200 Amsterdam Now Being Built at Developer’s ‘Peril’; Illegal Stories Could Have to Come Down


Olive Freud, Gale Brewer and others spoke at the rally.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Straining her voice to be heard over the clamor of construction, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer delivered the lead-off message to a crowd of about 50 people at a rally/press conference held Tuesday morning at 69th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The noise came from across the avenue — 200 Amsterdam, the planned 668-foot residential skyscraper that SJP Properties is still building, despite a ruling by the New York State Supreme Court that its zoning lot is illegal.

“We want to stop construction on 200 Amsterdam now!” Brewer shouted, to the appreciative audience. “The developer has gerrymandered zoning lots together in such a way as to distort the allowable height and build far higher than they would be allowed customarily under what we consider the law. It’s one of the developments across Manhattan that uses this loophole in the Zoning Resolution to create taller and denser buildings. It has got to stop.”

The construction quieted for a moment and so did Brewer’s voice, as she stated her central demand: “The Department of Buildings should stop construction while the Board of Standards and Appeals determines its new position. That is specifically why we’re here.”

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal spoke next.

“Why has the developer built in a rush about 10 stories in the last five days?” she demanded. “Because he knows he’s about to be told he has to stop building. He knows that he is breaking the Zoning Resolution law.

“What’s going on here is the community opposes this and brought a lawsuit — and the court agreed,” Rosenthal shouted, as the banging began anew. An acrid smell had arisen, which someone said “we shouldn’t be breathing.”

“What’s missing is the will of the Department of Buildings to hit the pause button,” Rosenthal continued. “That’s all we’re asking for, but, instead, what the city has allowed this developer to do is work until 10 o’clock at night, start early in the morning, work on weekends…It’s outrageous and must stop.”

The crowd cheered.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against SJP also spoke. First was Olive Freud, who discovered the questionable zoning lot in 2017, and spearheaded the subsequent actions against it, through her nonprofit Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD). Together with the Municipal Art Society of New York, led by Elizabeth Goldstein, CFESD filed the suit against SJP Properties in October, 2018. Goldstein addressed the crowd, as did their attorney, Richard Emery, who said:


Olive Freud.

“The (court’s) opinion is as clear as a crystal. This building is illegal. It is flat out a violation of the zoning law. The lot on which it is built does not support its height. It’s already four stories or so above the height that is permitted under proper interpretations of the zoning law.”


Richard Emery.

What happens to those “four stories or so” if SJP loses the lawsuit? WSR asked.

“We have laid the groundwork to argue and, I think, prevail on requiring them to take down anything in excess of what the zoning lot requires, and we will press that to the very end,” Emery said. “They are building at their peril right now. Unless they win on appeal, they will have to take it down.”


A diagram of the zoning plan shown at the rally.

“Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was able to do that many years ago when she was in the City Council, so it is not unprecedented,” Brewer added. “If I remember correctly, they had to take down 12 stories.”

That occurred in 1985 on 96th Street just off Park Avenue, Gothamist reported.

Shortly after the rally, SJP Properties sent WSR the following statement:

200 Amsterdam fully conforms with all zoning laws, as previously upheld by both the DOB and the BSA, the two city agencies with the primary responsibility for interpreting NYC’s zoning codes. The opposition has resorted to applying political pressure while overlooking the last 40 years of zoning history, during which several buildings have been built and occupied under the exact same zoning standards.

We are confident that New York City’s agencies will continue to apply the law in a fair manner that respects the rights of all without seeking to change the rules retroactively, after a project is already underway. We continue to make construction progress and look forward to delivering a building that will significantly benefit the neighborhood and New York City.

This project is expected to generate over $100 million in tax revenue over the next 10 years that will be used for badly needed infrastructure and service upgrades to the benefit of the entire city, all while creating a significant number of New York City jobs.

 

    1. Cato says:

      Take down the excess height? That will never, ever, ever happen, and the developer knows it.

      The worst that will happen will be an “Ooops!” call and the City will assess dollar fines against the developer. The developer will pay those fines and then raise the prices of the apartments it is selling. The bankers and oligarchs, if they even notice the even-more-inflated prices, will happily shell out the extra bucks.

      The developer will emerge unscathed, and the next developer will continue to build-build-build undeterred.

      Those who believe that the law limits the height of buildings do not understand that the law does not apply to those with lots of money.

    2. Eric says:

      Never will I understand why people have problems with tall buildings being built…. It is baffling, who cares.

      • Scott says:

        It’s because they think they can cause a ruckus and extract some money out of the developer.

      • Glitter says:

        Because the UWS is full of old curmudgeons. They would prefer the aspestos ridden defunked temple

      • Che says:

        Tall buildings is not the issue, it’s contextual zoning and abiding by the regulations it involves. “Who cares?” has to do with the aesthetic effect of architecture on the quality of life and the unique character of our neighborhood and community. Embedded in that is a reaction against developers’ breaking laws and city agencies’ and some politicians’ letting it slide.

        • pcnyc says:

          Well-said!

        • Confused says:

          That’s such BS. Stop with the “because it’s the law” crap. If you don’t like for a reason, specify the reason. Don’t imply that you are a part of a group of perfect law-abiding citizens – even the silliest things like jay-walking happen all day every day. Do you complain about them too?

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        Lets see, huge shadows, poor views of sky, blocking satellites, sticking out like a sore thumb, cost… I’m sure I can think of many, many more.

    3. AC57 says:

      (I posted this in the last thread on this issue. I want to know people’s opinions)

      I have a rezoning proposal: (For simplicity reasons, my limitations are based on height and not FAR, and only goes up to 96th Street. This rezoning also only applies to solely office, solely residential, or office/residential buildings with nothing else, again for simplicity sake)

      Buildings below 66th Street can not surpass 250 meters/821 feet. Buildings between 66th and 72nd Street cannot surpass 200 meters/656 feet, buildings between 72nd and 86th street cannot surpass skyscraper status (150 meters or 492 feet) and everything above 86th street cannot surpass 125 meters, or 410 feet)

      With this rezoning would include Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirements: anything over 574 feet/175 meters below 66th Street would require inclusionary housing, anything above 410 feet/125 meters up to 72nd Street would too, as would anything above 328 feet/100 meters up to 86th street, and anything up to 295 feet/95 meters to 96th Street.

      As many of us know, many beneficial projects come out of ULURP proposals, with projects going above these limits. To qualify for consideration, a project must contain at least 35% affordable units, achieve LEED silver status, and, if they contain mechanics voids, cannot exceed 30 feet, per MAS recommendations (under normal zoning circumstances in this scenario to allow for HVAC changes, voids can go up to 40 feet). MIH would start as low as 50% AMI in 10024, 60% in 10023, and 70% in 10025 with ULURP applications and other projects that qualify.

      There will be exceptions to these rules: Non-two-way side streets from 66th to 72nd street would see the same restrictions with height levels at 35% (so cut by 65%), from 72nd street to 86th street, the height levels would be at 25%, and above 86th street the height levels would be cut to 20%. This would only apply to development along side streets that are not two ways. (The 65th/66th Street block would fall under the normal rezoning rules. The 66th/67th street block would apply for the sidestreet rule.) All height level limits that fall under the CPW historic district would be cut by 60%, and all height levels (again, along CPW) and all height levels along the WEA/Riverside Historic district would be cut by 45%

      Under this scenario, 50 West 66th Street would be required to fill that void with affordable housing, or cut it down to 40 feet, still requiring MIH. and 200 Amsterdam would undergo a 12-foot height cut, and include mandatory inclusionary housing.

      I would argue that is reasonable. Adequate breathing room, and encouraging for growth, but nothing so stifling and overpowering, still preserving those beloved historic districts

      Side note: all projects are subject to environmental review if there’s sufficient evidence that environmental impact to plant life would be severe, and there is some flexibility for rezoning if developers are willing to spend extra on community improvements, like roadway expansions, subway retrofits, new parks, etc.

      Also, extra schools, new green spaces, and community centers included within new developments would count as only half the height, if the additional aspect does not constitute more than 50 feet in total height

    4. Zimmerman Al says:

      The continuing construction is in direct violation of the NYS Supreme Court ruling. This flagrant disregard for zoning laws must be corrected. We can’t allow any argument for it’s been built already, so no point in bringing it to conform.

    5. Duke says:

      How dare they build a slightly taller building in the middle of other tall buildings! This is NY after all where things like this are unheard of! (rolls eyes)

    6. Sherman says:

      “What’s going on here is the community opposes this and brought a lawsuit”

      No Helen, a handful of entitled malcontents brought this lawsuit. Most of the “community” is likely supportive of this building or at the very least indifferent.

      There were 50 people at this rally. Wow, I guess that’s proof of overwhelming “community” opposition.

      The building will inevitably be constructed, Richard Emery will collect big fees, Helen Rosenthal and Gale Brewer will have a nice photo-op and these self-appointed community leaders will find something else to complain about.

    7. Rob G. says:

      So tired of these throwback politicians trying to turn back the clock of progress for the Upper West Side. But it sure is a lot easier to hold a rally with a bunch of folks whining about losing their views than to deal with the real problems of the neighborhood.

    8. Kenneth says:

      “…delivered the lead-off message to a crowd of about 50 people at a rally/press conference held Tuesday morning at 69th Street and Amsterdam Avenue…”

      50 people is not exactly mass protest.
      Time to move on.

      • Jay says:

        Exactly. That’s 50 people counting press, politicians and their staffs.

        The small group of people that showed up is no way indicative of the UWS in any way, shape or form.

      • Merrill says:

        The size of the rally isn’t indicative of community members’s interest/opposition to this project. The protest was held on a week day morning. Not to mention, the politicians aren’t that dim-witted. The optics of the rally would look silly if it were held on a day were the construction crews weren’t working, there were TV crews there…

        What the lawsuits and the politicians’s protests are really about is pushing back against shadowy big money in the city doing whatever it wants whenever it wants. It’s baffling to me why anyone on here doesn’t make the connection between this kind of construction and the gross reality of income inequality happening right in our backyard.

        Unless you’re a multi-millionaire with the ambition to build your “dream mansion” on West 69th street, what are you gaining besides dust in your lungs from construction and a neighborhood where fewer and fewer people can afford to live in?

        • Ish Kabibble says:

          Merrill, you’re the voice of reason. Such short-sighted people who ‘don’t see anything wrong here’. Sad.

        • Jay says:

          “the politicians aren’t that dim-witted..”

          I don’t think you know much about our local politicians then.

          This building has nothing to do with income inequality. Building it or not building it won’t change the affordability of the UWS as a whole.

          Developers build building to make the most money back from their investment. Selling units at the top of market is the easiest way to do that.

          • Merrill says:

            “Developers build building to make the most money back from their investment. Selling units at the top of market is the easiest way to do that.”

            Jay, that’s precisely the reason why the neighborhood will become more unaffordable. Should these “ultra-luxury” high rises continue to sneak around Columbus Circle it’s not outlandish to think that the socio-economic status of the community will change indefinitely.

            • Jay says:

              Merrill, look around.. the neighborhood is already unaffordable to most people and it’s been that way for more than a decade. Not building anything will not change that, nor will building it.

              Until the city gets serious about increasing the amount of housing, you won’t see the UWS becoming cheaper. Seems the politicians that showed up are not interested in getting serious.

              The small number of folks protesting this building have no interest in leveling socio-economic divide in the UWS. They just want to selfishly turn it into a museum for rich people.

            • B.B. says:

              There are more socio-economic and demographic forces at work than just luxury real estate, and they are affecting all of NYC.

              Quite frankly these changes have been coming in fits and starts as NYC lost its manufacturing, unskilled and industrial labor base.

              Changes also began as first mayor Dinkins, then Rudy G, and then Bloomberg began various efforts that reversed the white flight of 1950’s through 1970’s, and began to make the city once again a place people wanted to live and raise a family.

              Technology over the past twenty years has brought tremendous socio-economic changes and that isn’t going away, nor going to get any easier for those being left behind.

              The 1980’s are only 40 years ago but might as well be the 1880’s far as things are going. Entire corporate/business workplace has been upended with places doing more with fewer employees.

              For those employed there is a serious gap in compensation between those with highly sought after/marketable skills, and those without.

            • RB says:

              LOL Jay! I believe you’re mistaking the UWS for the real museum for the rich across the park, also known as, the UES.

    9. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      Olive Freud, Gale Brewer, and Helen Rosenthal are heroes. They are standing up to rich developers who think they can do whatever they want and have absolutely no regard for a court order, or for anyone else in the community.

      And please, you real estate sycophants, don’t lecture us about “self appointed community leaders.” these are elected officials who win with 80-90% of the vote and longtime activists with support from the vast majority of residents.

      On the other side, the supporters of this building are real estate brokers and landlords, and also a small group of people who have recently moved into the community and are very vocal about moving middle class, working class, and poor people out. And these people always post anonymously. they don’t get out and speak in public, the way Olive and Gale do.

      So who is “self-appointed”?

      • Cato says:

        Very well said, Bruce. Thanks.

      • Jen says:

        Thank you, Bruce.

      • AC57 says:

        I can’t speak for other supporters here, I can at least say that I’ve lived here my whole life (I mean, 16 years doesn’t compete with most readers here, but I’m not here to argue over semantics.) I would argue that the lack of construction and consequential housing cost spikes have driven out the working and middle class. The UWS is no longer middle class, by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s time to start encouraging developers to build affordable housing by building more. The only affordable housing in the neighborhood lies within megaprojects. That’s not a coincidence. That’s just how it works. Bigger projects regularly not only garner cheaper market rate apartments but also affordable apartments (and despite the height of these two towers, I wouldn’t exactly call them big.)

        I have also been trying to encourage an open dialogue with the opposition, and I try my hardest to see the other side of the issue. I always do that. I sent a lengthy rezoning proposal, and if been asking people to critique it. That’s how we grow, when we work together and talk to each other, and exchange ideas.

        In my defense of both towers, I’ve repeatedly said that what goes in should be changed. The designs and skeletons are vast improvements over what’s already up, but what goes in vastly needs to change. I do not support a 160-foot void, that space can be utilized so much more efficiently, like for affordable housing. But I would bargain that if Extell built their horrendous original plan that while they wouldn’t peak at such astronomical prices, they would probably start much higher than they would now.

        Please, if you haven’t yet, check out my rezoning proposal. It’s only theoretical, but I think it could work.

      • Me3 says:

        Sir, where is your proof that supporters of developments of this nature are only real estate brokers, landlords, and newcomers? Are you suggesting that members of the community cannot simply support a nice new building to spruce up the area without the gain of a personal benefit? Yours is quite a broad stroke of a comment. But I’ll wager you have zero to back it up.

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        Thank you, Bruce. Not rocket science, yet some here act like it’s simply ‘no big deal’.

    10. Howard Weinberg UNI says:

      https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/20/nyregion/pact-reached-on-skyscraper-built-too-tall.html — NYC has confronted the overbuilding issue before as this NYT article on CITYSPIRE on West 56th St. relates.

    11. jill says:

      I live on the street where the building is going up. I say bring it on and hopefully a fancy new high rise will help the neighborhood clean up its act! Homeless, drug addicts and garbage and rats are the problem, not new construction with new residents! Politicians should deal with the problems we have, not try to stop progress.

    12. Dave O. says:

      After giving Amazon the boot, this should be easy.

    13. Borisov Y says:

      I live on UWS and just like many others are fed up with nasty curmudgeons always unhappy with any change wanting to keep the neighborhood “just the way it was 50 years ago”. Guess what people need to live somewhere beyond ancient crumbling buildings. We want new tall buildings with new apartments with working heating, new water pipes, new windows, working spacious elevators etc, etc. We want the development!

      • Woody says:

        You forgot:
        Laundry facilities
        Bike storage
        Mail rooms/secure package delivery
        Energy efficiency
        Off-street garbage storage

    14. Kathleen says:

      If ever a New Yorker needed proof that (most) real estate developers are crooked to the core, this is it. But what’s with continuing to build more stories? Where is the NYPD? The DA? Who is going to stop construction? Nutz!

    15. DH says:

      This is the most absurd movement I have ever seen. The upper west side development has been consistently stymied by a few people. The majority of us desire newer buildings, more efficient buildings and more options. The bureaucracy has taken its toll on the city as a whole, but more importantly the UWS. All of the naysayers and nimbys living in the UWS have made it difficult for a developer, a business, residents, and others to improve the UWS with newer buildings, more brick-and-mortar stores and more residential options. Helen Rosenthal and her groupies are out dated and stuck in the past. The developer followed the rules. And, no city dweller is guaranteed a view and no law protects views. You live in NYC, you come here knowing that whatever view you may have, can be taken away with more development. This city is a tapestry of varying development from every decade. Some good and some bad. However, the lengths that the UWS nimbys are taking is absurd and becoming a joke. I like the building, I like improvements in the UWS and I am tired of the same old buildings and any new building that is capped in height and cookie-cutter in design to the rest of the UWS. A mélange of building designs, heights and facades make for a more interesting city view and streetscape. A continued cookie cutter of design, heights and facades make for a very boring, drab and uninspiring community. We live in NYC!

      • Lois says:

        Did you look at the so-called “zoning lot”?

      • Yimby says:

        Totally agree with DH. If people want change in new construction, then they should have the politicians rewrite, edit or update the current zoning code, which in some instances might be out of date, or unclear as to what is legal. Manhattan’s zoning is often confusing and open to many interpretations, which is why things like this get approvals.