The legal challenges against 200 Amsterdam Avenue, a 52-story tower on the Upper West Side, have culminated in an unprecedented decision: A State Supreme Court judge has ordered that the building must lose as many as 20 floors (or more) in accordance with the zoning for the neighborhood.
The decision comes several months after the 668-foot building, the neighborhood’s tallest, topped out; sales for its 112 apartments have already launched, although none appear to be in contract, according to listings posted on StreetEasy.
A spokesperson for the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, called the decision a “shocking loss for New York City and its residents” in a statement.
“It defies more than 40 years of precedent in the city’s zoning laws,” the statement continues. “It also ignores the thoughtful decision of the DOB to grant the permit which was upheld by the BSA following exhaustive document review and testimony over a two-year period. Both of those decisions recognized that retroactively applying new interpretations of the city’s zoning to previously approved projects undermines the stability of the regulatory environment needed to support the investment that is critical to New York City’s economy, tax base, housing stock and services.”
The developers say they plan to appeal the ruling, while a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department says that it is currently looking at its legal options.
Opponents of the project, which include local politicians and civic organizations like the Municipal Art Society (MAS), have argued since it was first announced that the building flouts the city’s zoning rules, since the developers pieced the lot it sits on together from several disconnected properties. Those opponents sought to stop the building from rising through lawsuits, restraining orders, and motions to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which sided with the developers several times (most recently last June) and paved the way for the building to rise.
Last year, MAS and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD) jointly filed an Article 78 petition against the project, alleging that the Board of Standards and Appeals failed to reexamine the case in accordance with the city’s zoning resolution. This time, Justice W. Franc Perry sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that the city’s Department of Buildings must revoke its permit for the development.
Perry’s ruling “sends a signal that this kind of gerrymandered lot is illegal and shouldn’t be used in other places,” says Elizabeth Goldstein, the president of the Municipal Art Society.
The ruling may also have larger implications for future developments in the city. City Council member Ben Kallos has already said he will file a new motion challenging the legality of a 65-story building that Gamma Real Estate has planned for East 58th Street, which opponents allege uses the same creative zoning tricks as 200 Amsterdam. “We’re relying on the judiciary to enforce the law even if the Department of Buildings or the developers don’t think it applies to them,” Kallos told the New York Post.
MAS’s Goldstein, meanwhile, is hopeful that this will prevent these sorts of so-called “gerrymandered” lots from being used in the planning of future projects. “We’re very hopeful that this was an extremely unusual case, and that this decision will have a cooling effect on anyone else exploring a similar technique,” she says. “Those sorts of things lead to development that is unpredictable and out of context for what an average citizen could understand would be built in their neighborhood.”