Even With Zoning in Doubt, Court Allows Developers to Keep Building 51-Story Tower

By Carol Tannenhauser

Developers have continued constructing a 51-story apartment tower on Amsterdam Avenue and 69th Street despite a March 14th court ruling that placed the legality of their building permit in question. On Tuesday, two nonprofits tried to stop the construction, but were denied a temporary restraining order (TRO) by the New York State Supreme Court and told to return for a hearing on a preliminary injunction on April 30th.

By then at least four more stories will have been added to the more than 20 that have already been built at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, according to estimates cited in the motion for the TRO. “The Owner’s indifference to the [zoning lot’s] illegality is…illustrated by its actions since the Court’s decision,” the motion read. “…in effect, the Owner is now continuing construction without a legal zoning lot. It has redoubled its efforts to complete the building, in disdain of the controlling law.”

Katie Rosenfeld, an attorney who represents the plaintiffs — the Committee For Environmentally Sound Development and the Municipal Art Society of New York — further explained their point of view in an email to WSR.

“The Court conveyed its view that the Zoning Resolution — properly applied — does not allow for this type of zoning lot, but out of respect for the BSA, Justice Perry gave the agency the opportunity to get it right on remand,” Rosenfeld wrote. “The BSA should not take another year to decide the case, which would allow the Owner to finish the illegal building and circumvent the Court’s ruling; the BSA needs to decide the issue and allow the parties to move forward to protect their rights.”

In an earlier email to WSR, SJP Properties wrote:

The development team for 200 Amsterdam has followed the law completely and continues to make construction progress….200 Amsterdam’s zoning permits were exhaustively reviewed by both the Department of Buildings and the BSA, the two city agencies with the primary responsibility for interpreting NYC’s zoning codes. Following thorough analysis and public testimony, both agencies determined that the building fully conforms with the city’s zoning laws.

Olive Freud, president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, expressed disappointment at the Court’s denial of the TRO — but also renewed her commitment to the cause. “If, as they say, the gerrymandered zoning lot is illegal there should be no further construction until the Developer has submitted a legal zoning lot,” Freud argued. “Every elected official and community organization has supported us. We will persevere hopefully through the courts, but maybe it is public demonstrations that are necessary.”

Meanwhile, SJP builds.

Correction: Because of an editing error, this story initially said incorrectly that the building would be 55 stories.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 45 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      “Meanwhile, SJP builds”.

      God for you SJP!

      This building is good for the neighborhood. Don’t let a handful of malcontents stop progress!

      • Kate says:

        I live around the corner from it. There’s nothing objectively good about it “for the neighborhood.” It will just be a bunch of multimillion-dollar luxury apartments, nothing more. The neighborhood won’t get much use out of it.

        I’m not opposed to it being built, and frankly wish groups would stop protesting it. But let’s not pretend it’s some kind of gift to the neighborhood.

    2. The West 80th Street Block Association/Billy Amato says:

      This is wonderful news and that you cannot stop progress!!
      Now let’s get the job done…

    3. Yimby says:

      Well, looks like the Court put the cart behind the horse and that horse is out of the barn and just may get to the finish line.

    4. robert says:

      For the 1,000th time this building WILL be built to the full extent on its plans. This is no more than a paperwork violation. The DOB did not like the way the calculations where done NOT the actual numbers Don’t believe these self appointed community leaders read the courts finding for yourself

      • Jen says:

        Hopefully you are wrong. For the 1000th time.

        • robert says:

          If you bothered to read the DOB filling it doesn’t say they can’t build it as tall and as dense as they plan. It expressly stays away from that, it just says the way the calculated size was done incorrectly, but if they did the math another way that came up with the same answer then they would be ok

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            what is this “other way”? they had to concoct this gerrymandered zoning lot to get the Floor Area Ratio (height) they wanted.

    5. build baby, build.

    6. Jerry Steinfeld says:

      It’s amazing that a few wealthy individuals can rally so many working class, uninformed people to fund and go to bat to protect their river views.

    7. Bill Ditt says:

      Re: “Meanwhile, SJP builds”

      YAY-Y-Y-Y…HOORAH-H-H-H

      A Note2NIMBY’s:

      The architecture expert Paul Goldberger (New Yorker / Vanity Fair) once noted that a diversity of building types (as opposed to cookie-cutter suburban blandness)is what makes NYC what it is.

      200 Amsterdam will be very different from the red-brick / beige brick / limestone of its surroundings, which is a good thing.

      You go, SJP !!!

      • Jennifer Silver says:

        The above “Bill Ditt” comment is clearly from one of the many fictitious, ghost spammers who are hired by mega-developers to surf social media, plant favorable articles, and squeeze out genuine UWS reader comments.
        Readers can ignore them (and likely already do… “Bill Ditt” — really…)

        • Rob G. says:

          Wow, that is some conspiracy theory. I had no idea that you aren’t allowed to voice a supporting opinion on this building unless you are a paid shill!

        • Casper, ghost-spammer says:

          Re: “…clearly from one of the many fictitious, ghost spammers who … plant favorable articles, and squeeze out genuine UWS reader comments.”

          Dang it, ya caught me! BOO!, I AM a “ghost spammer” and I’d love to write more, but I have a huge backlog of other ghosts waiting to be spammed.

          As for “squeezing out genuine UWS readers” I’ll have you know I squeeze no one / nothing, not even an orange.

          Also, I AM a “genuine UWS reader”; us ghosties get Internet here in Trinity Cemetery. In fact, my “home” is not far from former Mayor Koch’s plot…which is nice, except he’s such a nudge, always asking “How am I doing?

          We tell him “you’re dead, Ed” to which he replies, “So, anyway, how am I doing?”

    8. John says:

      After this is built need to condemn all the Lincoln towers buildings and build 12 super talls for the Russian and Chinese buyers. The gated community of Manhattan should be complete in a decade to coincide with socialism.

    9. Sid says:

      Serious question, what happens to what’s been built if they decide that it’s zoned improperly, or they’re not allowed to go on with building?

      • AC57 says:

        If the building gets completed to the point of occupancy, then I have no idea. Anything prior to the first move-ins, the building gets taken down, as far as I know

    10. AC57 says:

      @WSR, the official dimensions of the building are 51 stories, 668 feet

    11. A.C. says:

      The building is currently at the height where setbacks are about to form, just to give some perspective.

      • ShermansACop says:

        Can you elaborate, AC?

        • A.C. says:

          The building has a series of setbacks in its design, where the body of the building backs away from the street. The first setback starts after the building reaches 23 or 24 stories, and then there are 7 setbacks every 4 stories, and then the crown of the tower.

    12. Zimmerman Al says:

      Zoning laws must be adhered to for the benefit of all residents

      • Meshugener says:

        Those days are over with! Laws are meant to be broken!!!

        This is 2020 !!!

        What are you a meshugener!

    13. bina presser says:

      I there was ever any doubt about corruption in our city government…

    14. Pedestrian says:

      This case is a prime example of how residents are being penalized because neither the DOB nor the BSA follows the law. When politicians wonder why citizens are beyond disenchanted with city government and the mayor and City Council in particular all they need to do is look at this case. Residents and organizations like CESD and Landmark West! Have been begging local council members to take a pro active role in reining in the DOB and developers. Signing on to litigation is not enough. It’s time for legislative change and an active oversight process to ensure that City Agencies stop seeing developers and their clients and start enforcing the law.

      The DOB has been allowing developers to ride rough shod over the law and regulations regarding zoning and building for a long time. These manipulations will ultimately put both health and safety at risk but who cares when the profit of the developers is involved. Profits over people is the rallying cry of developers and the DeBlasio Administration.

      • Ground Control says:

        Pedestrian You Have It Exactly Right!! And is it any surprise that our lawless President came from the same corrupt real estate system in New York where he gamed the system in every way conceivable! The law counts for some people and not for others. In New York it’s a rigged system and in the end, the city will be ruined by it. The Mayor may take up space in City Hall but it’s REBNY who runs it. I give NYC 5 years til deep crisis. The city will be filled with empty towers and foreign investors who for the most part will lose money and leave. The working class and middle class will be long gone except for those hanging on in the few rent stabilized apartments remaining. The vibrancy, quality of life, the neighborhood services will be history. You don’t need to be a sage to see the way this is going.

    15. MHCC Health and Safety Committee has learned that developers are NOT held accountable to the communities they impact during the 3-5 years of demolition/construction. Extended work permits, lack of safety patrols outside the construction area and the huge numbers of trucks idling- impacting air quality and neighbor’s health issues are just of the few things that developers (and the City’s DOB) need to change. Development happens…but dumping on our communities and then letting our tax dollars clean up their “for profit” mess is just wrong. We all need to keep developers accountable to our communities, our children and our most vulnerable citizens. More on our Facebook page @MHCCSafetyCommittee

    16. Tim Allen says:

      Can we please stop reporting on something that is not news – has not been for a long time now. This is becoming as much news as the fact that the Earth is round. This building was always going to be built. Lets all move on. Plenty of construction going on around town – focus on another project. I am sure there are many just like this one – violating all sort of laws. But that is what you get with the mayor we have – complete disregard for quality of life. Complete mismanagement. Just keep raising taxes, tolls and fees.

      • Cato says:

        Can we please stop reporting on the mayor having complete disregard for the quality of life. Complete mismanagement. Just keeps raising taxes, tolls and fees.

        This is something that is not news – has not been for a long time now. This is becoming as much news as the fact that the Earth is round.

        • Tim Allen says:

          And yet, here we are!

          Homeless, dog crap, building violations, subway decay, run away budgets…traffic issues…failing schools, housing crisis,…

          Move along everyone, nothing to look at here. Move along.

    17. Bert says:

      I led successful height limit efforts years ago to protect residential neighborhoods adjacent to “downtown” high rise districts in San Francisco, where we won 80 feet height limits that are still in effect 50 years later. This is why San Francisco’s character and beauty has prevailed and continues to be a desirable destination for residents and global visitors. There is no reason why New York City and its residents should not find common ground to stop the encroachment of high-rise, “Big-Bucks” development that have only super-profit in mind, and have proven to stop and/or destroy the pre-existing character of these residential neighborhoods. This is not “Growth”; it is “Gross”!

      • Sherman says:

        San Francisco is an insanely unaffordable city largely because of limitations on building construction and heights.

        You can’t limit building heights (which restrict supply) and then complain that a bunch of greedy developers are making the city unaffordable.

        A bunch of old, small and inefficient buildings might allegedly maintain SF’s “character and beauty” but it makes the city wildly expensive to live in.

        You can’t have it both ways. It’s simple economics.

        Incidentally, SF has rent regulation. So does NYC. Both cities have perennial issues with affordability and housing shortages.

        See the connection?

      • AC57 says:

        Isn’t there a crippling homelessness crisis in San Francisco though, last time I checked?

        Aren’t housing prices in the millions because of these height limits and the lack of housing

        Isn’t the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENING IN NYC?!

        Pushing the legality of the project aside for a second, fighting a building solely on the basis of height (without environmental damages.) is not a good reason. Fight what goes in, how they got to that height, excessive voids over 40 feet. Not height.

        • Pedestrian says:

          So if you a developer legalit is irrelevant! Nice.

          Height is an issue and a very important t one. The cumulative impact of Suppertalls will be devastation to humans who will be forced to live in the darkness so that developers can make more profits. Supertalls DO NOT HELP SOLVE THE HOMELSSNESS PROBLEM OR EVEN THE AFFORDABLE HOUING HOUSING problem.

          • AC57 says:

            A. I never said legality wasn’t important

            B. What’s your solution to affordability? Developers and architects proposing taller buildings are the ones that seem to be cranking out the affordable projects, especially in Manhattan. The LES towers have some (but not enough) 80 Flatbush, 570 Fulton, 625 Fulton if passed, 15 Hudson Yards, 606 West 57th, 625 West 57th Waterline Square, 1 West End, 21 West End Avenue, 1 Riverside Park, not to mention almost the entirety of Hunters Point, among other tall projects across the city, have affordable housing offerings. Without it, the housing crisis would be considerably worse. Not all Supertalls are necessary, nor do they help in some cases, but clearly the trend here in the UWS is not working. We’re just putting up 20 story projects with 70 apartments AT BEST, that start at $1.8M AT LEAST. All the affordable housing in the neighborhood is restricted to 10069 and Riverside Center/Waterline Square, and those projects actually start cheaper than the rest of the new projects in the rest of the neighborhood, believe it or not. We could repurpose both proposed controversial skyscrapers to have affordable housing, but because of the nature of the city, and the stubbornness of community groups developers would rather look for the loopholes with no benefits than go through ULURP with an abundance of benefits.

            Bottom line: we need to be open to working with the planners, architects, and developers – maybe not in this case, but in general, because as we can see with Alloy and ULURP, and Bjarke Ingels with the BQE (among a plethora of other architects) when we all work together for the betterment of the city, we can accomplish great things, instead of going back and forth over and over again.

    18. Barb says:

      Hm, so the iffy point is that it is for the rich? And maybe pied-a-terre? Hm. This is NYC, there are lots of rich people here, although they are wandering off because of high taxes. NYC had such a huge deficit because the rich are moving.

      I still don’t get it, I lived in LA for 12 years and affordable housing is almost non-existent. I am perplexed how much is been done here in regards to creating affordable housing and the huge amount that already exists. NY’ers should be grateful. If there is one building for the rich solely, fine with me, they pay property taxes, and put more $ in the city’s pot, that only can be good!

      • Bert says:

        To respond to Barb’s comments:

        LA stopped being a “City” decades ago. One definition for years that gets close: “LA” is “… a collection of suburbs in search of a City!” So if you liked LA, these high-rise buildings in the midst of more traditional neighborhoods, will get you the “LA” you want for New York City! Its one reason why Northern California tried over the years to find a way to secede from Southern California. Unfortunately, it failed because the LA area voting population which needed N. California’s water, outstripped them! So if you want an “LA” neighborhood at”200 Amsterdam Ave.”, you will probably get it. I hope you enjoy it! I am glad I live outside of it!

      • AC57 says:

        Many if not most affordable units come through projects that go through the ULURP process – upzoning requests. However, developers would rather find the loopholes and threaten going to court without providing benefits than go through the process with affordable units on the table. That’s how stubborn community groups and the city can be sometimes, and that’s how restrictive zoning is. As a result, housing costs keep rising as not a single developer seems inclined to offer units that rent under $2K a month, or start under $800K for condos

        But let’s see something here: @Bruce E Bernstein, @Jen, @Dannyboy, if this project was 700 feet but offered 75 affordable units with 150 market rate units, and the developers sent it through the ULURP process, would you take it? I know I would in a heartbeat.

        • Jay says:

          You know the answer to that already, AC57. The complaints have nothing to do with the building or the process. It has to do with change and the fear of it.

    19. Kathleen says:

      Only in New York. Developers rule the City and run our lives – from rents to retail. Boot them out!

    20. SD says:

      This building is an “EYESORE” in our beautiful neighborhood!!!!!!

    21. Lester Saroff says:

      Let the developer build as tall as he is allowed as long as he contributes to improving the 72d St subway station. Something Trump was to do with his project but never did. All the city’s (Mayor’s) fault.