Amid Proliferation Fears, UWS Skyscraper Challenged

The red-outlined zoning lot for the proposed development at 200 Amsterdam Avenue (in yellow) includes the building at 200 West End Avenue, at the corner of West 70th Street. | GEORGE JANES

BY JACKSON CHEN | Even as skyscraper construction creeps further north in Midtown, neighborhood organizations are taking a stand against what could be the tallest building on the Upper West Side by filing a formal zoning challenge.

At 668 feet tall and rising more than 50 stories, the proposed building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue would be the record-holder for height north of 60th Street, according to Landmark West!’s president Kate Wood.

The project, with Department of Buildings filings dating back to last September, is being undertaken by Mitsui Fudosan America and SJP Properties, whose website states there will be 112 “luxury residence units” with access to “state-of-the-art club-style interiors.” The towering building is slated for the former site of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, which has moved down the street to 180 Amsterdam Avenue.

A rendering of a new luxury residential tower planned for the Upper West Side. | ELKUS MANFREDI ARCHITECTS

At a May 3 town hall meeting, hundreds of residents came out to hear a critique of the project by George Janes, a zoning and land use consultant recently retained by the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, a West Side neighborhood group.

According to Janes, the developer’s claim to as-of-right authority to move ahead is enabled by the fact that it sits on a zoning lot that totals more than 110,000 square feet, allowing its staggering height. That zoning lot’s boundaries zigzag from Amsterdam to West End Avenues and from West 67th to 70th Streets in a configuration that Janes said he has never seen before.

Wood asserted that the unusual zoning lot shape has elicited strong reactions from other real estate industry professionals.

“Everyone who sees that who has been involved in land use, zoning, or real estate just gasped because it’s so outrageous,” she said. “It really does raise a question: If they’re going to allow that here, what other sort of aggressive interpretations are they going to allow on other sites?”

With work on the building foundation already underway, Janes and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development prepared a zoning challenge filed by the May 15 deadline to dispute the project’s legality. As he worked to finalize the papers, Janes said he was focused on two grounds for the challenge – the requirement that all properties within a zoning lot have accessibility to the open space created as part of the development and the legality of previous changes to the zoning lot’s boundaries.

Digging through old documents, Janes discovered that the existing zoning lot for 200 Amsterdam Avenue was created through two subdivisions, one around 2007 and more recently in 2016. Janes explained that the group he represents would challenge how each of those subdivisions was carried out.

On the question of open space accessibility, he pointed out that the project’s zoning lot also includes 200 West End Avenue, but its residents have said they do not have access to the 200 Amsterdam development project’s open space.

If both of those challenges prove unsuccessful, Janes said, there could be other legal avenues to pursue in blocking the project or requiring its modification.

The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development’s president, Olive Freud, said she hopes the group’s challenge will convince the developers to seek a more modest alternative to their current plans.

“We can’t stop it, they have a right to build in the area,” Freud said, explaining that the goal is to influence its final scope. The critical issue, she said, is preventing the project from setting a precedent that could be replicated throughout the neighborhood.

“This is just the beginning,” Freud said of the emergence of skyscraper development in the neighborhood. “If we ever let this building go up, it’s going to be all over the West Side.”

Representatives for SJP Properties could not be reached for comment.

One Response to Amid Proliferation Fears, UWS Skyscraper Challenged

  1. What bothers me more than the loss of some peoples unimpeded views is the terrible land use that Lincoln towers created in the name of slum clearance. They closed many streets creating one super lot that is closed off from the city. This idea was popular when NY was going through a tough period of high crime and decay. Half the land not built on was turned into parking lots. Think of how expensive and wasteful those spots are today. My god, the land would be better used for housing, even the one at 200 Amsterdam. Ironic how people who live in an anti city complex now get upset when the real city starts to get close. I hope someday they demolish the entire superblock and restore the city grid as it was meant to be. Not a Moses idea of what he felt NY needed.

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