A defunct synagogue on Amsterdam Avenue and 70th Street is set to be razed and replaced with a 600-foot luxury residential tower, the tallest in the neighborhood, and, some fear, a precedent-setter for overdevelopment on the Upper West Side.
The building, at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, was bought this year by SJP Properties for nearly $300 million. It includes 388,000 square feet of buildable air rights, and is expected to climb 55 stories just south of where Broadway meets Amsterdam Avenue. The development is as of right, meaning there will be no public review process or input from the community on the design and construction of the building.
“West Siders should be very concerned about the new wave of development that towers like 200 Amsterdam represent,” said Kate Wood, executive director of the landmarks advocacy organization Landmark West. “Our neighborhood has some of the strongest controls on development in the city, but between (Mayor Bill de Blasio’s) plan to raise zoning height limits, backing of mega-towers, and weakening of the landmarks law, the Upper West Side has become a direct target.”
Roberto Cabrera, a real estate broker with Town Residential, has worked on the Upper West Side for 17 years and lives five blocks from 200 Amsterdam Avenue. He said the development does not threaten the scale or character of the Upper West Side, and that there are similarly tall buildings nearby.
“No precedent is being set. Just four blocks south are 150 Amsterdam Avenue and 160 West 66th Street, which are 42 and 45 stories, respectively, and even a bit further down there is the newest rental building at West 62nd Street at 54 stories,” said Cabrera. “So [200 Amsterdam Avenue] will slip into the bookshelf like another book. However, the bookshelf is quite full. There are not a lot of places to build on the Upper West, which is what keeps it so special.”
He does, however, expect some resistance in the community to the development.
“Upper Westsiders are a protective bunch, primarily of their minimally populated space, relatively,” said Cabrera. “Such a building will increase density for public transportation, but nowhere near what the experience is on the Upper East Side and Upper Westsiders want to keep it that way. There will also be those whose views are compromised and that will be the standard argument.”
Wood of Landmark West noted that there are efforts to build even bigger on the Upper West Side, pointing to a potential 80-story building on West 66th Street and another high-rise a developer is seeking to build on West 96th Street. Both sites are close to Central Park West, she said.
“Many of us are calling for a moratorium on tall buildings and comprehensive planning to address the needs of the city,” said Wood. “The laissez-faire attitude - or even worse, flat-out giveaways to developers - has to stop.”
Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, in a recent editorial in the pages of this newspaper, said the Upper West Side is “beleaguered” by as of right development, and called for the preservation and strengthening of landmarks law.
Anna Kahn, a lifelong West Sider and broker with Halstead Property, said she sometimes misses the more middle-class feel of the neighborhood when she was younger, but new development is generally beneficial to the area.
“In my view as a resident and a broker, I take it as positive,” said Kahn of 200 Amsterdam Avenue. “We definitely have an inventory deficit and we need apartments for people to move into.”
Kahn said she often brings her clients who are looking for something on the Upper West Side north of West 110th Street, and there’s a desire for more options like 200 Amsterdam Avenue, but that public transportation and other services have to be added to and maintained.
“There’s really very little inventory to bring my clients on the West Side,” she said. “I feel as long as the infrastructure is added to accordingly, I view it as a positive.”