Justices Hear Arguments and Rebuttals About 200 Amsterdam, But Is the Case ‘Moot’?

200 Amsterdam (center) has altered the skyline.

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 crown of 200 Amsterdam.

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.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 49 comments | permalink
    1. David S says:

      Here’s a thought: If the ruling goes against the developer, rather than making them take down 20 stories, have them turn those 20 stories into affordable housing units.

      • EGF says:

        Or have them make a donation to a charity serving the homeless in the amount of the cost it would take to remove the 20 floors.

      • m.pipik says:

        So agree David that those apartments should be affordable housing units. Maybe let performing artists or people who work in the arts have them. Set some sort of maximum income limit.

        Those of us who live nearby do not want more months of noise from this site.

      • Boris says:

        How does that resolve the issue of all the ills created by the ‘excessive’ height? This building was supposed to destroy the neighborhood and disrupt light & air? Its height seems to be acceptable only if it’s for the opponents gain.

      • AC57 says:

        Now where have I heard that before? 🙂

      • Otis says:

        If people can afford to buy these units then they’re already “affordable”.

      • Ian Alterman says:

        That’s a nice idea. However, it would not mitigate the flouting of the laws by the developers, or serve as a deterrent to other developers attempting similar circumventions or violations of law.

        To paraphrase an old saying: How do you know when a developer’s attorney is lying? His lips are moving.

      • B.B. says:

        Am here to tell you that there is no way in Hades any developer would give up prime square footage of multifamily housing for low income or whatever affordable housing. If push came to shove, yes they would likely dismantle instead.

        Higher floors including penthouses are what sell or rent first in skyscraper buildings for many reasons including views. They also most always go for prime sales per square foot numbers. No developer is going to leave that sort of money on the table.

        • AC57 says:

          Again, the proposal is only if they lose. It would be an alternative solution to chopping down the 20 stories

          Neighborhood gets more affordable housing in an area that was never supposed to get any, the developer still gets punished thanks to lost profits from the lower floors, and the surrounding area is spared from more dangerous construction that is more superfluous than anything else

          In my book, that’s the sensible option, and a win.

    2. CrankyPants says:

      The building is beautiful and, to most of us, a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Now maybe everyone can get back to cleaning up the mess that is 79th Street.

      • Jen says:

        It is not a question of beauty

      • Monticello says:

        You certainly don’t speak for most of us, as this hideous monstrosity is a stain on the UWS skyline.

        • Jean Luke says:

          It’s a beautiful building, a monstrosity is Lincoln Towers and almost all the nearby buildings that are straight concrete or brick slabs with no architectural merit. One good thing about new development in NYC is that most of the buildings are using great architects and interesting designs.

          • Josh P. says:

            Lincoln Towers – with its Wal-Mart sized parking lot and “no outsiders allowed” private playground – is clearly a product of Robert Moses. Anything that dilutes it’s impact on the neighborhood is a positive.

          • steven spencer says:

            Yup. The building is an architectural delight. Lincoln Towers is a blight on the neighborhood. More housing increases the tax base and hopefully makes the city more affordable over time.

            • EllTee4Me says:

              So Lincoln Towers is “a blight on the neighborhood”?
              It has been said that Lincoln Towers is like the lobster…not so pretty on the outside but wonderful on the inside: wonderful residents, wonderfully spacious apartments, wonderful building staff, etc.
              L.T., like other complexes (Penn South) provides a reason for middle class people to remain in Manhattan rather than go elsewhere

            • Sheila says:

              I live at LT part time. It is wonderful..great people, security, beautiful landscaped grounds with fabulous plants and flowers. The privacy of living in a park in a big city makes it special.

        • Josh P. says:

          Affordable housing should never count towards the zoning limits for new buildings in the neighborhood. If developers are willing to help make the neighborhood more affordable, why should we stop them? We aren’t making any more land on the UWS – the only place to go is up!

        • Archie Tekt says:

          Re: “this hideous monstrosity is a stain on the UWS skyline.”
          REALLY?
          1. From a distance (Central Park in the 80’s; midtown from Sixth Ave; etc.) it IS quite attractive, esp with its “Ziggurat-like” top floors; and
          2. it’s no-way as much of a “skyline-stain” as the so-called “Supertalls”, such as 432 Park Avenue, 157 W.57th, and its unfinished brethren, technically not IN the UWS but certainly visible from streets above W.59th AND, even worse, from CP’s Sheep Meadow.

        • Isabella says:

          Monticello-Completely agree. The developer chose to flagrantly proceed and build the height he knew he very well might be taking down upon completion. The delight in abusing and ignoring the zoning laws by developers has to stop!! Not only was the larger community against this upward land grab but so was every political leader including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Congressman Jerry Nadler!Actions have consequences. The only reason this building is built on an illegal, gerrymandered lot is because the developer had the lawyers to exploit the zoning laws ad infinitum and proceed on his own say so. We have no kings in America! It’s times the zoning laws were respected and obeyed by everyone including developers. Hopefully the Judge will concur.

      • Boris says:

        Compared to almost all the nearby buildings, especially Lincoln Towers, this building is really beautiful and should be appreciated. Don’t understand why people justify their petty jealousy complaints by denigrating its architectural appearance.

        • RH says:

          This has nothing whatsoever to do with jealousy! It has to do with the initial legal limit for the # of floors as determined by the zoning lot.
          I believe taking down floors presumes a similar danger to the “ heads of the schoolchildren attending PS 199 as putting the floors up!

        • Ish Kabibble says:

          Another Boris embarrassing comment. It has zero to do with aesthetics and if you feel breaking laws (building codes) is petty jealousy, you really haven’t a clue.

          • Boris says:

            Nope, there are plenty of people here who don’t want others to have what they can’t afford. So they hide behind architectural criticisms and play legal experts. Notice how they have all decided the Court’s case already because it can’t be any other outcome except that which pleases them?

      • Cynthia says:

        Take it down. It’s illegal. The design might not be an eyesore, but the height is. Disgusting that developers get away with sooo much! No sense arguing about Lincoln Towers – It’s been around for years. Can’t change it.

    3. World Citizen says:

      Agree!
      ¡de acuerdo (español)
      d’accord ! (françis)
      che d’acçordo! (italiano)
      stimme! (Deutsche)
      As do all 535 members of the U.S. Congress…650 members of the U.K. Parliament…193 members of The U.N. General Assembly; and Malka, my neighbor upstairs.
      Don’t believe me? Call and ask all of them! Except Malka, she’s probably napping…again.

    4. Jean Luke says:

      The building is an asset to the upper west side. The architecture is excellent and it’s an impressive looking building from so many angles.

    5. Sarah says:

      You don’t moot a case concerning violation of regulation by completing the task you’re violating the regulations in connection with! Sheesh.

    6. JerryV says:

      Because removing the high floors would, as suggested, be “a huge and dangerous endeavor”, it would be much safer to take down only the lower floors. I propose taking down the 20 floors just about the lobby. Because apartment prices increase as the floors go higher, these would be the cheaper floors and the developers would not lose as much money. Problem solved.

      • Jenny Rosenblatt says:

        LOL. It doesn’t matter how you lower it, but lower it they must. It is an eyesore and violation of the law, and in spite of Trump we still live in a law-based society.

    7. RH says:

      How “convenient” for the developer to say it’s too late & would be a danger to the community to take down floors.
      How is it that the developer built those floors before a final decision was made?!?
      It seems this conflict has been going on for years.
      Now all the builder has to say something to the effect ‘ oh well we built it the way WE wanted to & even though we signed a legal commitment to be responsible for all risks that might arise… we’re going to just keep building more floors & have our taller building.

      • Boris says:

        Nothing has changed from when the developer decided to keep building at his own risk. The developer is betting all his marbles on the Court deciding that the lot will be zoned as is. He knows what the remedy would be if the decision goes against him. Do you really think the DOB would have let him build the top 20 floors otherwise; he did have a building permit.

    8. dj says:

      The building blocks light and air. A contractor gets away with an illegal building because he did it.

      • Walter W says:

        You’re right! Just yesterday I walked by 200 Amsterdam and I couldn’t breathe because of all the air that was blocked.

        And it’s terrible how it blocks light! The whole UWS is black as night. Nobody can see anything because of this building!

    9. Shelley says:

      Why is it more dangerous to take it down than to put it up? P.S. 199 was always at risk. They didn’t seem to care before.

    10. VitaminD says:

      This building was ILLEGAL and its height a permanent blight on the neighborhood. School is probably out till September. Take it down now.

    11. LT resident says:

      The developers should be punished- the issue isn’t moot just because they rushed to finish before this hearing- but removing the top 20 floors isn’t the ideal answer. What is? Have an independent assessor determine the cost of removing those 20 floors, then require the developer to invest that amount of money into purchasing/ renovating another building to provide affordable housing units nearby. Such an arrangement would prevent the major disruption of additional construction at 200 Amsterdam, which has already been awful, but still provides needed affordable housing units.

    12. Sydney Barrows says:

      This is outrageous. The builders knew they were breaking the law and did it anyway. They were counting on the judges to turn a blind eye and let them get away wih it.

      Making them take the 20 illegal floors down will send an important message to everyone else.

      Otherwise, builders will do whatever they damn well please because there are no consequences.

      • Boris says:

        How were they breaking the law when the interpretation of the law is now being decided in court? People just keep parroting that it’s illegal. THE DEVELOPER HAD A BUILDING PERMIT ISUUED BY THE DOB.

      • UWS Dad says:

        I think everyone on this board should stop saying what the developer did was illegal. It wasn’t at the time construction started all the way up until 1 judge determined that it was. The developer was issued a valid building permit by the City of New York.

        I know its apples and oranges, but if, after submitting architectural plans you were issued a building permit by the City to renovate your apartment I presume you would rely on that building permit to prove your construction was legally permissible if you were ever challenged in court. Not sure how it is any different.

        Now, if you want to attack the law and the process that allows developers to aggregate zoning lots and tax lots, be my guest. If you want to challenge the developer for building the final floors after the court order, then be my guest. They assumed that risk.

        But stop saying the developer broke the law in the first instance. They did not.

        • Boris says:

          Your comment falls on deaf ears. No one wants to hear what’s legal according to the process; they want it their way. Not many of the opponents can coherently explain their legal objections beyond that a lower court judge agrees with them. Victory! Anything that happens after that is meaningless because someone agrees with them. The lower court obviously wanted a higher court to ultimately decide so this issue would be put to rest with no further recourse. Higher court decisions aren’t final because they’re right. They’re right because they’re final.

        • Jay says:

          NIMBYs don’t care about facts.

    13. Rob G. says:

      Leave it to “progressive” Upper West Siders to get in the way of progress!

    14. Leonard DeCicco says:

      The case is simple. The builders were told not to build the building because they used an illegal method of calculating air rights. The builders said they would continue and agreed to dismantle if they lost their case. They lost and now say that it is too dangerous to dismantle.
      What they are really saying is that it’s okay to disobey the law because the city will eventually okay their position. It sounds as if TRUMP advised them to disobey the law and then th city will back down because they always do. Keep pushing the law and sooner or later you will win.
      The worst element of this case is that the CITY is on the builders side. Sure smells of a payoff. What is the city’s excuse for supporting an illegal building?
      TRUMPISM is on the verge of winning again and another neighborhood is screwed.

      • UWS Dad says:

        Enough with “it’s Trump’s fault” already. I can’t stand the man either, but not everything in this world that we don’t like is his fault.

        The City is on the builder’s side because the method used by the developer to piece together tax lots has been approved by the City for years. There are probably hundreds of buildings in the city that used the same method.

        • Boris says:

          Not only that but the City doesn’t want to be on the defendant side of a reliance suit brought by the developers. The building permit was issued in 2017 based on long-standing precedent upon which the developer could rely. In 2018/2019, the attempt to change the law re: lot aggregation was still only a proposal. It didn’t become an effective regulation until recently and cannot be retroactively applied.