In Fight Over Upper West Side’s Tallest Building, A Technical Agreement Won’t Stop Larger Legal Battle


Construction work continued last week at 200 Amsterdam Avenue.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The legal battle to stop the construction of a 668-foot building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue continues — as does the construction.

Construction workers are currently working on the building’s foundation, even as project opponents battle with the developer on whether the building should rise so high. A rendering of the building is shown below.

Last week, the two sides made a deal that could affect the timing of the legal challenge, though it doesn’t appear to bring them any closer to a resolution. Opponents of the project had filed last month for an injunction to stop construction on the building, but reached an agreement with the developer on Wednesday to “hold the injunction in abeyance” until a city board called the Board of Standards and Appeals reviews the project’s zoning or the foundation is completed, whichever comes first.

In return, the developer, SJP Properties, agreed to notify the opponents — the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and the Municipal Art Society of New York, — 10 days before the foundation is finished, presumably so their application for an injunction can be heard by the court. That will also occur, they indicated, should they lose the BSA appeal.

The next BSA hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 5th, but a ruling is not guaranteed.

In another concession, the developer agreed not to count the building expenses incurred after May 1st in any future legal action that could claim the developer has invested too much and progressed too far to stop the building. In other words, the developer is now proceeding at his own risk should the BSA rule that the building permit for 200 Amsterdam will be revoked.

Scott Mollen, co-counsel for SJP Properties, predicted that the ruling will not come before August or September. Contrary to reports issued erroneously by other media outlets, Mollen said, “There is absolutely no prohibition on continuing construction above the foundation. If the plaintiffs attempt to stop the construction in the future, the owner will oppose such effort, citing the thorough review and approval by the NYC Department of Buildings, the hundreds of millions that have been invested, the substantial amount of construction that has been done already pursuant to and in reliance upon a valid building permit, the many jobs being created, and the significant tax revenue that will benefit the public.”

Olive Freud, president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, expressed frustration. “The Department of Buildings made a mistake issuing the permit for this building and admitted it,” she said. “When you make a mistake you fix it!” (For background on the controversy, read here.)

Mollen had a different view. “The plaintiffs are challenging a development that received a building permit from the NYC Department of Buildings and that was designed in conformance with rules that have been in place and applied consistently for 40 years. Fair-minded people understand how wrong it is to try to suddenly apply different rules to a project after an owner spent many millions of dollars to purchase the property and is already in construction, all pursuant to a valid building permit. Developers, lenders, investors and future purchasers of apartments have a right to rely on existing law.”

“And Upper West Siders have a right to light and air and buildings that are in context with the neighborhood,” Freud argued. She joined with the Municipal Art Society in stating, “We will be back in court to continue our fight against the development, and to again pursue protections while the BSA considers this issue over the coming months. We are hopeful that we will ultimately win the BSA appeal on the merits, with a decision that protects the public interest and rescinds the Department of Buildings permit for this illegal tower. From its egregiously gerrymandered zoning lot, to its dishonest characterization of open space, to the shadows it will cast on the surrounding neighborhood, this tower sets a dangerous precedent for the city as a whole.”

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 36 comments | permalink
    1. Thank you for ncluding this story in the West Side Rag. Our quality of life and the livability of New York depend on fair reporting such as this.

    2. Sherman says:

      The opponents of this building are relying on obscure and misleading interpretations of the zoning laws to prevent this construction. Their reasons for preventing this building do not include a clear-cut and unambiguous legal rationale.

      Mr Mollen is entirely correct. The building has received approval from the NYC Department of Buildings and the developer has already spent millions of dollars based on this approval.

      If the construction of this building is stopped (which I believe will not happen) it will set a very dangerous precedent.

      Which developer will sink millions of dollars trying to construct badly needed new housing if their project can suddenly be aborted because a neighborhood grouch doesn’t like the design of the building?

      • dannyboy says:

        You write this falsely: “Mr Mollen is entirely correct. The building has received approval from the NYC Department of Buildings and the developer has already spent millions of dollars based on this approval.”

        but you already know this: “It was revealed that, on March 9th, a letter to the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), written by Michael J. Zoltan, assistant general counsel of the Department of Buildings (DOB), acknowledged that the decision to grant a building permit to SJP Properties, the developer of 200 Amsterdam at 69th Street, was based on an “incorrect” interpretation of the “Zoning Resolution,” which governs land use and development in the City.”

        Then you write this falsely: “Which developer will sink millions of dollars trying to construct badly needed new housing if their project can suddenly be aborted because a neighborhood grouch doesn’t like the design of the building?”

        because you already know it’s not a ‘neighborhood grouch’, but rather our elected representatives, cultural institutions and YOUR NEIGHBORS who oppose: “Brewer wasn’t buying it.

        “I don’t think there’s ever been a case where the developer has so deliberately flaunted the intent of the Zoning Resolution in order to build what would be the tallest building on the UWS,” she said. “It seem to us that 200 Amsterdam is arbitrary and capricious. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t correct a mistake and not make an even bigger mess. There’s a mountain of evidence that justifies changing the interpretation right now.”

        You have commented that the rules just should not apply. Why do you incite the violation of our laws, all honesty, and our community?

      • Cato says:

        By whom is this new housing badly needed? How many uber-wealthy are there begging for homes?

        Let’s be clear: Nothing in this development will be available to anyone but the very wealthy. Why do we have to give up our neighborhood to acquire more of them?

      • dannyboy says:

        “their project can suddenly be aborted because a neighborhood grouch doesn’t like the design of the building?”

        Sherman, it is two organizations and several of our elected representatives that oppose the project, not “a neighborhood grouch [who] doesn’t like the design of the building”.

        No credibility.
        Again with the li..!

      • Tim says:

        Well said Sherman. Very reasonable and valid points.

    3. nyc10023 says:

      Shadows!
      God forbid a temporary few minute shadow over the lush landscape known as Amsterdam Avenue or even worse, the basketball courts behind it.

    4. A Murphy says:

      Its amazing to me that people are trying to stop this building from being built. Look at that beautiful architecture and compare it to the buildings in the first photo which are quite the blight to the area. This building will immediately improve the surrounding area with its nice design. I also don’t think anyone is going to notice any shadows or loss of air. Hopefully this building will be a catalyst for some nice new buildings and architecture on the UWS.

      • Amy says:

        Uh, I don’t have a horse in this race but I will indeed notice when the little western sky I can see now is completely obscured by that building.

      • Chirp says:

        I think they should build it on your block
        So you camouflage enjoy it to it’s fullest.

    5. CG says:

      OUTRAGEOUS that developers of this monstrosity of a project would not accept that a grievous mistake needs to be corrected.

    6. Zvi Shyetnschvitz says:

      It’s very sad that this project is moving forward. The UWS will never be the same.

      • James says:

        You can’t possibly be serious. It’s a BUILDING. Please, PLEASE tell me how this will impact your daily life and the quality of your life in any way, shape or form once it’s constructed. Do you walk outside with your head looking up the entire time? No, right? Then how can this building have any effect on how you will live your life?

        • allie says:

          @ James…
          Life WILL change, including yours. Why? Because the subway stations, schools, supermarkets and restaurants will need to accommodate hundreds of new residents.
          Do you enjoy shopping in Trader Joe’s or Fairway now, when it’s only somewhat unbearably crowded? Enjoy forcing your way into the #2 to get to work?
          Trust me, it’ll get worse.

          • Sean says:

            Fairway is the way it is because there isn’t any plan in
            The floor plan. They just let it grow. That’s why it is the experience that it. Someday that entire block will come down and a tower will be built there too.

          • Jay says:

            So, what’s the cut off in the number of people that the UWS can support? Do we lock down the subways, so that no one can get off when we get to that number?

          • Sherman says:

            Another Trader Joe’s just opened on Columbus & 92nd. This should alleviate the crowds at the one on 71st Street.

          • LL says:

            I live near the two giant Excel Buildings that were built on 99th and Broadway and the neighborhood has changed. The biggest problem is parking. There no longer is any. These buildings were built without garages. the subway and bus stops are also extremely crowded now.

    7. Chrigid says:

      It looks like it could tip over.

    8. Claudia says:

      Beautiful architecture? Are you kidding? This is just money hungry developers bullying the city and community into what they want. Everyone knows developers keep the lion’s share of the tax revenue until their investment is recovered, so it’s taxpayers who pay for this monstrosity. This is not affordable housing, this is another big finger in the sky to the citizens and visitors of the Upper West Side and all of Manhattan.

    9. Adam says:

      The developer’s investment is not wasted if a shorter building is built, right?

    10. ginobrino says:

      Just build this already so that innocent men, women and CHILDREN don’t have to look at that Lincoln Towers monstrosity.

    11. Tim says:

      The grumpersons who whine about this building being built would complain about another farm being created in Nebraska if they lived there. Newsflash – you live in NEW YORK CITY, an URBAN city. Geez.

      • Cato says:

        “Grumpersons” — I like that!

        The rest of your comment is facile and dismissive, without adding anything of any substance. Do you think New Yorkers don’t realize New York is a city? (And an “urban” city, no less — what other kind is there? Looked up “urban” in a dictionary lately?)

        But I liked “grumpersons”!

      • WS Thomas says:

        Tim, your sarcasm and Captain Obvious type statement is appreciated. It is the only way to get some people to realize the silliness of their First World problems. “Oh no, a tall building is being built in Manahattan near me!” Lol

    12. Danon says:

      This. Building is a Monstrosity for the West Sise. From all present information submitted shows another builder/developer using whatever is legal or otherwise quickly submitting plans to the Building Department
      and receiving a Permit without the Community Board having a say as to its height or its impact on our environment or our view of the open spaces between building or the blockage of sunlight. How does this Construction Company just simply starts to erect something so vile in our neighborhood. Has anyone even complained about their taking over two full lanes of Amsterdam Ave., causing terrible traffic jams now and in the near future. Other building sites for other construction sites with. Buildings as tall seem to manage with only one lane closures. Just alone the extra pollution this two lane closure is l am sure is adding tons of pollutants to our air and for many months to follow. Please all concerned see what can be done about this non neighborhood company invading our space and air

    13. toolittletoolate says:

      I suggest to those that oppose this building to begin finding your next issue to gripe about because this building will be built despite your efforts. You might be more successful if you have a more cohesive, well thought out argument that you bring to the table BEFORE the city approves something. This project was in the works for years before anybody objected to it. Timing is everything!

      • Jay says:

        NIMBYs are inherently illogical. Rational thought just isn’t going to happen with these folks.

    14. Independent says:

      Yes, I’m sure that starting all the way back when Manhattan was still pristine, all the way to the present, there were always those who opposed any and all development. But is there no limit? As many others have pointed out, both in this and past comment threads, the subways are already strained beyond capacity in many cases. Surely this as well as any number of challenges to an already-strained infrastructure, overcrowding, etc. must be considered. Do we really want the market and private profit to be the ultimate determiners of our fate here?*

      “[…]this tower sets a dangerous precedent for the city as a whole.”

      Is that not a valid concern? Even if one can argue that this proposed building would be a net positive for the community, how many more such towers can the same be said for?

      Where does it end?

      (*And to anyone who would argue that the market is the best arbiter of worth and wholesomeness, I say: When was the last time you took a look at typical pop-culture offerings?)