Board of Standards and Appeals Upholds 200 Amsterdam’s Building Permit; ‘This is de Blasio’s BSA’

Photo by Stephen Harmon from last Friday. 200 Amsterdam is the building under construction.

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.”

Olive Freud, Richard Emery and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, opponents of the building’s zoning.

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.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 41 comments | permalink
    1. ROB says:

      Enough of this…. LET THEM BUILD

    2. Jay says:

      A lot of money being spent on lawyers that could be better spent on things that are worthwhile.

      Get over it. The building is going up.

    3. Veronica says:

      Thank you Linda. Don’t count on my vote.

    4. Ben David says:

      If you voted for Bill de Blasio, this should come as NO surprise.

    5. AC57 says:

      I’m no judge, but it seems odd for a judge not to grant a TRO and then having the BSA call for the permits to be removed. So this doesn’t surprise me.

      What does upset me is how no one dared cross the aisle. This goes on both sides, but more the sides of CFESD, MAS, other advocacy groups, and our government officials. No one tried to say ” let’s talk about this.” no one set up a meeting. No one tried to get a compromised. It was always the developers versus these groups, and that has never ended well.

      And notice how the developer’s response has changed. I’m not trying to defend them, but when initially they’ve been giving the same nonchalant response for the last two years, and all of a sudden, they themselves are becoming hostile and frustrated, that kinda shows how arduous of a process building in this neighborhood is. We need to stick our hand out to developers and work with them. We need to hold them accountable, most definitely, but we can’t demonize them at every turn. It’s been 10 years since a developer has applied for a special permit, I think that’s very telling how bad our neighborhood is for development. They are picking up on the fact that we don’t want to work with them, and the outcome is either projects like these – skirting the legal periphery, or safe projects like those above 72nd street that contribute nothing, and are all the same aesthetically and economically. We’re turning into San Francisco, and I hope you all know that’s is absolutely not a good thing.

      Affordability, more often than not, comes with height – even housing preservation comes with height. Transference of unused air rights keeps those buildings from being demolished/built past existing height. Am I saying build supertall? No, but we need more buildings closer to 30-45 stories being built. While I do think that modifications should’ve been made to what went inside 200 Amsterdam, revoking permits would’ve set a bad precedent, leading to housing becoming more expensive, and affordable housing (which I understand this building didn’t have.) harder to come by. The process of building is already ridiculous, and special permits are even worse (no reason the process should take up to 200 days.)

      • Kat French says:

        “Affordability, more often than not, comes with height” isa rational idea, but these developers are not building affordable apartments! They are building expensive condos that change the population of the neighborhood as much as the buildings change its landscape.

        • AC57 says:

          Would you have taken this tower if it was 30 feet taller and housed 38 affordable units on top of what was already there?

          Would you have taken 50 West 66th Street if they shrunk the void down to 35 feet, and utilized the rest of that space for affordable housing? (Resulting in about 50 units?)

          For many, the answer is no, solely because of the height, which is a problem. You’re right, this building does nothing to alleviate the housing crisis, but at the same time, people wouldn’t be so welcoming of the tower even if there was affordable housing, because of the incredible height, and therein lies the problem.

    6. Reg Lincoln says:

      Keep up the fight! The developers clearly overcounted the lot’s permitted height, and a genuine court (rather than DeBlasio agency) will recognize that (again).
      The developers have been building at their own risk (no hardship claim) since May 2018 — and they will regret it.
      Go Comm Environ Sound Devel! Go MAS!
      Protect all of us New Yorkers —

      • Frank says:

        You’re kidding, right? You must be. The building is almost done. Everyone like you who opposed it on specious, selfish grounds lost. Get over it.

    7. Ben Silver says:

      Word in the real estate industry is that both buyers and banks are turned off by 200 Amsterdam’s illegal height, slowing sales, unlikely secondary market, and scared mortgage lenders.
      And the ultra-luxury market is already saturated.
      SJP and Mitsui have the same math problems with the project’s ROI as the do with its illegal height.

    8. AC57 says:

      And consider this – the building has 10 floors and the crown to go. Consider how much longer it would take for them to take it down and rebuild something else. How much longer this disturbance is going to have to remain on Amsterdam Avenue. How much longer the traffic will be snarled, how much longer we have to put up with a super skinny sidewalk right next to heavy machinery. June 2020 still seems like an achievable completion date for this project, and the machinery would be gone probably by end of year, or beginning of next.

      Also notice what I mentioned before: between when this started and now, only one new permit has been issued, and that’s only for a modest 24 story tower. This is what I’m talking about. People are being heavily discouraged from building here. Housing is gonna become more expensive because of this, affordability is gonna become even harder to come across, and just like that, we’ll become like San Francisco or Los Angeles.

      • Deb says:

        How long was traffic snarled on West End Ave when buildings were being constructed south of 64th Street, and again a few years later south of 62nd Street? Was there an uproar when all the outdoor parking lots in this area were demolished?

    9. Sherman says:

      This is great news for the neighborhood.

      SJP Properties is100% correct in its statement. There’s a small cadre of people who opposed this project for selfish reasons. They were concerned their personal entitlements could somehow be impacted by the building’s construction.

      This debacle was a terrible waste of NYC resources.

      I’m sure lawyer Richard Emery will have a fun summer ahead with all the fees he collected.

    10. Rob G. says:

      I never understood the issue here. This building is already surrounded by tall (and much uglier) buildings. I’m guessing the majority of those who oppose it are just upset that their own high falutin’ views will be blocked.

    11. Stef Lev says:

      Who paid off who?

      • Ye Olde Englishe Teachere says:

        It’s “who paid off WHOM” !

        WHO = SUBJECT (initiator of action)
        PAID OFF = VERB (action)
        WHOM = OBJECT (receiver of action)

        Thank you.

    12. Bill Ditt says:

      Re: the lawyer’s “The problem here is that this is de Blasio’s BSA and he loves developers.”

      One would expect a NYC lawyer to KNOW that the BSA is NOT beholden to BdB. As the BSA’s website reveals, it dates back to 1916, when NYC’s first zoning law was passed, 45 years before BdB was born.

      One would also expect a NYC lawyer to KNOW that BdB NEEDS to “make nice to developers” so as to get them to build AFFORDABLE HOUSING, which he has long promised.

      Besides, the building is already strikingly beautiful…let’s get it finished soon and get rid of that construction site!

    13. Kathleen says:

      I agree that people really need to move on. So much energy is being put into this fruitless conflict. Of course the developer is going to build his building. It would be nice if the city never changed, but it does and it is going to continue to change. The skyline of NYC once had no high rise buildings and I’m sure it was upsetting to people then to see them being built. Change is always acomin’ folks, and the more reasonable we are about it the less stress we experience. I’m not suggesting people don’t oppose something, but when it’s clear you’re not going to be able to stop it, move on and use your intelligence and energy to do some good.

    14. Kathleen says:

      Agree entirely with Gale and Linda. Enough is enough! Nobody will have sunshine any more….except the very rich.

    15. SNYC says:

      When the Court refused to issue a temporary restraining order to halt construction, that was an indication that the Court was open to the possibility that the BSA would uphold its previous determination. That’s now what has happened. I live right near this new building, and I think it looks pretty good. It blocks a little bit of my view, but that’s life in NYC. I’m excited about a new building in the area. The community group fighting this needs to step down at this point. New York is always changing. Embrace the change.

    16. In the past officials have taken sides, made promises they could not keep and developers unable to comply with agreements or court decisions. The solution to many of the tall building and development issues is to abolish air rights transfers.

      A complete rewrite of the 1961 NYC Zoning Resolution is needed to bring it up to date. Simplify the zoning code with a clear set of rules. Update FAR to effectively set height limits. Provide a sun setting date for existing unused zoning lot transactions. Additional changes to regulatory agencies may also be needed.

      • Tom says:

        Why are you and everyone else opposed to new construction literally obsessed with setting height limits?

        • I’m not against new construction or development. It creates jobs and updates our aging housing stock. Adding additional residents to a community supports local businesses helping them pay for rising costs such as rents and taxes. The downside is the gentrification it creates pushing out lower income residents.

          • Jay says:

            Stopping development prevents gentrification?

            News to me…

            • Didn’t say that. Gentrification can occur for many reasons. Just raising property taxes to unsustainable heights can cause sales to more affluent property owners. Changing a local business to one that makes the area more trendy. People wanting to take advantage of rising real estate prices can contribute to lower affordability. Located next to a high priced area could do it.

      • AC57 says:

        Abolishing air rights transfers endangers more affordable housing

        Think about it – when air rights are transferred, that means the building that didn’t use those air rights cannot be rebuilt past its existing height, and considering proximity to a taller building, that is very unattractive to developers, so they don’t touch those buildings. So when you get rid of those transfers, more buildings are exposed to being built out.

        I agree some form of height caps should be implemented, and clarity is definitely needed in the zoning code, but it has to be comfortable to allow for development to take place. No height limit should be placed below what already exists (regardless of contextual nature, to futureproof the laws.) so in general, height caps at or above 400 feet should suffice.

        • Using FAR (Floor Area Ration) to set building heights based on property size works. Larger properties will have taller buildings. Air rights transfers distort actual property size creating taller buildings than would have been built.

          Few rent stabilized units are being added. Many buildings on West End Avenue and Riverside Drive have gentrified due to condo and coop sales. There are many rentals, but decontrol is still a factor. New housing laws are supposed to help maintain affordability.

          The area above 96-110 streets west of Broadway has had 5 new apartment buildings built in the last 50 years. One of those buildings had air rights transfers involved.

          West End Avenue buildings do not conform to the newer zoning rules. Street wall and setbacks do not exist on any of the buildings built prior to the 1961 zoning resolution. A new building with reduced FAR would also be smaller, further reducing the possibility of new construction. WEA above 72 street is also landmarked.

          There are many 100 year old five story walkups on the avenues that could have been upgraded due to higher zoning density but are not. In many cases a building twice the size can be built based on FAR.

          Air rights transfers are not needed to make money for real estate developers. While building height issues are being argued, there is a category of developers who are making their money by renovating individual apartments to qualify for decontrol. They are not interested in building tall.

          Real estate prices are heavily determined by the rents collected. Equity is extracted every time buildings are sold. Considerable selling activity in the last two years by some of the larger corporate land owners has occurred. Many of the properties are LLC’s owned by parent corporations. The manipulation of these properties and stocks issued is where the money is being made.

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            why is decontrol still a factor in existing rental building, given the new laws?

    17. Jeff says:

      The simple fact is that the city misinterpreted the zoning rules and never should have allowed this project. The developer and its supporters can shout “NIMBYs!” all they want, but that’s the truth.

      The honest and informed argument in favor of this project boils down to, “The city’s policy was X, and even though everyone now realizes X was unlawful, it’s too late to change course with respect to this project.”

      We can debate whether that’s a legitimate argument, but what’s definitely true is that the city screwed the pooch by authorizing this tower in the first place.

    18. B.B. says:

      For the love of God, let this be the end of things. Brewer et al have beat this dead horse to death, time to move on.

      As many predicted 200 Amsterdam would and is going up as planned, end of story.

      All this angst and gashing of teeth was best done many years ago when the deal was done, lots assembled and plans submitted to city. No one said “boo” during those processes, but when construction was about to begin, somehow, somehow everyone got woke and upset.

      As pointed out 200 Amsterdam is surrounded by other buildings of similar or greater height. All built as of right due to zoning allowing for their FAR/density.

      My hunch however is that Ms. Brewer isn’t going to let this die. She will drag this thing out long as possible, if for no other reason to boost her standing for a possible run for something in 2021.

      • I'llwinthisbet says:

        I challenge B.B to identify a single building fitting his claim that 200 Amsterdam is “surrounded by other buildings of similar or greater height.”

        • Josh says:

          145 West 67th Street 495 ft 49 floors
          171 West 65th Street 594 ft 60 floors
          220 Riverside Blvd 541 ft 49 floors
          101 West 67th Street 545 ft 46 floors
          200 Amsterdam Ave 684 ft 55 floors
          200 Riverside Blvd 492 ft 46 floors
          150 Amsterdam Ave 470 ft 42 floors
          There are plenty of suburbs in the world with short buildings. The Upper West Side isn’t a suburb.

          180 Riverside Boulevard 422 ft 40

          201 West 70th Street 377 ft 42

          • AC57 says:

            You missed the tallest buildings in the neighborhood

            3 Lincoln Center, 595 feet
            160 West 62nd Street, 598 feet
            1 Central Park West, 583 feet

      • AC57 says:

        No building, except for the Time Warner Center and 50 West 66th Street, is taller than 200 Amsterdam (and I would deem those too far away to matter.) but 3 Lincoln Center is 73 feet shorter at 595, and Hawthorne Park is 70 feet shorter at 598 feet. I don’t think that departure is significant enough to garner a huge difference

    19. Evan Bando says:

      40 floors, 50 floors. What’s 10 floors between friends.

    20. John says:

      Don’t worry they will pay big fines when the Green initiative kicks in and they have to lower their energy consumption by 40% when technology can only decrease usage by 20%. Fines will be the new tax on Condos and Coops

      • Evan Bando says:

        If they are building them correctly, these new buildings will be far more energy efficient than the older buildings. If anything, unless they grandfather in the new regulations, whenever that is, it’s the older co-ops and condos that will be making new, expensive capital improvements.

    21. Frank says:

      As an UWS resident I am gleeful that this legal building continues to get built. We need more housing. the developer and owner of the property should choose who the market for their building is. This is a tenant of liberty.

      I hope to look at units as we are in the market to purchase a new apartment.

      • John says:

        Frank if you are willing to pay the 3-4 K per square foot you can have an apartment there….