By Carol Tannenhauser
The long-running dispute about the legality of the zoning lot for 200 Amsterdam Avenue, the concrete-and-glass skyscraper on West 69th Street, is nearing resolution. On Wednesday afternoon, all sides argued their cases, for what likely will be the last time, before four justices of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.
The stakes are high. If the judges don’t vacate a lower court order, the developer could have to take down 20 or so stories of the building. So far 52 stories have been built and the structure stands at 668 feet, giving it the (ephemeral?) title of Tallest Building on the Upper West Side.
“They know perfectly well that the inertia is in favor of not taking down a building,” argued Richard Emery, attorney for the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD), one of the nonprofits that has been challenging the legality of 200 Amsterdam since plans were filed for the building in 2017. Emery was right; his “adversaries” — attorneys for the developer and the city — argued that taking down the floors would be a huge and dangerous endeavor, performed above the heads of the schoolchildren below at PS 199.
The fly in the ointment is that the developer, SJP Properties, signed a “stipulation” in May of 2018 saying it would assume all risk regarding the fate of floors above what CFESD claimed was the legal limit, determined by the zoning lot. There was discussion of “partial tax lots,” and the infamous “Minkin Memo,” which had set policy on this issue since 1978, until it was debunked during this case. SJP and the city argued that changing the rules midstream would be unfair and disruptive to other projects around the city, and that 200 Amsterdam should be grandfathered in. Then, one justice suggested that the whole case might be “moot,” because “the building is almost completed now.” But was the developer building — at what critics say was considerable speed — in bad faith?
“There is no evidence that this building was built in a rush,” the city’s attorney stated. (There were complaints about continuing construction there during the pandemic lockdown.) “We stand here to state that this case has become moot,” the attorney continued. “There are real risks to the community if this were to be taken down.”
There was no indication as to how or when a decision will be rendered. We’ll keep you posted.