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Planned Upper West Side skyscraper abuses zoning rules, opponents allege (again)

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The Board of Standards and Appeals will debate the zoning of 200 Amsterdam Avenue today

A digital rendering of a stone and glass tower in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. © Elkus Manfredi Architects/Seventh Art

Opponents of a 668-foot tower planned for the Upper West Side are hoping to end their fight against the condo on a technicality.

The activist group Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, led by neighborhood preservationist group Landmark West!, has unearthed a 1978 Department of Buildings memo that the group says misinterprets the department’s own rules regarding how air rights can be assembled to allow for taller buildings, the New York Post reports.

According to the group, the developer who amassed the air rights for 200 Amsterdam Avenue prior to selling the property to SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America followed the guidelines of the botched memo when buying up air rights from surrounding properties. The Board of Standards and Appeals, who is tasked with interpreting zoning rules, will hear the argument at a meeting today.

This isn’t the first time the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development has sought to end the project by disputing its zoning. The group filed a zoning challenge with the DOB in May 2017 that alleged the project wasn’t compliant with existing zoning laws.

The DOB agreed and ruled that the developers had neglected to certify the combination of lots. The agency also ruled that the project didn’t adhere to the open space requirement for that particular site. After a DOB audit of the site, construction resumed in full in September 2017.

The tower, which is poised to replace the leveled Lincoln Square Synagogue near the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 68th Street, counts among its detractors Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

The Municipal Arts Society has also come out in opposition to the project. Ahead of Tuesday’s Board of Standards and Appeals hearing, MAS issued a statement against 200 Amsterdam Avenue alleging that its “zoning lot is largely composed of portions of tax lots and is not consistent with the DOB’s definition of tax lot and the intent of the [zoning resolution].”

The BSA will debate that allegation today. The DOB weighed the similar argument last year, declaring after its audit that although the 1978 memo might have incorrectly interpreted the zoning rules, denying the developers a permit to build would be “arbitrary and capricious.”

The developers, of course, maintain that they’re acting above board and issued the following statement to Curbed:

We purchased the 200 Amsterdam site as of right in 2015 with the approved zoning already in place. This building was meticulously designed according to the NYC zoning code, with an aesthetic that is contextual to its Lincoln Square neighborhood. Our application for 200 Amsterdam went through an exhaustive review and subsequent audit by the Department of Buildings (DOB), a process that lasted approximately one year, which reaffirmed that the zoning and building design are in compliance. DOB’s decision was based on its recognition that, for close to 40 years, it had consistently interpreted the Zoning Resolution in a way that permitted the kind of zoning lot on which 200 Amsterdam is based. This interpretation was reflected in a definitive DOB Departmental Memorandum and has resulted in at least 15 permanent certificate of occupancy approvals, including three buildings that have already been completed – 170 Amsterdam Avenue, 180 Amsterdam Avenue, and 200 West End Avenue – with essentially the same zoning and on the same block, and with the acceptance of this view by the City Planning Commission, the Board of Estimate and the City Council.

Upon receipt of all building permits, we commenced construction on 200 Amsterdam in September 2017. We have the utmost confidence that the BSA will uphold the DOB’s carefully rendered decision to grant the building permit for 200 Amsterdam. We look forward to making continued progress in delivering a great building that will enhance the neighborhood, create hundreds of jobs, and generate over $7 million in property taxes annually for NYC.

A few blocks south of 200 Amsterdam Avenue, a project developed by Extell is looking to usurp the title of Upper West Side’s tallest tower. Much like this development, Extell’s tower is also facing mounting opposition. Plans for that condo have yet to be officially filed.