Lawsuit to Block 200 Amsterdam Filed: ‘We Do Not Want a Bunch of Safe Deposit Boxes in the Sky’

A rally on Friday in front of 200 Amsterdam Avenue brought out neighbors and elected leaders.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD) filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday, challenging the ruling of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), regarding the legality of the zoning lot that will allow a residential building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue and 69th Street to rise 668’ high.

On Friday morning, supporters of the lawsuit gathered across the street from the construction site for a rally/fundraiser that was high spirited and well attended. The sound of hammering was constant in the background; an enormous crane loomed overhead; construction workers covered the two or three floors that have already been built.

“The fact that you see some concrete going up is not definitive,” said Richard D. Emery, a noted civil rights attorney, who is representing CFESD. “This fight is not over. We have exacted from these people an agreement that nothing they build can be used to their benefit in the legal case to prove how much they have already invested. They’re building at their own risk. They may have to take this down.”

SJP Properties, the developer, doesn’t believe that will happen. In an email to WSR, a spokesperson wrote: “200 Amsterdam’s zoning permits have been exhaustively reviewed by both the Department of Buildings and the BSA, the two city agencies with the highest authority to interpret NYC’s zoning codes. Following thorough analysis and public testimony, both agencies determined that the building fully conforms with the city’s zoning laws.”

Emery doesn’t put much stock in the BSA’s determination. “The Board of Standards and Appeals — a lot of them mayoral appointees — has essentially ceded zoning in any area of the city to the developers, who simply declare what a zoning lot is,” he contended. “That is a very serious degradation of the protections that zoning gives people in this city. And that’s really the essence of the lawsuit.”

Tom Devaney, Senior Director of Land Use & Planning at the Municipal Art Society of New York, which joined the fight against 200 Amsterdam about a year ago, called the BSA’s ruling “a horrible precedent.”

“We depend on zoning to protect our neighborhoods and give us a sense that there are predictable actions that work in our favor and we have a say in,” Devaney said. “The decision by the BSA is an affront to this predictability. Once again, we find the city and the BSA siding with developers and private interests over public interests.”

SJP characterized the motivations of the opposition as less lofty. “This appeal is a last-ditch attempt by a well-funded group of NIMBY activists whose previous efforts to block this as-of-right development have failed at every turn,” they wrote. “We are confident that this lawsuit will be dismissed, as have all previous challenges, on the grounds that this project is fully compliant with NYC’s zoning resolution. The development team for 200 Amsterdam has followed the law completely and continues to make unabated construction progress.”

An analysis of the zoning lot by the Municipal Art Society, with the proposed building in orange and the zoning lot in red.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who has been fighting the building for two years, gave a fiery rebuttal.  “I’m at my limit,” she said. “I cannot fathom why the administration can’t see what’s right before its face. This is going to be a 60-story high rise that belongs on West 57th Street or below. It serves absolutely no public policy purpose. And still the city is allowing developers to go through loopholes and create new ones. It’s outrageous.”

A teaser site for the new building says apartments will start at $2.95 million.

State Assembly Members Linda Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried also spoke against the project, as did representatives of Congressman Jerrold Nadler and the Tribeca Trust, a nonprofit fighting to preserve the “human scale and architectural character” of that neighborhood.

Ultimately, what’s good for a community may be in the eyes of the beholder.

SJP Properties sees it this way:

“We look forward to delivering a building that will significantly benefit the neighborhood and public at large by generating millions of dollars in annual tax revenue, creating a significant number of jobs, and providing additional housing that will further enhance this great Upper West Side community.”

Richard Emery has a different perspective:

”We do not want a bunch of safe deposit boxes in the sky in our neighborhood,” he said. “These buildings are built for rich people, for oligarchs, to put their money into apartments they don’t live in. This building will, if it’s allowed to go forward, completely change the character of this community. And it’s just one more incursion, moving slowly uptown. We want to stand our ground here, and stop this incursion. This is a critical case, a bright line that we’re trying to draw. I’m not standing here with you today in some kind of a Sisyphean effort. This is a real effort that has actual legal power to it. We can win this case.”

“We’ll win because we’re right,” said Olive Freud, president of CFSED, and leader of the opposition.

Emery expects a decision by December.

Emery and Freud at the rally.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 46 comments | permalink
    1. nyc10023 says:

      So a decision in December, with the builders averaging 2-3 stories per week, means that potentially the building could be 30+ stories in that time.

      When do these folks just let it go and realize this isn’t the UWS of 1958?

    2. A(rthur) Realist says:

      Re#1: “We’ll win because we’re right, said… (a) leader of the opposition.”
      But EVERYONE believes (S)he’s right. Why would anyone start a fight if (S)he thought (S)he were wrong?
      File under “W” for Wishful Thinking!

      Re#2: “Once again, we find the city and the BSA siding with developers and private interests ….”
      Yup, darn developers! Who needs them? Why, without private developers we’d have NO:
      1. Chrysler Building;
      2. Empire State Building;
      3. Rockefeller Plaza;
      4. U.N. buildings;
      5. One World Trade Center; etc.
      Instead, Manhattan would be filled with architecture as DYNAMIC, CUTTING-EDGE, and ICONIC as…as…NYCHA projects and red-brick public schools!

      Re#3: “These buildings are built for rich people, … to put their money into apartments they don’t live in.”
      Well, that settles One NIMBY assertion, that the 72nd Street subway platforms will become ‘dangerously over-crowded’.
      How could 200 Amsterdam be at fault if all the “rich people” owners didn’t actually live there?

      • Yimby says:

        I wonder, if this building were being developed as Section 8 housing for low-income families, how this NIMBY mob respond then. Overcrowding on the subways and schools? And why aren’t they all whining about the ginormous, 416′ tall 33+-story resi building at 1865 Broadway (formerly American Bible Society bldg.) at 61st St.? Although it’s slightly shorter than 200 Amsterdam, we’re definitely not talking low-rise here. Is another 200′ really that big a deal? Is 400′ the limit for this crowd?

        • A.C. says:

          They wouldn’t take it. All they care about is height. They don’t care if a short building does harm or a tall building is really beneficial. They just care about the height. It’s a really problematic ideology.

          • Jay says:

            It’s especially problematic considering there are already several buildings within a few blocks that are above 500′ in height and have a much greater floor area.

            The arguments put forth by these groups aren’t logical. They just want the UWS to be a museum and tell people how they should live.

        • Leda says:

          “Slightly shorter”?? 33 Stories vs 60 is MUCH taller.

    3. Sherman says:

      I hope when this building inevitably goes up it will be inhabited by people who help to vote Helen Rosenthal out of office.

      Incidentally, I wonder how much Richard Emery is earning for representing the CFSED and which people are drawing salaries from this organization.

      • uwsdad says:

        Yeah – she, like all council members is term-limited. So, as usual another vacuous statement from the Sherminator. She is already in her second term now.

    4. Jay says:

      Looks like a few busy-bodies showed up to tell everyone how to live their lives. Why this blog gives so much attention to the small band of NIMBYs we have in the neighborhood I’ll never understand.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        from the photo, it doesn’t look like a “small band.” of course, Jay and the other members of the build-build-build crowd are free to hold a demonstration in support of the developer. you might get construction workers to show up… but community residents? not too many.

        Jay said:

        “…a few busy-bodies showed up to tell everyone how to live their lives.”

        Jay has turned reality on its head. Of course, the developer who is building this huge building is impacting the lives of everyone on the neighborhood. those protesting are arguing for more care towards existing community residents.

        What Jay means is “a few busy bodies are trying to influence how the rich can deploy capital.” and the response should be, “of course, and good for the busy bodies.” it’s called democracy.

        • Jay says:

          Your illogical rhetoric is sooo tired, Bruce.

          Most of the people in that photo were city councilors and their staff. Those same city councilors that have yet to introduce a bill to that change the policies that they oppose in press releases. That just shows you how much they really oppose these zoning issues in reality.

          Most of us on the upper west side are welcoming to change and new people. Too bad these small minded people pictured are given an outsized megaphone compared to their influence and numbers.

        • sickandtired says:

          Please don’t lump me in with “everyone in the neighborhood” whose lives will be impacted by this building. Quit sensationalizing this issue and telling me how this ultra tall building is going to ruin my life. Please! I live within a block of here and even the construction doesn’t bother me. It’s NYC for crying out loud. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be resilient! Quit complaining already and just live your life without trying to find fault in every damn thing!

        • ScooterStan says:

          Re: your “the developer who is building this huge building is impacting the lives of everyone on the neighborhood.”

          EVERYONE ?!? Have you taken a poll of local residents? Have you asked HOW their lives are being “impacted”? Or are you, like He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned, making it up as you go?

          This reader DOES live very near that site, and passes by on an almost daily basis. So far the building has had NO negative impact. It’s just another construction site to negotiate past, and the workers are friendly and accommodating to the elderly and/or handicapped.

          Besides, it is fascinating now to watch the construction process up-close, and later it will be equally fascinating to see how this shiny new building will add to the neighborhood.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Jay said:

          “Your illogical rhetoric is sooo tired, Bruce.”

          this seems to be Jay’s favorite argument against me… i’m predictable, my issues and arguments are “tired”, and so on.

          I’m an old socialist-liberal and not a cutting edge real estate hipster. I plead guilty! and proud of it. and i only post about issues where i have some knowledge.

          Jay said:

          “Most of the people in that photo were city councilors and their staff. Those same city councilors that have yet to introduce a bill to that change the policies that they oppose in press releases.”

          For someone who claims such familiarity with the neighborhood, Jay should know that the there is only one City Councilperson pictured, Helen Rosenthal. the other two elected officials are State Assemblypersons, Linda Rosenthal and Dick Gottfried. they have nothing to do with Council bills.

          And i am under the impression that Helen Rosenthal has either introduced or is about to introduce legislation that outlaws the sort of gerry-mandered zoning we see in this case.

          I have no idea how Jay can make the claim about staff members. is he familiar with the staffs? I am very skeptical that the other people in the picture represent legislative staff. But somehow Jay knows what all their staff members look like? Doubtful (especially since he didn’t even know what legislative body the people belonged to.)

          Jay said:

          “Most of us on the upper west side are welcoming to change and new people. Too bad these small minded people pictured are given an outsized megaphone compared to their influence and numbers.”

          Since this is a large demonstration, given that it is a local issue, and it includes all the elected officials in the area, it in obvious that it deserves coverage, and the people are influential.

          jay has continually claimed that the Build-Build-Build YIMBY crowd represents the majority of West Siders, that Olive Freud and Helen Rosenthal are politically isolated, etc. Well, Helen just won with about 85-90% of the vote, and she was vocal on this issue. I don’t even recall the Republican candidate taking the developer’s side!

          but there’s an easy way to test Jay’s thesis. Any freshman student in political science can tell you that when elected officials oppose where their constituents stand on an issue, they are flirting with electoral disaster. Why don’t Jay et. al. get candidates for the Assembly elections in 2020 who run on “more big buildings”? “We haven’t built enough.” “More ultra-high end condos.” “The rich need more multi-million apartments.” “Down with Olive Freud!”

          Let’s see how you do, Jay. if you’re really a majority on this issue, you will win hands down!

          And the developers will be more than happy to fund you! Well, unless your one-sided, tone deaf approach embarrasses even them.

          • Jay says:

            “i’m predictable, my issues and arguments are “tired””

            Glad you’ve finally found some self-awareness, Bruce.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        to @Sickandtired and @Scooterstan:

        I said “impacted the lives of everyone”, not “negatively impacted.”

        You guys are both admitting to an impact from the building and the ultra-development. You two happen to like it and feel the impact is positive.

        I would argue that most of your neighbors feel it is a negative impact, base on the stance of the elected officials and the size of this demonstration.

        • sickandtired says:

          I’d hardly say a group of approximately 50 people (counted from the same photo you referenced) and the obvious demographic of those in the photo represent the entire neighborhood.

    5. Enough is Enough says:

      The same folk who ran “The Coalition for a Livable Upper West Side” and notes that a supertall could be built on this site in 2007, a full 11 years ago, now have a new group and will stand up against this surprise?

      Yes it’s monstrous and it’s ugly too.

      But proceeding with it now is not unfair. The time to fight was then.

    6. Jen says:

      Bravo for your determination and perseverance. We can’t allow greed and politicians ruin the city.

    7. AC says:

      Funny, when I complained about the number of tall buildings going up in the West 80’s and West 90’s over ten years ago, no one wanted to fight city hall. All of a sudden it spreads down to the West 60’s and now my neighbors want to fight? Reminds me of the early 1970’s when the city proposed on building a Waste Treatment Plant at 79 street (replacing the Boast Basin); and the neighborhood back then pulled strings to relocate it to West 145 street. NIMBY!

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        the construction of the two tall condos at 99th and Bway resulted in rezoning of the entire corridor to limit height.

        I know that the 3 Parks Democratic Club played a big role in this. Maybe your voice mattered as well.

    8. Reg Lincoln says:

      This group, its lawsuit and the rally crowd are right — the Dept of Buildings has already publicly rejected the calculations the developers used in calculating such a disproportionate height (3/2018). Neighborhood is funding the fight with indiv donations.
      Now the entire fight is over the grandfathering, which the developer has conceded cannot be based on what they have built since 5/1/2018.
      The developer overcalculated the zoning intentionally and expects to negotiate down the height…but requires the neighborhood to protest and sue before they do.
      Shame on developers Steven Pozycki, Enrique Alonso, and Doug Allen.

    9. Terry Silver says:

      I am so pleased that people are taking a stand, and I am eager to support, including donations.
      DiBlasio and the Dept of Buildings is standing by as the developers create new loopholes in the Zoning Regs.
      I agree we have to fight this one because the abuses here are being used on the 775-foot plan for West 66th Street, and likely more to come.
      What diBlasio and the Dept of Buildings won’t do, NYC neighborhoods and citizens will have to do in the courts.
      Go neighbors! This will result in a better New York!

    10. Bruce says:

      The building is within the law. Where were our community leaders when the law was written? Seems like too little too late. How many more are being approved as we speak? Community representatives had better get to work changing the law now, otherwise these fights are nothing more that grandstanding on the part of elected officials trying to stop them. The community deserves real leadership and that means changing the laws.

      • Leon says:

        I agree 100%. They have very highly paid lawyers who analyze the law to make sure they are acting within the law (perhaps not the spirit of the law, but the written law). The best way to fight this is to change the law. By the time the protestors start responding, it is way too late.

        I find that people in this neighborhood really like to protest, because it seems to give them something to do, but they are not very strategic in where to channel their efforts. Protesting at City Hall for legal change would be much more effective. Kind of like how parading around the UWS complaining about Trump is preaching to the choir – spend your time and money in a battleground state.

    11. Peter Brandt says:

      Go after them with all you got….the residential population. There are more of us than them.

      • Genius boy says:

        The building will go up Peter. Now go back to your picture taking in Central Park of the ducks.

    12. WombatNYC says:

      Lincoln Towers complex is fugly ! what an eyesore

      • LT-4-ME says:

        Oh, definitely!

        Our buildings are teh-wibbly teh-wibbly ugleee!

        At your request we shall have them taken down!

        Then all the several thousand displaced residents will be moving to YOUR APARTMENT! We’ll provide you with a list of food preferences.

        IT’S GONNA GET CROWDED, but, just think, you won’t hafta see our uglee buildings anymore!

    13. Mark says:

      Wow, there sure are a lot of people eager to defend rapacious developers! For the record, for the people saying, “Where were you all 10 or 12 years ago?” the answer is, in Bloomberg’s New York, which was handed over lock stock and barrel to real estate developers, to its detriment. Also, it’s groteque to call this NIMBYism. NIMBY is about attempts to thwart things that will bring down the value of a neighborhood; this is an attempt to prevent a half-empty skyscraper that will be a blight on the skyline and yet another foothold for the absent ultra-rich.

    14. Doug Garr says:

      They will lose and the building will go up. When you’re up against the DOB and money from a developer you can’t stop it. I was president of the board of my co-op during a dispute with a neighboring building. Every time we got a “stop-work order,” it was rescinded in record time. Like days. Our outside attorney said their encroachment was the most “egregious” disregard of city building law he’d seen in years. And then he advised us to settle because he knew the fix was in. Being “right,” even under the law when it comes to issues like this, don’t mean a damn. So Helen Rosenthal is just yapping.

      • Jen says:

        Doesn’t mean we have to give up. I’d not for this building, this fight will be successful to stop other monstrosities.

        • $$$ says:

          Not so sure about that one, Jen. The vast majority of people just aren’t interested in what goes on outside of their bubble. You and your friends are well within your right to speak out against whatever you’d like…but face it, the almighty $ will win every time.

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            people power can beat dollar power, eventually, at least in a democracy.

            In any case, you’re just arguing for surrender.

            I’m with Jen.

    15. Rodger Lodger says:

      These complaints have been made for many decades. Few lawsuits like this succeed. New York City is in constant architectural flux, whereas its residents at any given moment are just getting older and heading to the grave. I moved back to Manhattan from another state in 2013, and half of what I see didn’t exist when I left in 1981. So what?

    16. BJK says:

      I am so tired of this massive construction site and hole in the ground. These people need to let the issue drop and let the building be built so that we don’t continue to have noise, construction, sidewalk diversions, and a big mud pit there for another two years.

    17. pumpkinpie says:

      I live around the corner and walk past the site daily. Right or wrong, I’ve assumed the building is fait accompli and will be completed, so I’m concentrating on practical and safety issues while it’s under construction. Walking past the site is becoming a navigational mess. Every day more of Amsterdam Avenue seems to be consumed to accommodate the constant stream of large trucks delivering construction materials as well as parked cement trucks, plus workers milling about on what’s left of the sidewalk and road. Automobile traffic attempting to pass the site becomes more congested and slower every day as workers and trucks headed to or temporarily parked at the site are given precedence. Construction workers and truck drivers hanging around on the sidewalk bark at residents, directing or halting pedestrian traffic at will as if they were the police and/or own the neighborhood.

      • Sean says:

        You can’t walk on the other side of the street for a few months?

        • uwsdad says:

          Actually- you CAN’t walk on the other side of the street right now since they are doing construction over there as well smart-guy. Obviously you don’t live in the area.

      • sickandtired says:

        Chill pumpkin, its only temporary and any inconvenience to you will fade so you can move on to complaining about something else. By the way, no suggestions for improvement? Just criticism that it’s not right. Typical.

    18. A.C. says:

      The kids at PS 199 aren’t in the playground until 11:20 am the earliest on a normal day. By that time, the supposed “Looming shadow” would be pointed away from the playground. Yes, excluding May/June, the shadow will be in the playground during pickup time, but the kids won’t care. If they aren’t running late, and waiting for the teacher, they’re frolicking on the monkey bars, already darkened by the adjacent building. On top of that, on the east side of the school, there’s the lunch room, the gym, and a wall. So, in those instances, they aren’t gonna care about there being sunlight or not, and that also means not a single classroom is facing eastward. They’re preoccupied. In the exceptions that they have outdoor gym during abnormal times, again, that wouldn’t matter. They would just be hyped to be outside. Exaggerating a concern that doesn’t exist.

    19. A.C. says:

      You guys are all going about this wrong. Hostility towards developers only does more harm than good. Compromise, it’ll get you farther. If I was against the building, I would first look to change what goes inside. 240 apartments can fit into 50 West 66th street, so I suggested that. If that doesn’t work, then I would go for a height cut. Look at 80 Flatbush. Levin asked for a height cut, and after negotiations, that’s exactly what he got, in total, 50.52% of the height cut he proposed. It clearly works, I don’t see why it can’t be done here.

    20. Christina says:

      People shouldn’t use the phrase “ NIMBY” We Don’t have Backyards! It’s should be “NIMN”( Not iIn My Neighborhood) or “NOMS” ( Not On My Street) NYMBY is meaningless in Manhattan!

    21. c meyers says:

      No one working today. Is there a stop work order?