City Grants Work Permits for Embattled 200 Amsterdam Avenue Tower

A rendering of the building.

This story was originally published on April 24, 2020 by THE CITY.

By Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY

A controversial Upper West Side building is back under construction — just two weeks after its developer vowed to halt work under the state’s coronavirus PAUSE order.

The city Department of Buildings gave permission to the developers of 200 Amsterdam Ave. — the tower a judge in February said must be downsized by as many as 20 stories — to continue “emergency work,” according to an email to a local official from the agency obtained by THE CITY.

Workers were back at the site as of Thursday, according to an inspection by the buildings department, the email said.

“The 200 Amsterdam Avenue location was approved for additional emergency work for the issues of potential safety and health concerns due to wind forces, damage to partially installed equipment, and water infiltration of the incomplete building envelope,” the message from DOB read.

The green light from the city comes as the state has lifted restrictions on allowed construction after its virtual complete shutdown of development in March. The number of job sites allowed to continue with work ballooned sixfold from 800 on April 3 to 4,936 as of April 22, THE CITY found.

By Friday, the number of sites had increased again, to 5,091, according to the department’s list of approved projects.

‘Ramping up Work’

The developer of 200 Amsterdam, SJP Properties, said it “will be slowly ramping up work beginning with approximately 15 workers,” increasing that number to 45 workers by next week “in order to follow appropriate social distancing protocols,” according to a construction update emailed to the Upper West Side community Wednesday.

“This represents approximately 8-10% of those typically on-site prior to the coronavirus outbreak,” the message from the developer read.

The developers said the site received permits to work on exterior walls, mechanical and electrical rooms, elevators and waterproofing.

In a statement, SJP spokesperson Andrew Koreyva said the health and safety of workers “is vital and will be closely monitored in strict adherence to DOB protocols.”

“Every crew member will be provided with personal protective equipment, have their temperatures checked when entering the site, and be directed to abide by required social distancing rules,” he said.

The DOB defended the work as necessary, saying the developer “produced credible concerns” about the effect of wind on the building’s incomplete facade.

“It is understood that when the exterior wall is incomplete, there are wind tunnels through the interior of the building … which can destabilize sections and create a potential safety problem,” the message from the agency read.

Andrew Rudansky, Department of Buildings spokesperson, said in a statement that the agency has “a stringent review process in place to only approve emergency work that is in the interest of public safety.”

“In these unprecedented times, we must make sure work sites that are paused do not become a safety hazard over time,” he said. “If we find any work does not meet that definition, we will shut it down.”

Skeptical Neighbors

Neighbors and local elected officials are irate about the exception — and cast doubts on SJP’s contention the unfinished building is unsafe.

In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio sent Friday, West Side leaders underscored that SJP did not stop work at the site until April 9. The West Side Rag previously reported the firm was one of the last companies to shut down construction in the area.

“Why did SJP close its site two weeks ago if outstanding emergency electrical and exterior work truly existed? How did these serious concerns become an emergency only yesterday?” the letter read.

Officials asked the mayor to “revoke all permits related to construction at 200 Amsterdam immediately.”

“This site has been operating on a public trust deficit for years,” they said in the letter, signed by seven officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Assemblymembers Linda Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The Amsterdam Avenue development has long drawn the ire of some Upper West Side neighbors, leading to a court battle over whether SJP had illegally exploited land rules to boost the height of the planned residential building.

‘Utter Contempt’

That fight led to a February ruling by a State Supreme Court judge ordering that as many as 20 floors should be removed from the tower. Since then, the city’s Law Department has appealed the ruling — while the city’s buildings department said it would close the zoning loophole used by the developer at 200 Amsterdam.

Rosenthal says SJP’s recent move is the latest in a series of actions that shows “utter contempt for the community and the law.”

“The judge in the case said ‘Take down at least 20 stories’ and, sure, they’re appealing it, but that is the decision that stands right now,” she said. “Instead, they’re like ‘Let’s get back to work.’ How is this essential?”

Olive Freud, the Upper West Sider who has led the charge against SJP in court through her group Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, said the tower is blocking out sun and light, “leaving us in the shadows.”

“The only thing they should be doing on that lot is taking down the excess height,” she said.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Stef Lev says:

      De Blasio has come out for this project far too many times. What’s the deal with his siding against the judgement to stop and remove the upper floors?

    2. Tom says:

      These clueless and fatuously misguided elected officials should be focused on the economic and human impact of the COVID pandemic on their Upper West Side constituents, rather than bizarrely fetishizing and obsessing over the construction status and height of a perfectly legal building. This is embarrassing beyond measure. And to Olive Freud: literally NO ONE is thinking about shadows from any building whatsoever right now. We are doing everything we can to stay healthy ourselves and grieve and recover from the deaths of our friends who succumbed to the virus.

    3. your_neighbor says:

      That crazy judgement is going to get overturned on appeal anyway so might as well make the site safe in anticipation of the return to somewhat normal conditions.

    4. Bill Raudenbush says:

      Not even a global pandemic can stop the unchecked avarice and cartoonishly reckless behavior of this developer. Along with their accomplices in the de Blasio administration.

      These Trumpian cretins are willing to risk a likely Covid19 vector posing a mortal threat to an unknown number of people simply because they can.

      I’m sure not a single one of them spent one second questioning whether or not it was morally sound thing to do.

      To the developer and the mayor: all the money in the world can’t buy back your integrity, kid.

      I pity you.

      “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” -Edward Abbey

      PS, feel free to reach out to Cuomo’s office to let him know BdB is openly rebelling against public health orders and likely spreading Covid…all to help his cronies.

      • Sherman says:

        Yes, Cuomo doesn’t have enough to worry about now. He should channel his time and resources towards halting this construction.

      • robert says:

        Ok I will keep it as simple as I can
        This was and still is an as of right building. It was approved that way by the DOB and several court challenges to that lost or where dismissed for things like lack of sufficiency I.E there is no case based on actual law. It is part of the US Constitution that laws can not be retroactive, they can only apply to action. The Judge in this case comes to the end of his ten year term and several pols and members of CB10, where he was chair are pushing him to run for office in 2021. The UWS has a highly one sided political community in giving money. This ruling was a sop to that. Don’t you recall all the celebration and claims of success by local elcteds and candidates saying “they had stopped it forever” only to be reversed?

        This is expected to be reversed on appeal as soon as early June perhaps earlier as the courts are now starting up expatiated actions via video.

        I laugh when I hear our elected and self appointed community leaders, must of which fled the city to their other homes, talking about being for the little guy.

        They are always shocked when the developers don’t talk to them about putting in “community spaces” they want or respond to their demands. They seem shocked that when a new building is even rumored and they send official looking letters saying they demand this or that, threaten to start petitions/protest etc. doesn’t get a favorable response. Devoplers have long added extra $$ into the costs the figure on when doing UWS projects for baseless lawsuits.

        State Supreme Court judge

      • Rob G. says:

        Hah! Sorry, Bill Raudenbush, but you deemed yourself irrelevant when you sided with the other crazy group that opposed the AMNH Gilder Center. In the future, you might want to side with causes that actually benefit the neighborhood, not just the lunatic fringe.

      • Boris says:

        Abbey was a socialist, racist, and anarchist who preached violence and eco-terrorism. I wouldn’t be proud to quote him. Doing so diminishes your integrity.

    5. ST says:

      If this doesn’t prove the corruption in city government, I don’t know what does.

    6. Sherman says:

      The economy is in terrible shape due to the pandemic and not everyone enjoys the luxury of working from home.

      If these construction workers are willing to work and the developer can prove that conditions are safe then construction should continue.

      We all have very serious concerns right now and an entitled malcontent who alleges that the tower is “leaving us in the shadows” should not be allowed to prevent this construction from continuing.

    7. Yimby says:

      A super-tall waste of everybody’s time, especially while the city grapples with far more urgent problems, i.e., matters of life and death and a financial crisis. Moreover folks, another super-tall, already approved, is on its way just down the street on WEA & W. 66th St., which will dwarf this one. Stay tuned!

      • AC57 says:

        That’s an outdated rendering and an option that was previously floated by the site’s previous owner, Silverstein. As of August 19th, 2019, that parcel of the ABC Campus was sold to Taconic Investments, and since then, no further developments for the site have been floated

        You should also be able to tell the rendering is outdated because 1 West End Avenue is nowhere near completion. The stock image that the rendering uses is from late 2016 I would bargain

        I do hope they go kinda tall there though – that whole block is an eyesore, and it’s just begging for something tall. It would also create a defined strip of taller buildings on that 65th/66th Street corridor, with that building, 3 Lincoln Center, and 50 West 66th Street, which would look nice. Something around 550 feet would be sufficient. Hopefully with some retail and affordable housing of course.

    8. 92nd Street says:

      Meanwhile every FISP job in the City has been shut down

    9. Pedestrian says:

      Law breakers! As usual developers can do what every they wants and the DOB and the Mayor will ignore a judges order to make sure the developers are happy.

    10. UWSman says:

      Love it! It’s a snazzy building and the neighborhood will be better off for it.

      • Feet on the Ground says:

        Snazziness, is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. And here’s the point: no beholder’s eye will ever have the view shown in this rendering — straight on at a height of some 600 feet.

    11. Becky Neustadt says:

      Is this rendering AFTER the 20+ floors are REMOVED?

      I knew the ***holes were back. They were already dropping materials onto the site – DROPPING LIKE BOMBS – at 5:30am. Started early last week.
      Close the sidewalk! You are risking everyone’s health by limiting space on the walkways with these poor construction workers.
      And, rest assured, this fight continues.
      Sure. “Shore it up”.
      But it’s coming down. Ultimately.

    12. AC57 says:

      To play devil’s advocate, ever since the site was abandoned, there has been an abnormal trend of rather severe weather in the past few weeks. April has been a very windy and rainy month. Combine that with the stoppage of work for about two weeks is bound to expose and create some instability in the structure, leaving some aspects vulnerable to collapse

      I would rather them do the necessary emergency work than to have the building left abandoned and structurally unsound. That lot is so tight, with Lincoln Towers, the Synagogue, the PS199 playground, and the neighboring building, any structural weaknesses could be potentially catastrophic.

      Now of course, with the current outbreak, SJP should supply more than enough PPE (themselves paying for the cost of course) and do everything within their power to maintain social distancing procedures and thoroughly clean equipment. Also, if it does turn out that it’s more than emergency work that is being done, there should be necessary repercussions. But given the recent weather, I would say, at the very least some inspection or reinforcement work be done to ensure that nothing goes wrong, because, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that we would rather not have parts of this building fall in such a tight, densely populated area. Those are mass casualties waiting to happen.

      And again, I will revive this age-old argument of repurposing the bottom floors to house affordable units, instead of tearing down the top 20 floors. Less time consuming, less disruptive, a net gain of affordable units where there hasn’t been before.

      • Proud 2B a YIMBY says:

        Thank you AC57, Sherman, and all the others here who refuse to let a horde of screeching self-appointed NIMBY’s to:
        1. prolong this eye-sore of a construction site; AND
        2. (by objecting to SJP’s well-thought-out plan to secure the building) put us ALL at risk should this building remain unstable.

    13. DD says:

      Instead of worrying about his homeless population in the city streets amidst this Pandemic and finding them homes in empty apartments tall buildings, De Blasio is siding with an illegal luxury building developer! It’s so pathetic to see the homeless in the streets under these circumstances!!!! These are humans and Americans! What has the world come to?

      Around midday Saturday, there was shattered glass on Amsterdam Avenue in front of this building’s scaffolding after Friday’s high winds? Where did this come from?

      • Boris says:

        Do you really think it’s that easy to put homeless people all over the city in privately-owned buildings that now have empty spaces? City & State government is inept at managing anything on that magnitude. The constant bloviating about solving certain citywide issues – particularly homeless people – by neglecting other functions of city government is lunacy. The developer is NOT an ILLEGAL business entity just because you don’t like the project. And just because one judge ordered the floors removed also doesn’t make the developer guilty of anything except building according to the permit that was granted. If upper courts ultimately rule that the floors have to come down, they will. But no legal system or city government will stop the building process while there is litigation. That would expose the city to enormous compensatory costs if the developer wins. This project is not like building a treehouse which can wait until a court rules; there are huge safety and financial concerns that need to be accommodated since the law is subject to interpretation.

    14. Jean Hill says:

      Not much difference between what this developer is doing and what the CB7 Transportation Committee and it’s Transportation alternatives allies are doing.

      Both are actively using a citywide emergency to further their own agenda while the attention of most UWS residents is focused on a National health emergency and their well being and the well being of their families. Shameful conduct all around.