Battle Lines Drawn Over Upper West Side’s Tallest Building, As Workers Keep Going


Photo by Stephen Harmon.

The fight over 200 Amsterdam Avenue, the 52-story tower on 69th Street that lost a court ruling last month, is heading for another court showdown. And the two camps are as split as ever, with the city and the developer on one side and community groups and local politicians on the other.

The city issued a ruling this week saying that using partial tax lots to expand your existing zoning lot — the tactic at issue in the 200 Amsterdam case — is not allowed. But the city said developers that had already used this kind of tactic were grandfathered in, and it joined the appeal by SJP properties attempting to overturn the judge’s decision. SJP could be forced to remove as many as 20 stories from the building if the judge’s ruling is upheld. Meanwhile, SJP has continued to work on the building, local residents say. SJP reps sent the following statement:

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Corporation Counsel for taking a stand against a legally flawed court ruling that seeks to apply a new policy, not adopted until after the court handed down its decision, retroactively to a project that has been already built, with zoning that has been approved and consistently upheld by the Department of Buildings and Board of Standards and Appeals, the city agencies with the highest authority on zoning. Zoning regulations should be interpreted and enforced lawfully and transparently through the proper administrative and legislative process. Without that, New York City’s economic growth will suffer at a time when the City is already facing a critical housing shortage. We will continue to vigorously appeal this ruling in partnership with the City and are confident that the facts and justice will prevail.”

But local politicians were flummoxed by the city’s position. Congressman Jerry Nadler, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, State Assemblymembers Linda B. Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried, and State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a joint letter, shown below, asking the city to change its stance.

March 5th, 2020

The de Blasio Administration’s decision to appeal the recent State Supreme Court ruling on 200 Amsterdam is shocking and disappointing.

First, the City’s appeal is not in line with its own actions and statements regarding the question of gerrymandered zoning lots. The New York City Department of Buildings has already acknowledged that they issued permits for 200 Amsterdam in error. And just two days ago, the DOB issued a “rule change” which clarified that “a newly formed zoning lot may not consist of parts of tax lots.”

It defies reason for the Administration to fight a court order which affirms its own correction of its initially flawed process.

Second, the Administration is taking affirmative action on behalf of a developer, SJP Properties, which had stipulated from their very first court appearance that they would continue construction at their own risk.

In other words, the developer persisted in building additional stories which they knew were potentially illegal. Now that a judge’s order has confirmed this, the Administration is siding with the developer, not its own rules and regulations.

What sort of message does this send to other developers?

We want to reiterate the significance of the recent New York State Supreme Court ruling. In 2018, twenty-six members of the City Council released a letter explaining how the use of gerrymandered zoning lots, as exemplified by 200 Amsterdam, had the potential to negatively impact the land use process for the entire city.

That’s why we applaud the DOB’s rule change, which supports a more transparent and predictable land use process.

The City undermined its own agency, however, when it invoked an automatic stay of Justice Perry’s order. Because of this, the DOB is not obligated to revoke the building permit, and issue a stop work order at the site. We call on the DOB to revoke the permit and issue the stop work order, so the stay does not worsen the situation rather than maintaining the status quo during the pendency of the appeal process.

The Administration should stand by its own rules, not with developers. We urge the Administration to reverse their decision.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 38 comments | permalink
    1. Rob G. says:

      Funny how these “progressives” are obsessive in wanting to keep UWS in a time capsule. They really need to get on with more pressing matters, like figuring out ways to reduce crime, filth, and the number of mentally ill people that roam our streets. These are the problems that we need to contend with, not a shiny new building that will actually make the neighborhood more desirable to live in.

      • Christina says:

        Sorry, but the filth, crime and homelessness is going back in time and building these luxury high-rises hasn’t stopped it From happening! In fact, it causes more NOT less homelessness.

        • AC57 says:

          The “controversial” high rises actually haven’t displaced anyone. Both this tower and 50 West 66th Street took over sites previously inhabited by synagogues. The Fordham Redevelopment was over unused land. Riverside South was uninhabited (with the final parcel built over a preexisting parking lot) These towers, while not contributing anything positive to the housing crisis, aren’t necessarily doing anything negative either

      • Tear Down...That Shed ! says:

        I AGREE totally!

        No matter how tall the building nor what legal finagling was used by its developer, the building WILL be an attractive addition to the neighborhood ONCE that construction shed is GONE.

        While I DO admire and respect (for their PAST WORK) B.P. Brewer, Rep. Nadler, and Comptroller Stringer I am sorry that they have cast their lot with the NIMBY crowd.

    2. Sherman says:

      Unbelievable.

      The UWS – and NYC for that matter – is going down the toilet. Crime is up, there are homeless encampments all over the place, stores are closing and the NYC Department of Education is intent on destroying the few decent public schools left in the city.

      Instead of doing something productive for their constituents these politicians are wasting time and resources squabbling over “tax lots” because of a handful of vocal neighborhood malcontents.

      Let’s assume they are successful and the courts order this building to be partially dismantled. This will be a mess for many months and even years to come.

      In any case there will likely be legal squabbling for a long time and this empty shell of a building will be a blight.

      How is this in the neighborhood’s best interest?

      Let the building go up and let’s all get on with our lives. The global economy is doing awful and it’s a myth that “super wealthy” will be buying these apartments. SJP will likely be happy to unload these apartments for a song.

    3. Adam says:

      Curious how they came up with exactly 20 stories to be removed. Is it based on the percentage of extended tax lots on a certain direction of perceived encroachment.

      • AC57 says:

        It’s the equivalent of the square footage that would exceed the zoning of the site of the legal lot

    4. jack says:

      The building is too tall and they fudged to get the permit. They have been building all along despite warnings that they may have to pull down some of the top stories. They should be made to do this not only for their defiance, arrogance and persistence but as a warning to others.

    5. Lesley says:

      Sounds like a demonstration is in order. The idea that this building helps a housing shortage is ridiculous. There is no shortage of over-priced apartments for the wealthy.

      • AC57 says:

        In its current state, it doesn’t do anything, except reinforce the consequences of the hubris of developers

        But, if we were smart, we could fight for repurposing the bottom 20 stories to become affordable housing

        That way, it will help solve the housing crisis, even just a little bit

    6. Doug Garr says:

      The message it sends to other developers? The fix is in. That’s the message. Build it no matter what laws you’re breaking as long as the right people are taken care of.

    7. Florence Janovic` says:

      Thank you everyone. This is a disgrace. We are fortunate to have govt reps (not our Mayor) who are fighting for our community.

    8. MC Barton says:

      Why would anyone be “shocked” by de Blasio’s appealing this decision? Everyone who lives on W. 67th street behind ABC/Disney knows that he was in the pocket of the developers from the planning for the construction of an out of scale/zoning building on 66th.

    9. Roger Wolfe says:

      Time for de Blasio to go. He should never have had a second term!

    10. Joanne Silverman says:

      Money talks and … walks. it will be built to it’s grandest height.

    11. Westsidegal says:

      Demolish the whole thing.

    12. Nelson says:

      Pay for play and corruption!!!

    13. JanH says:

      I’m sick of the “might makes right” attitude of so many RE developers and applaud these local government representatives for their letter to the DiBlasio administration. SJP couldn’t care less about the City’s “critical housing shortage.” All they fare about is their bottom line.

    14. C. Bergner says:

      How much kick back did DeBlasio receive in order to cite with the developer? This bldg is towering over all adjacent ones. It has to demolish 20 floors.

    15. James Berry says:

      The position taken by the de Blasio Administration in connection with this building is both frightening and disappointing. Again, the mayor sides with developers against the citizens of the Upper West Side. If the building is not stopped, the next abomination will be the Extell building at 36 West 66th Street which is projected to be over 750 feet tall casting shadows on Central Park.

    16. AC57 says:

      The New York Daily News had a very convincing, and, dare I say, a reasonable op-ed about repurposing the bottom 20-floors for affordable housing

      I made the same argument, and I will rearticulate it here: This is an opportunity to create upwards of more than 100 affordable units in an area that would’ve never gotten any before. Taking down the upper floors would be a burdensome process that will be a pain to the developer, but would be just as costly, if not costlier to the community at large. You have the continued traffic disruption caused by the presence of a construction site that will continue to snarl traffic and endanger cyclists for the next couple of years. Combine that with the fact that you are at the whim of the same construction company that has done the following:

      1. Fallen plank
      2. Late erection of scaffolding
      3. Late assemblage of safety netting
      4. crane issues
      5. concrete spills (twice)

      I don’t think we want to risk having this wreckless company in our midst, especially considering deconstruction (especially partial deconstruction) is a much more dangerous process. Furthermore, the extra pollution and waste create from deconstruction is unnecessary when an interior retrofit is another option. NOt only will that be a more beneficial process for the community, but it’ll be faster and less disruptive. Theoretically, upon completing the sidewalk, pedestrian traffic could be redirected back to the sidewalk, making it safer for everyone. And again, you get the creation of 100 or more affordable units, integrated into a wealthy community like our own, with these families having ample access to a plethora of local resources, including having the opportunity to have their children attend arguably one of the best public elementary schools in the city

      Even if you were to argue about context, one has to acknowledge that creating 100+ affordable units, less construction, quicker fix, and lost profits is a better fit for everyone involved, and is still an ample punishment for the developers (That’s 20 stories of profits lost). We can do something to help contribute to the fight against the housing crisis in a significant way. Cutting down 20 stories doesn’t accomplish that, and I would argue, in the end, it would do more harm than good.

      • pjcpw says:

        Very well stated, and thought out. Would you send this as a letter to the mayor and others who need to see, and promote ,this excellent idea to bring affordable housing to the UWS?

      • B.B. says:

        First of all 200 Amsterdam is a condo development, not rental. While is is possible to do “affordable” housing with condo the numbers are drastically different. Also developers only do such thing when forced by circumstances such as 421-a or other tax breaks.

        This building received no such tax breaks and likely will not require. There is also the very real fact not everyone wants to live in a building with “low” or “affordable” housing component.

        Finally given what cranks in Albany and local city government have achieved with rent control laws, and likely to spread with universal rent regulation no sane developer or landlord is going to willingly do rental much less affordable. It simply means getting into bed with city/state and basically surrendering control of your building to same.

        This project generated huge sums in taxes, and those purchasing units will do same. Ask city hall and Albany where all that money is going if you want “affordable” housing.

        • AC57 says:

          B.B. I know that if the appeal is granted, then this would never happen. If the developers win, they are in their right to do whatever they please. I am proposing this idea as an alternative to cutting down the floors (if the developers lose). Instead of removing the 20 floors that are “illegal” (for the reasons I already stated) how about we take advantage of the fact that the floors already exist, and it would be in the neighborhood’s better interest to leave them up, and instead, do an interior redesign. The whole community wins.

      • Wags says:

        It’s the top 20 illegal floors that should be made affordable housing if any at all. Not the bottom 20.

        • AC57 says:

          True, but then I would pose this question:

          Which is more important: punishing the developer, or repurposing as much as possible. Technically speaking, if we were to go with the bottom 20 stories, we would actually get more space than if we were to go with the top 20 (because four of the “Illegal” stories are mechanical, it would be hard to replace those). I could see an argument for making the top 20 stories (or rather, 16) affordable because that wipes out a huge profit share, but I think it would serve the community better if we were to go with the bottom 20 floors because you would get more out of it.

    17. Jean Luke says:

      It’s a beautiful building. Very nice classic design with the setbacks. Amazing people are against this building. Taking down floors will take years and the area will be a mess. These kind of protests will insure Upper West Side remains fossilized while the rest of the city sees new restaurants, buildings and interesting people and ideas that moves the city forward.

      • Stephen says:

        Standalone it is an elegant building but have you been to the site. It steals so much light from PS199 and the playground and yard attached.
        The kids will turn into mushrooms for the Billionaires to get their views.
        It is incongruent.

    18. Wiebke Moore says:

      The whole thing is an outrage and the building went up illegally, presuming that once it is done, no-one would persevere to have it pulled down. Well, let’s get on with it and tear it down, we have had enough mess for the monstrosity to go up we will happily see it come down! And please do not get into other problems,about mentally ill and the homeless, it has nothing to do with this!

      • ST says:

        Yes. Take the floors down.

      • Jay says:

        It isn’t illegal. The buildings department changed their interpretation of the law after they permitted the building. They can change their interpretation again.

    19. B.B. says:

      Oh for the love of God, lets have some sort of final resolution to this thing. Endless litigation is making Jarndyce v Jarndyce pale in comparison.

    20. james brummel says:

      what exactly do we have laws for?

    21. Vince says:

      Let’s think this through. The developers acquired the permits legally from the DOB. As a result, they began to complete their project. Some individuals were not happy that loopholes were used in getting these permits. Now, if the DOB chooses to admit that the permits were issued in “error” only after a recent judges ruling against the developer, the DOB should take full responsibility for any loss the developer may incur as a result of that judges ruling. Is the judge going to rule against all the other developers that used loopholes in NYC that have competed their project? Get rid of loopholes and politician who accept bribes, and these matters will not occur. The wisest move here is to let them finish the project and make sure no new proect can get away with it.

    22. B.B. says:

      Think people are forgetting that this “gerrymandered” site was not done by SJP Properties. IIRC they purchased the site with much if not all of the lots already combined (and approved) by city many years previous. People should have voiced their concerns at that time.

      Since city via its agencies approved this project initially, there is going to be heck to pay for someone if SJP is forced to reduce size.

      Unlike a similar case from back in 1990’s where city fought a development on UES that used pretty much same process from start, they gave their blessings to this one. Having relied upon said information/approval SJP Properties likely would be within their rights to sue for damages if this dog of a ruling holds.

    23. Make the first 20 floors low income housing and the rest of the building for those with the money.