By Carol Tannenhauser
On Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) reaffirmed its July 2018 decision, ruling that the building permit for 200 Amsterdam Avenue—the residential skyscraper that has already risen 40 stories above West 69th Street—is legal.
Developer SJP Properties is free to continue building toward its goal of 51 stories, though, in fact, it never stopped, even after the New York State Supreme Court ruled in March 2019 against the building’s zoning lot, remanding the case to the BSA for reconsideration. The same court, however, denied a request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction while the case was being decided. The matter is further complicated by the fact that a Department of Buildings (DOB) attorney wrote a “draft bulletin,” stating that the building permit for 200 Amsterdam was incorrectly awarded, though he did not call for it to be revoked, and his opinion was not the official word of the department.
There was no testimony at the BSA hearing, which lasted less than five minutes, leaving many in the packed room puzzled.
“They didn’t give any reasons,” said Richard Emery, lead counsel for the opponents of the building. “They said something about the DOB issuing other permits in the area during these proceedings. The problem here is that this is de Blasio’s BSA and he loves developers.”
Said SJP, in a statement released immediately after the hearing, “For the third time in two years, it has been established that the building fully complies with all zoning laws after three public challenges and two failed attempts to wrongly impose restraining orders.
“…While we’re pleased with today’s BSA decision, it’s unconscionable that opposition has continued for this long. NIMBY’s, backed by special interest groups, continue to drain the resources of the DOB and BSA, as well as New York taxpayers.”
“This is wrong,” said Olive Freud, president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, one of two nonprofits that brought the actions against SJP. The other is the Municipal Art Society, led by Elizabeth Goldstein.
“We are going to fight this every step of the way,” Freud vowed. “Maybe the Upper West Side is the place to start to show that this isn’t going to happen in the city.”
“We will file as soon as humanly possible to get this thing reversed,” said Emery. “We will file an article 78 against this decision, saying it is arbitrary and capricious, and against the law.”
But time is short; the building could reach its full height—668’—this summer, making it the tallest on the UWS. “We remain focused on safely constructing an iconic building that is now on its 40th floor, and look forward to topping out this summer,” the SJP statement continued. “200 Amsterdam will be a unique offering to the Upper West Side market featuring gracious pre-war inspired layouts, unparalleled amenities, and sweeping views of Central Park, the Hudson River, and the Midtown skyline. Sales of the one- to five-bedroom residences will officially launch this fall.”
City Council Member Helen Rosenthal has actively supported the fight against this project, signing on to challenges, writing letters, and attending hearings and rallies. She sent the following statement:
Today’s decision by the BSA is incomprehensible. Despite the fact that a New York State judge forced the BSA to revisit its decision to uphold the construction permits for 200 Amsterdam, and the Dept of Buildings’ own admission that they issued the permits in error, the BSA stood by its original decision this morning in a completely non-transparent process. The BSA and this administration are well aware that a majority of the City Council, and all elected officials representing the Upper West Side oppose this site’s use of gerrymandered lots – yet we have absolutely no say over a project in our own community. I wholeheartedly support Olive Freud and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development’s plan to file an immediate appeal with the New York State Appellate Court, and I urge all concerned parties to support the Committee’s efforts.
Opponents of 200 Amsterdam have always presented this building as a flashpoint for zoning issues city-wide. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also weighed in:
200 Amsterdam is an affront to the Zoning Resolution and I am extremely disappointed that the BSA voted to uphold their support for the project. The reluctance to follow the letter of the zoning law is astounding, especially when the DOB has acknowledged that the zoning lot is problematic. I hope that the forthcoming proceedings will bring some much-needed vindication.
Clarification: This article initially gave an incomplete description of the Department of Buildings’ opinion on the issue.