Despite court defeat, tower’s rise continues

Construction on the planned 55-story tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue is ongoing. The tower now rises roughly 22 stories over the Upper West Side. Photo: Vincent A. Gardino
Elected officials call on city to stop construction on 200 Amsterdam Avenue
By Michael Garofalo

Last month’s state Supreme Court decision against the developers behind 200 Amsterdam Avenue has done nothing to slow the rise of the planned 668-foot residential building.

Construction on the tower has continued apace since the March 14 ruling — which found that the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals’ decision last year to uphold plans for the project was “unreasonable and inconsistent with the plain language” of city zoning law — prompting local elected officials to call on the city to halt work immediately.

The legal challenge, filed by two nonprofit advocacy groups and supported by a number of local politicians, focused on the large, irregularly shaped zoning lot used to justify the building’s height, which critics have likened to a gerrymandered electoral district.

The court ordered the BSA to revisit the case under a new interpretation that would seem to require the agency to reverse its earlier finding that the 39-sided parcel, which encompasses pieces of several tax lots and snakes across much of the Lincoln Towers superblock, constitutes a properly formed zoning lot. But Judge W. Franc Perry stopped short of ordering the Department of Buildings to revoke the project’s building permit, instead leaving it to the BSA to reevaluate the matter and issue its own decision.

The BSA has not yet scheduled a new hearing date for the case. A BSA spokesperson said the agency anticipates a hearing will likely be held in “late May or June.”

For the time being, nothing prevents developers SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan from continuing work on the planned 55-story tower, which now exceeds 20 floors in height.

A DOB spokesperson directed inquiries to the city’s Law Department. In an emailed statement, Law Department Spokesman Nick Paolucci wrote that the court’s decision “does not invalidate the construction permits for this project.”

“Construction is allowed to proceed under the current permits,” Paolucci continued.

Hearing on April 30

The plaintiffs in the case — Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, a local volunteer advocacy group, and the Municipal Art Society of New York, a prominent preservation and land use advocacy nonprofit — are seeking a court order that would stop work on the tower until the BSA reaches its decision. The court will hold a hearing April 30 on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, but denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order that would have halted construction immediately.

Since the March 14 Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorney alleged in a court filing, the developers have “continued to construct the illegal 55-story tower at a breakneck pace,” adding more than one story per week. The plaintiffs believe that the building is already taller than would be permitted under the zoning interpretation endorsed by the court. “If the BSA takes even six months to decide the case on remand, the building will almost certainly be complete,” the plaintiffs wrote in a filing.

The developers may also elect to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. Representatives for developer SJP Properties did not respond to requests for comment.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is calling on DOB to rescind the project’s permits. “Construction should not continue while there is still a viable challenge to this development,” Brewer wrote in an April 3 letter to acting DOB Commissioner Thomas Fariello. Brewer and Council Member Helen Rosenthal, whose Upper West Side district includes the building site, planned a rally for April 9 in support of an immediate work stoppage.

“Ongoing process delays could make an illegal project inevitable,” Rosenthal said in an emailed statement. “This should not be allowed. No developer should be permitted to violate zoning law — it undermines what is supposed to be a transparent and consistent land use process across the city.”