THE SUPER-TALL TOWER ON AMSTERDAM AVENUE BETWEEN 69TH AND 70TH STREETS IS OVER TWICE THE HEIGHT OF THE TALLEST NEARBY BUILDINGS, AND IS THE TALLEST BUILDING NORTH OF 61ST STREET.
The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD)
CFESD and MAS (Municipal Arts Society) initiated a lawsuit on October 25, 2017, when 200 Amsterdam Avenue was only a hole in the ground, in order to stop this oversized structure. We showed that their zoning lot, made up of pieces of tax lots from other zoning lots on the Lincoln Towers super block, was illegal. The outcome was that we won the war, but lost the battle.
CFESD has been advocating for environmentally sound development in New York City for nearly 30 years. For development to be environmentally sound it must comply with all applicable regulations, including those that relate to land use, open space, shadows, hazardous materials, transportation, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and public health. That means true compliance, not simply manipulating the rules. CFESD advocates for quality of life and a human-scale city, with access for residents to sky, sunlight, parks, and open space.
Other lawsuits were successful.
In 2010, Lincoln Center razed its neighboring Damrosch Park, a New York City park, by destroying nearly all of the trees and removing the famous Dan Kiley gardens, in order for Fashion Week to take it over. Lincoln Center also closed the Park to the community for 10 months a year. CFESD forced Lincoln Center to restore and reopen the Park.
CFESD also forced the developers of what was known as the Trump Buildings on the Upper West Side to connect Riverside Drive to Riverside Boulevard, the road onto which many of these buildings open. Had the connection not been made, all traffic from West 59th to 72nd Street would have had to use West End Avenue, creating traffic havoc on WEA.
Most recently CFESD sought to stop the construction of the 688-foot tall super-tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue. After a well-attended Town Hall Meeting, CFESD retained George Janes, an urban planner, to challenge the Department of Buildings’ approval of the super-tower, and obtained the support of our elected officials and community organizations to sign onto the Challenge. The DOB stopped all work at the site (this is quite a feat) but then, without providing required disclosures or explaining its reasoning, DOB approved the work. CFESD then hired Frank Chaney, who filed an appeal with NYC’s Board of Standards and Appeals. The appeal focused on how the developer’s plan defied the norms of open space ratios, (providing insufficient open space), and misuses tax lots, resulting in a lot that the developer itself has described as “gerrymandered.” Using partial tax lots, the developer accumulated property surreptitiously. A 10,000squarefoot zoning lot became a 110,000squarefoot lot. This led to their claim to have the right to erect a building having over 350,000 square feet of floor space. The outrage doesn’t stop there. It is puffed up with floors that are 12, or even more, feet high. In this neighborhood ceilings are 8 and 10 feet high. The mechanics are on the roof, while in every other building in this neighborhood they are in the cellar. Its cellar holds amenities that don’t count against the allowable zoning floor area. “The sub-cellars will hold ‘virtual golf’ a yoga/stretching room, a gym, pool, sauna, heated lounge and salt room. The first and second floors will include stroller storage, conservatory, club room, social lounge, rehearsal room, dining, kid’s room and a “tween lounge.” YIMBY, September 27, 2016
The building looms over the PS 199 playground and school building, casting extensive new shadows.
On October 25, 2017, CFESD and MAS filed initial objections. On March 14, 2019 Supreme Court Judge Perry ruled that 200 Amsterdam was built on an illegal lot. He ordered the Department of Buildings to “revoke the permit and compel the owner to remove floors that exceed bulk permitted under the zoning resolution.”
SJP Properties appealed Judge Perry’s decision. After a year and half, the Appellate Division reversed the ruling. Their decision was not based on the substantive issue being challenged, but on ambiguities and the rank of City Agencies involved. Then our attorneys (Richard Emery, Katherine Rosenfeld, Sam Shapiro, Chuck Weinstock, Frank Chaney, Mike Hiller, Alan Gerson, John Low-Beer, and George Jane) appealed. We were joined by two separate amici briefs from Sierra Club and City Club. On March 3, 2020, the Department of Buildings issued a bulletin (ZR 12-10, “Definition of Zoning Lot”), which said, “… clarifying that a newly formed zoning lot may not consist of parts of tax lots.”
On September 9, 2021, with no explanation, the Court of Appeals refused to hear our appeal of the Appellate Division’s decision. The refusal came down from Albany, in spite of the DOB memo of 3/3/2020. The tallest, albeit illegal, building on the UWS was allowed to stand. How could the Court of Appeals not hear our case, given this memorandum?
CFESD did win a long-term victory for our city: partial zoning lots are forever banned. Only complete zoning lots can ever be used.
Meanwhile, courts have continued to support developers that abuse and exploit air rights, care nothing about the environment, cast neighborhoods in shadows, create unhealthy, dense communities and make unsafe working conditions for firefighters. Their decisions are misguided and wrong. CFESD will support community groups trying to protect their neighborhoods from overdevelopment.
If you support our work, we hope that you will donate by clicking the “Donate” button or sending a check to CFESD at P.O. Box 20464, Columbus Circle Station, New York, N.Y. 10023. Please mail donations of more than $100. CFESD is a 501(c)(3) organization and contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent permitted by law.
Executive Committee: Olive Freud, Cleo Dana, Thomas Caffrey, Judy Weinstein