Building Opponents Celebrate Victory on Amsterdam Avenue: ‘Off With Those Floors!’

Olive Freud speaks at the rally. Photo by Manny.

By Cat Schneiderman

There was a celebration next to the shadow of 200 Amsterdam Avenue at 69th Street on Monday morning — because that shadow may soon get smaller.

Elected officials and Upper West Side residents gathered right next to the building to praise Judge W. Franc Perry’s decision to order the city to rescind the site’s building permit. Perry also ruled that the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, must remove already completed floors from the building to adhere to zoning regulations. The 668-foot-tall structure is the tallest building above 61st Street, and opponents say the developers created an enormous out-of-context zoning lot that should never have been allowed.

200 Amsterdam. Photo by Cat Schneiderman.

“This is a residential area, this is our home,” said Olive Freud, President of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, who worked alongside the Municipal Arts Society to bring the suit against the developers. “We don’t want to live in shadows.”

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents New York’s 10th congressional district, joined Freud and her fellow activists to condemn the zoning tactic. He spoke about the growing inequality that high-rise buildings perpetuate. “This city must be a city for all types of people,” Nadler said. “It cannot be a ghetto for only rich people.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler. Photo by Cat Schneiderman.

Nadler and others reminded the crowd that this is only the second time in the city’s history in which a building has been forced to remove completed floors. “Off with those stories!” Nadler joked, invoking Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts. “Off with those floors!”

“It was up to a court judge to say that the law is on the side of the people,” said City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side. “I can’t wait to be here and watch the twenty stories come down,” she added.

Other elected officials, such as Borough President Gale Brewer and State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal also spoke.

Although the press conference was held as a celebration of the ruling, the developers are planning to appeal Judge Perry’s decision. Directly behind the officials, on the side of 200 Amsterdam, a construction elevator moved up and down the building, continuing its work above the fray.

NEWS | 46 comments | permalink
    1. Pedestrian says:

      A good ruling, it is right on the law. The BSA should have stopped it before it was built. That was the BSA’s job. The developer continued work at its peril. The judge is right.

      Now the developer will appeal. This isn’t how government is supposed to work. Council members must step up and hold agencies accountable for applying the law. No more government by lobbyists and developers. The Council has the power of oversight; it needs to use it!

      • Steven says:

        Maybe now we can get a 40 story parking garage to replace all the garages that were torn down and replaced with high-rise apartment buildings.

    2. MAD says:

      I attended the press conference this morning. Good comments — especially funny when someone at the back of the crowd asked, “Where’s De Blasio?”

    3. Jean Luke says:

      From a design perspective this is a very nice looking building especially with the tapering of the upper floors. A homage to the great buildings of the 1930’s. Behind this beautiful new building is one of the greatest architectural monstrosities in Lincoln Towers.

      It’s amazing to me that people obsess over the height of the building when the height actually makes it look beautiful on the skyline and I love seeing it in the neighborhood.

      Now with this lawsuit and temporary victory no one will want to develop anything new on the Upper West Side and the area will continue to be the most unhip fossilized area of NYC while downtown and the far west side continue to have all the exciting restaurants and great new architecture.

      Also if the developer has to take down the floors it will be an ongoing construction mess and eyesore for years to come. They should be allowed to finish the building and remove all the construction materials and scaffolding and let’s get on with more important issues. Viva La Tall Buildings !!!

      • Steven says:

        Sorry this building is a barely c+ average looking building designed to do as little as possible,
        to sell multi million dollar apartments to absentee Japanese and international “investors”.

        Mitsui Fudosan America doesn’t care about our neighborhood, It only cares about what it can suck out in short term profits on this building by exploiting the UWS.

        These floors need to come down immediately and Mitsui Fudosan America needs to be told we have zoning laws in NYC that will be respected.

    4. Steven says:

      Why is there no “stop work order” on this building? Letting these corrupt Chinese/ NY developers to continue work, building away after this ruling is outrageous.

      • Chris w says:

        Steven – ignorant much? If it sounds Asian then let’s say they are Chinese. It’s 2020 let’s at least get some basics straight.

    5. Steven says:

      Why is there not an immediate “stop work order”? Nadler?

      The company behind this illegal building and gaming of our zoning laws is Mitsui Fudosan America. A Japanese company also all over the hudson yards and – behind the most expensive residential building ever built in NYC.

      This is not acceptable and the attempt by this Japanese company to undermine our neighborhood for cheap short term profits is outrageous. One look at Tokyo and you’ll know what I mean,

      These floor need to be taken down immediately and Mitsui Fudosan America needs to understand we have Zoning laws in NYC that will be respected.

    6. Yimby says:

      From what I heard, this is still far from a fine deal. There is no stop work order, the developer is appealing and an attorney from Columbia Univ. says it’s 50-50 that any floors will be lost at all. These air rights loopholes have been going on for decades. In fact, that’s exactly how Trump built his Trump World Tower across from the U.N., via “gerrymandered” air rights, despite similar law suits and local activists, which included Walter Cronkite.

      • BillyNYC says:

        Also…. that is how 101 W. 79th St. at Columbus Avenue was built from the loopholes of air-rights through the Riverside Chapel group and the synagogue that was at 130 W. 79th St. transferring it’s air-rights to 101 W. 79th St.
        Can we still get them to take down the tower?

        • Dee Dee West 81 says:

          I heard stories about that building… so it is true.
          That property used to be a morgue for Riverside Chapel.
          And later “Gleason’s Public House” took it over as a bar and hamburger restaurant and very successful.

          • Wally says:

            BillyNYC please stop replying to your own comments. It reeks of desperation and is frankly just odd behavior.

        • Dorothy says:

          If the community starts the movement!
          That is a hideous building and that scaffolding that’s been sitting there for the last 20 years. An eyesore from Central Park and the museum.

          • Chris says:

            Dorothy the building at 101 W. 79th St. is a total disaster, there wall cracks throughout the entire building especially on the top where the pen-houses are.
            All the windows on the top floors had to be replaced and it’s still not right.
            It’s been going on over 20 years they’ve been trying to repair. I also hear there’s issues in the lower basement as well.
            Well, I guess at the end karma prevails.

          • Margie/W 79 says:

            Rr: 101 West 79 Street
            The scaffolding is an eyesore to the community.
            Now you have homeless people living under it on the Columbus Avenue side.
            And the management of the building does not help matters in keeping it clean and hose down from homeless and dog urine on the sidewalks. What is horrendous is the smell it gives off to the residence in that building.

      • Jay says:

        They’re not loopholes. The air rights that the developers purchased are completely legal and have been supported by the DOB for decades.

        This most recent decision will be rescinded on appeal.

        Just a bunch of time and money wasted by everyone.

        • Yimby says:

          Perhaps, or another scenario will be some kind of payoff or backroom deal to keep whatever is up permanent. These air rights issues need to be reviewed and/or revised by the city’s Zoning Dept. if there are to be no more super-talls or air rights swaps. I might add that these air rights sales often help many older buildings stay solvent. In this case, previous decisions claimed the air rights were legally assembled. Until this is revisited by proper city channels, it will be a huge waste of time, money and nuisance for everyone involved, including the Nimbys. Take a look what happened at the AMNH, when the Nimby’s said “Winning”…

          • Jay says:

            The air rights have been reviewed multiple times by proper city channels… Every single time their use has been upheld for this development.

            If you don’t like their use then tell your representatives to change the law. All these grandstanding politicians have done nothing to change the law that they raise money on. That tells you exactly what they really believe in.

    7. cma says:

      Also in photos: Councilperson Helen Rosenthal, Comptroller Scott Stringer,
      Boro Pres Fail Brewer.

    8. Glen says:

      The floors are probably not coming down. The appropriate donation will be made to a pet political action committee and a deal will be struck, probably by converting a few of the lower floors to “community amenity” space, thus voiding any zoning issues.

    9. Keith says:

      They should hire a mohel to take the top off. After all, the site used to be a temple.

      • A Local Express-ing himself says:

        WINNER: “BEST COMMENT” on this tiresome topic.

        Know what’s ALSO tiresome?
        Having to schlep through that hideous green-walled, badly-paved “temporary” safety shed for who knows how long now instead of eventually walking past a luxury building’s (GASP, oh-the-inequality!!) sparkling entrance.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          hmmm, Local Express, then you must be upset at the developer who violated the law, and who went ahead putting up the controversial floors despite the court challenge. Seems like highly irresponsible behavior.

    10. ST says:

      In any other community outside of New York, the actual citizens have a say about zoning and everything else. We are not represented and not heard. No one wanted that monstrous building in our neighborhood from the beginning. No one wanted the many more to follow now that Herald Square has moved to Columbus Circle. Does our desire for air and light matter? No. All that matters are real estate businesses that sell apartments to non New Yorkers looking for investments. Buyers don’t care about life in NYC or the people here. Even if they use those apartments, they don’t contribute to life on the street because they stay sheltered. Many apartments aren’t even occupied so there is no income tax base. At night, in winter, most of those buildings are dark because no one is living there.
      Now crime is up so those Investments are losing value. But we the people get the eyesores forever.

      • EGF says:

        To say no one wanted this is far from truthful. I’d rather you didn’t speak for me and the thousands of others in the neighborhood who did not oppose or have an opinion on this ridiculous issue. For the record I live across the street from this building and have no problem with it. I choose to focus my concerns on other issues I deem as more crucial to the quality of life in our neighborhood which are far more compassion based than the height of a building. Sure, the gerrymandering isn’t 100% on the up and up, but let us learn from that and not make the same mistake again but to demand that floors be removed is beyond ridiculous. You are also kidding yourselves of you think for one moment that even 1 floor will be removed. The appeals will go on and on and the developers will indeed win.

    11. Dave says:

      Why not let the 20 floors remain and mandate that the building have a number of apartments be converted to affordable housing for which there is a serious need?

    12. SD says:

      Congratulations! Hurrays, and millions of “thank you’s” to Olive Freud and Judge Perry! God bless them and all the people who worked with them. This is like an “out of this world” miracle!!!!
      It’s good that we have somebody respecting and protecting our neighborhood against greedy, cold-hearted and non-cooperative developers who twist the zoning laws for their own purposes with no regard to the area residents. They should take this building and stick it in the financial district area of our city. It belongs there.
      It’s an insult to compare this obnoxious building to the Lincoln Towers that are one of the best built complexes in town. And they’re solidly constructed with bricks and cement, and NOT just with glass, metal and sheet rock like this shapeless, ugly looking new monster of a building!
      Keep up the good work and our prayers are with you!

      • Peter says:

        A modern, luxurious building is a monstrosity but the grimy, badly aging, asbestos-ridden Chinese Wall that is Lincoln Towers is acceptable?

        Bricks and cement? Miracles and prayers? What century do you live in?

      • John Smith says:

        “Greedy cold hearted developers” – who built your housing, Mother Theresa? Did it fall into place on the Upper West Side like manna from heaven? This is upper and upper middle class dream hoarders (it’s a book, look it up) trying to pull the ladder up behind them after getting theirs in a city rampant with cronyism and mediocre trustafarians, nothing more.

    13. ben says:

      tbf the 200 Amsterdam building is much nicer looking than any of the immediate surrounding buildings. I used to live a block from the construction site, barely a year ago, and have no problem with the project.

      That said, I’m sure they somehow got around zoning laws and the building should not have been built to begin with. But even with the ruling, I don’t see how they are going to just chop 20 completed floor off easily. I’d love to be proven wrong but I’m afraid it’s just going to be someone pays some money and the problem goes away.

    14. Rob G. says:

      Ugh, a veritable rogues gallery of short-sighted “progressives” that have no conception of how to progress the neighborhood forward.

    15. AC57 says:

      “‘This city must be a city for all types of people,’ Nadler said. ‘It cannot be a ghetto for only rich people..”

      Changing the height doesn’t change the prices. As I have repeatedly said before, it’s not what goes up that should matter, it’s what goes in that should matter.

      And people attacking this building solely on the basis of height are going to find out that this superficial ruling is going to do nothing to solve the housing crisis. What this ruling will do is that it’ll further discourage developers from building here, further discourage developers from participating in the ULURP process, as they see that community groups and politicians are not willing to work with them, and the lack of new housing will only cause prices to skyrocket

      In other words, this could actually worsen the crisis.

      • I agree, developers may now focus on properties that have low rents and large FAR ratios. New rent laws and rising property expenses make it more profitable to tear down an existing building. On the UWS, replacing our century old low rise housing stock with taller buildings could become the next development trend.

        • AC57 says:

          I think you missed the point I was trying to make here, so I will reiterate it:

          Having the developer cut down the twenty floors will do nothing to contribute to the housing crisis. It’s essentially putting lipstick on a pig. All it’s gonna do is it’s going to deter any future development that could actually greatly benefit the neighborhood. They see that we are not willing to work with them, and when you combine that with restrictive zoning and landmarking, So in the short run, you might’ve won this battle, but in the long run, it would be a great loss. Height has nothing to do with affordability, and, in the long run, larger buildings are far more likely to garner more affordable units.

          Also, this trend you speak of happening is not going to happen, or at least to the extent you speak of.

          For one, except for Lincoln Square (which is essentially built out), 96th Street, and the area on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues between 86th and 96th Streets, the entire neighborhood is contextually zoned, meaning that the highest new buildings are gonna go is 23 stories – that’s one restriction at play. Secondly, a giant chunk of the Upper West Side is landmarked, further stifling any new growth

          So… the status quo is just gonna continue. What we need to do is make it easier to build – shrink the landmarked sections of the neighborhood, and remove contextual zoning from Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue (making Bway a C4-6 district and Amsterdam/Columbus Avenues a C1-9 or C2-8 district) and in exchange for more flexibility, require some levels of affordability when developers cross a certain threshold.

          You are either going to get aesthetic context or affordability, we should create a system where everyone can prosper from it, with greater flexibility

          • Contextual zoning and landmarking advocates are not stopping luxury development by punishing the real estate industry. Zoning changes are definitely needed but are not going to happen. There is little incentive to build affordable housing. We see that NYCHA properties are unsustainable and are getting worse day by day.

            The street smart real estate industry can be very creative and flexible. In this case, a deal can be struck. A solution that can quickly add 20 floors of high quality affordable housing is a gift and win-win. The community will not be subjected to years of additional hazardous construction activity. No floors will be torn down wasting valuable resources winding up as landfill. A needed community resource would be added.

            • AC57 says:

              See now that’s an excellent idea. And I would take it one step further – if LW!’s numbers are accurate, and Extell is truly only utilizing 22% of that void for mechanical, then we should’ve had them fill the rest of it with affordable housing (or adjust it accordingly so that all of the space is utilized efficiently.

              But this was never about affordability: If it was, then everyone would be clamoring over this idea and pushing for it. Instead, it’s off with the floors and shrinking the buildings, not making them more affordable. Upper West Siders don’t care about affordability, they care about their views and context.

              We aren’t gonna regulate and contextualize ourselves out of this housing crisis

      • Tim says:

        Some sanity, finally. NIMBYism only helps the property-owning elite. How much do you want to bet that nearly everyone in support of this owns their residence? For renters, increasing supply is the only answer to rising rents. Demand is a constant, supply is stagnant. Bring on the tall buildings!

    16. AC57 says:

      If I were to also submit my honest opinion, I think the ruling in and of itself sets a pretty bad precedent… But I don’t think it’s as black and white as everyone puts it.

      The spokesperson for the developers maintained that the ruling defied, “more than 40 years of precedent in the city’s zoning laws,” – last March, the DOB admitted that the permit shouldn’t have been granted, so I don’t think that is the best argument in support of leaving the building as is. On top of that, if the 40-year precedent is mistaken, then I don’t think it’s a good idea to fall back o that 40-year precedent.

      That being said, I don’t think that chopping down the floors was the best idea in the world. First and foremost, it’ll further discourage future development (both detrimental and beneficial) in the neighborhood. In an area devoid of affordable housing. ON top of that, any developer who wants to go through ULURP to add more affordable housing with extra density is also going to be discouraged, seeing how this controversy and the controversy with 50 West 66th Street demonstrates a “Us vs. Them” mentality when it comes to development. Along with further discouraging any development, you’ll have two more years of major disruptions and construction (or rather a deconstruction) from a shoddy contractor, with a history of dangerous practice on this site (forgetting to erect the scaffolding TWICE, two concrete spills, falling planks, crane troubles, etc.) And it’s not like you’re cutting off 20 stories and you’re done. The mechanical bulkhead is going to have to be utilized in some fashion, so you’re cutting down about 24 stories, to rebuild another four or some variation of the four-story bulkhead. There might also be a significant redesign, given the feature of the building is a setback, and the bulkhead design (at least in my opinion) wouldn’t work with just one or two setbacks. Compound that with the fact that demolition, especially of a project in this tight of an area is not going to be as swift as the erection was.

      Quite frankly, if you were to really penalize the developers, I would argue a monetary penalty would be better. Either in the form of revoking some profits from the development, or forcing the developers to reconfigure some of the units into affordable housing units, further diminishing the profits. You don’t have the disruption and the discouragement brought about be a deconstruction, but you still get a legitimate penalty for abusing the law. We want future developments, we want more affordable housing. We have to work with developers to get that. I don’t think this ruling did anything to help the situation, and also considering the basis on which the lawsuit was brought (height) doesn’t help the housing crisis one bit.

      (Also, is no one recognizing the fact that, in the best-case scenario, Olive Freud and MAS are still 14 stories short of their aspired goal? They wanted the tower to be cut down to around 17 stories, but the reduced building will at least be around 31 stories. Not that the original goal was a good idea to begin with but still…)

    17. Rob says:

      As a young renter with six figures of student loans this makes me sick. One of the best ways to provide opportunity young people and the less privileged is the expand housing supply in order to cool off rents and to enable people to live closer to jobs.
      There’s plenty of demand for apartments, so highrises should be sprouting like weeds all over the upper west side. Instead, people are living paycheck to paycheck because old people and owners don’t like shadows. Moving more people into the area would also help the retail vacancy problem, by the way.

      • peter says:

        Didn’t you get the memo? Go back top Iowa- and if you aren’t from there- move there. SMH. These people only care about their views, their property values and making sure the decisions made benefit them. They really don’t care about the housing crisis. They support being an open borders/sanctuary city but don’t want to expand the housing stock or build more shelters.

    18. grace says:

      this is ridiculous
      there will be scaffolding for years to come. Because of that there has already been one mugging and now a homeless camp is starting to assemble there.
      MOVE ON let the building be. lets move on. A new building is going up get over people. I prefer to feel safe than worry about someone losing a view
      that block is a mess , if anything it will increase the value of the neighborhood.

    19. Telling it like it is says:

      What was Stringer doing there? He did NOTHING to assist the local community board, residents of the UWS. Another photo op for him?

    20. Pablo says:

      They built the building in accordance with the rules as interpreted by the municipal authorities charged with enforcing them. It is reasonable to conclude that changing the rules after the game is unfair. If you don’t like the rules, the politicians urged by the people should change them for the future.

    21. Al Zimmerman says:

      I celebrate this victory. Zoning laws cannot be ignored with impunity.

    22. West 65 says:

      Its a great ruling. Would like to know why the silence of the local so-called Lincoln Center Business Improvement District. Long time executive director seems to be bought and sold by her REBNY board members and has nothing to say about this ruling and all the empty store fronts in her BID district that she should be managing.