A contentious, ongoing legal battle playing out on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that united community activist groups, preservationists, and elected officials in opposition to the height of a 52-story condo tower at 200 Amsterdam has reached a conclusion—one spares the completed luxury high-rise from a rare decollation and has left opponents dismayed.
As reported by the Commercial Observer late last week, the New York Court of Appeals denied attempts to overturn a previous ruling that upheld the building permits for the 670-foot-tall tower designed by Elkus Manfredi and developed by SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America. This means that the residential skyscraper, which stands as the tallest on the Upper West Side, will not have to retroactively shave off several of its top floors—potentially up to 20 or more—due to alleged zoning violations, as per a February 2020 New York Supreme Court ruling by Justice W. Franc Perry against the developers that yanked the project’s New York City Department of Buildings (DOB)-issued permits. That ruling was overturned on appeal this past March in a decision that the plaintiff, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), referred to as “absurd and unreasonable.”
As previously noted by AN, while height reduction-related court rulings aren’t at all unusual when projects are in the early planning phase, the saga of 200 Amsterdam, which is located on the site of the old Lincoln Square Synagogue, is (although not entirely without precedent) in that the ruling made last winter would have seen an almost-completed skyscraper forced to part with a substantial number of floors that, per the ruling of the lower court, exceeded the zoning limit. Opposition groups, spearheaded by the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, along with Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, Landmark West!, and MAS, argued that the project’s zoning lot was illegally gerrymandered by the developers and, in turn, the tower was built to unlawfully tall heights.
“Today’s decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York, to deny leave to appeal definitively ends the unwarranted legal challenges against 200 Amsterdam,” said SJP Properties chairman and CEO, Steven J. Pozycki, in a statement shared by the Commercial Observer. “This decision confirms the Appellate Division’s recent unanimous ruling that 200 Amsterdam’s building permits are lawful and properly issued.
“200 Amsterdam will legally and rightfully stand as meticulously constructed and soon welcome homeowners while generating millions of dollars in annual tax revenue to the benefit of all New York City residents,” added Pozycki. “We are proud to deliver a beautiful, architecturally distinct building to this special Upper West Side neighborhood and look forward to welcoming 200 Amsterdam’s first residents in the coming weeks.”
As noted by Real Estate Weekly, sales at 200 Amsterdam resumed this past March following the appellate court ruling and most recently, a pair of penthouses with sky-high price tags of $19.3 and $17.5 million went under contract. Located between 67th and 68th streets, the 112-unit tower features interiors by CetraRuddy and over 20,000-square-feet of amenity space including a saltwater pool, yoga and pilates studio, private dining room and library, and a Lincoln Center-inspired kids play space. (All residences come with a year-long complimentary membership to the neighboring Lincoln Center.)
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of MAS, expressed her strong displeasure with the decision by the New York Court of Appeals in a statement shared by Real Estate Weekly:
“To our frustration, the Court of Appeals has declined to hear our challenge in the case against 200 Amsterdam Avenue and its gerrymandered zoning lot. The 39-sided lot that underlies 200 Amsterdam reflects an interpretation of the Zoning Resolution that is neither straightforward nor direct; it is a creation of one developer’s imagination.
Furthermore, by refusing to hear our challenge, the Court has let stand a dangerous new precedent that silences non-profits and community groups, putting enormous impediments in the way of bringing scofflaw developers to justice. The only entities who can afford to persist in challenges like this are those corporations for whom millions of dollars in legal fees is a rounding error on a balance book.
We can only hope that the Court’s apathy on this issue inspires swift action from the remaining branches of government. If not, the duplicitous actions that gave rise to 200 Amsterdam Avenue, and many more schemes like this one, will soon become commonplace across the five boroughs.”