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD. HOWEVER, ANY NEW CONSTRUCTION SHOULD CONTRIBUTE TO SCHOOLS, PARKS, TRAFFIC, TRANSPORTATION, ETC.

    18. Jane in Spain says:

      I dont see anything wrong with throwing yet another building that happens to be tall.. what the hell? My problem is, what about fixing the surrounding buildings in that area and making them look good again. all that scaffolding will never come down if there isn’t a new plan to get it sorted. Disgusting that owners of building in one of NY’s most beautiful neighborhoods aren’t forced to shit or get off the pot.
      Also the 7 million a year taxes for the new tall building should potentially be increased and made available specifically to whatever the neighborhood needs to accommodate the increased pressure on the subway and other over stressed services .. water, sewerage, garbage removal and so on!

    19. William Raudenbush says:

      I feel the need to point out that our Councilpersom, Helen Rosenthal, was nothing short of outstanding at the BSA hearing.

      Helen joins the following elected officials who also oppose this project:

      Gale Brewer
      Scott Stringer
      Leticia James
      Linda Rosenthal
      Brad Hoylnan
      Dick Gotfried

      I’d like to point out that there is really only one villain here: The Department of Buildings. Through a series of decisions and opinions, they have wrongly contorted our zoning resolution by supplanting the law’s language and intent with their own. It’s no mystery that SJP hired both of the city’s 2 top lobbying firms to lean on the DOB when they were addressing our zoning challenge.

      If SJP is owed a hardship, than they should apply for one. In current matter before the BSA, the facts are simple and this community should prevail. We have already accomplished a tremendous victory: this type of gerrymandered tax lot will never again be acceptable in NYC as the DOB is changing their rules to close an absurd loophole they themselves created.

      William Raudenbush
      Vice President
      Committee for Enviromentally Sound Development

      • Sherman says:

        Do you collect a salary for being the “Vice President” for the “Committee for Environmentally Sound Development”?

        Does Olive Freud?

    20. Gretchen says:

      Crain’s NY Business just reported this week that the NY State Assembly and Senate is about to repeal F.A.R. restrictions on new development throughout the city. The result is that it which will lift building height and density restrictions on new construction. So whatever happens in this case, SJP can simply hold out for that, and then they’re good to go.

    21. Cambia la Mierda says:

      Build for the future: higher, faster, stronger.

      Build appropriate to a future context: higher, faster, stronger.

      Build for the future, when provincial naysayers will be mercifully, blissfully, silent.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Build for the future, when provincial naysayers will be mercifully, blissfully, silent.” – Cambia la Mierda

        You wishing someone dead?

    22. Susan says:

      Has anyone bothered to walk on West 66th between Columbus and CPW? Extell (I believe) is getting ready to build 60 stories plus. Face it..the UWS is sadly becoming the UES.
      We need more rentals not condos!

    23. 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

      Build it. We need to massively increase the supply of housing (that is available on the market).

    24. 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

      There is a whiff of “I’ve got mine” in these housing battles. Property owners have an incentive to reduce supply to maximize sales prices of co-ops and condos. Rent-stabilized tenants have an incentive to reduce supply to have a quieter neighborhood for themselves and their dogs and to increase potential lease buyout amounts.