Court victory for tower opponents

Opponents of the 668-foot tower under construction at 200 Amsterdam Avenue won a key court victory March 14. If completed as planned, the development would be taller than any existing building on the Upper West Side.

Judge rules against developers of 200 Amsterdam

By Michael Garofalo

The controversial condominium tower under construction at 200 Amsterdam Avenue was dealt a significant setback March 14, when a state Supreme Court judge vacated and annulled the city’s earlier decision to approve plans for the 668-foot tower.

The ruling represents a victory for local groups and elected officials who have fought the project for over two years, arguing that the building’s large, irregularly shaped zoning lot — which critics liken to a gerrymandered political district — violates city zoning regulations.

“We’re delighted,” said Olive Freud, the president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, an Upper West Side nonprofit that jointly filed the legal challenge with the Municipal Art Society of New York. “It took a long time but we got the right decision.”

Judge W. Franc Perry’s decision sends the matter back to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which last year upheld the Department of Buildings’ decision to issue a permit for the project, ruling against an appeal filed the project’s opponents. The court’s order instructs the BSA to reevaluate the appeal under new criteria that seem to require the zoning appeals panel to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

“We believe the Board of Standards and Appeals will have to revoke the permit,” said Richard Emery, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Until that happens, however, the court order does not prevent the developer from continuing work on the building, which now rises roughly 20 stories over Amsterdam Avenue near West 68th Street. Emery said the plaintiffs may pursue a temporary court order to stop work on the project until the BSA revisits the case.

The building’s developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan, may also choose to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. An SJP spokesperson declined to address whether the company plans to file an appeal, but Emery believes an appeal will “undoubtedly” be forthcoming.

“The issue now is how much building is going to go on between now and when the appeal is determined,” Emery said.

“Something is changing in the air”

Under the interpretation of the zoning resolution required by the court, Emery believes that 200 Amsterdam is already near its maximum permissible size in its current, unfinished state.

“We hope the developer will stop of his own accord, because he is taking a huge risk going forward,” Emery said, adding, “Because if they build further and we subsequently win the appeal, it will be a whole different kettle of fish for them to have to take stories off the building.”

In an emailed statement, an SJP spokesperson said the development team for 200 Amsterdam “followed the law completely and continues to make construction progress.”

“We respectfully disagree with some of the judge’s ruling, which calls into question the validity of the Certificate of Occupancy of several completed and fully occupied residential buildings,” the statement continued. “200 Amsterdam’s zoning permits were exhaustively reviewed by both the Department of Buildings and the BSA, the two city agencies with the primary responsibility for interpreting NYC’s zoning codes. Following thorough analysis and public testimony, both agencies determined that the building fully conforms with the city’s zoning laws.”

Freud said the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development is prepared to press on if the developers appeal to a higher court.

“I think something is changing in the air around here,” she said. “People are recognizing that they have a right to sky and sun and that they don’t have to live in shadows.”’