200 Amsterdam Opponents Fight On

As construction of the controversial tower continues, foes of the project refuse to give up, despite legal setbacks.

Aug 14 2019 | 10:40 AM

By Emily Higginbotham

As a controversial tower rises on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood group challenging its construction has not given up on its fight against the site’s developer — despite recent setbacks.

Over the last two years, opponents have battled with SJP Properties — the developer building the planned 668-foot high-rise at 200 Amsterdam Avenue — arguing that the lot on which the company is building was illegally configured and violates the city’s zoning regulations.

Last year, the Board of Standards and Appeals signed off on SJP’s plans. In June, after the State Supreme Court instructed the board to review the plan again under new criteria, the BSA doubled down on its initial approval.

In the weeks following that decision, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD) have joined together to file an Article 78 petition to appeal the BSA’s June decision, stating the board failed to follow the court’s instructions to review the plan in accordance with the city’s zoning laws.

“The BSA’s continued refusal to listen to reason has forced us to return to the State Supreme Court on an issue that should be a matter of common sense,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, President of MAS. “The 39-sided zoning lot at 200 Amsterdam Avenue is an affront to both the letter and the spirit of the Zoning Resolution. The Court has ordered a reconsideration of the building’s permit in accordance with a plain reading of the zoning code and that’s what we intend to receive.”

SJP Properties, however, called the challenges from its opponents “baseless.”

“As directed by the court, this past June the BSA re-examined and subsequently reconfirmed that 200 Amsterdam complies with all NYC zoning codes,” a spokesperson for SJP shared in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that NIMBYs continue to spend extraordinary funds and drain city and state resources in order to fight this as-of-right development, while only serving narrow interests.”

The developer has continued on with the tower through all of the legal challenges, and the project is expected to top out this month. SJP plan to launch a sale of the tower in the fall.

Meanwhile, the opposition is prepared to continue their challenges, even if their latest appeal proves fruitless. In June, after the BSA sided with the developer, Richard Emery, one of the lawyers representing MAS and CFESD, said that his clients had a strong claim to make SJP take down the tower if it’s built before their avenues for legal recourse have been exhausted.

Olive Freud, the president of CFESD, maintained the argument that her coalition has been making for two years: the lot at 200 Amsterdam is gerrymandered and building there is illegal. Freud plans to take the argument to higher courts if they do not succeed with their petition.

“While we are frustrated with the BSA’s resolution,” Freud said, “we remain resolute in our continued challenge of the agency’s unreasonable interpretation of the Zoning Resolution, and will seek relief from higher courts if necessary.”