Construction is progressing quickly at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, where a 51-story, 668-foot tall skyscraper will soon rise. When first announced, the building was to become the tallest skyscraper on the Upper West Side. That title was lost when Extell announced plans for 50 West 66th Street, a particularly striking 775-foot tall residential building designed by Snøhetta. But even the area’s second-tallest is too much for local NIMBYs, and with excavation work on the project now making rapid headway, opponents have begun engaging in increasingly deranged efforts to hoist a wall of red-tape around the southern blocks of the Upper West Side.
News of the worsening absurdity first broke March 9th, when assistant general counsel of the DOB, Michael Zoltan, wrote to the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that the DOB’s approval of building permits for 200 Amsterdam was founded on an inaccurate interpretation of zoning lot rules. The confusion came from an old memo that was in the process of being revoked, meaning the approval was legal at the time of processing.
The error was revealed in an extensive review and rigorous audit of 200 Amsterdam’s zoning lot composition, spearheaded by outraged local NIMBYs. After admitting error, Zoltan requested that the Board affirm the DOB’s ruling regardless, on the basis that “the Department is prohibited from acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” In other words, since approvals were already granted, the DOB is limited from intervening, as it could rightfully be interpreted as cherry-picking, which could have larger implications for the city’s economic and real estate community.
According to Westside Rag, attorney Frank E. Chaney of Rosenberg & Estis is preparing to appeal the approval of the permit with the BSA at a public hearing. It is an unusual situation where the DOB has admitted an error. However, with an hourly retainer likely at stake and wealthy regressive NIMBYs capable of footing whatever the eventual legal bill may be, the battle will apparently continue. Chaney told WSR the following:
As it stands now, the DOB basically agrees with our argument that the definition of a zoning lot was incorrectly interpreted by the DOB in prior rulings,” he explained, “that zoning lots should not consist of bits and pieces of various tax lots as 200 Amsterdam does. But they still think the building permit should not be revoked, because it wasn’t incorrect when they approved the zoning lot.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke with WSR, saying, “I don’t think there’s ever been a case where the developer has so deliberately flaunted the intent of the Zoning Resolution in order to build what would be the tallest building on the UWS,” she said. “It seem to us that 200 Amsterdam is arbitrary and capricious. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t correct a mistake and not make an even bigger mess. There’s a mountain of evidence that justifies changing the interpretation right now.”
Brewer has previously prevented new schools from being built on the Upper West Side, so keeping out new residents should hardly be a surprising goal for a politician whose reign has been premised on ensuring Manhattan’s housing and education system become increasingly exclusionary.
While tyranny of the minority is an increasingly prevalent problem in American democracy, turning the blocks of a neighborhood that has traditionally welcomed newcomers into something that is quite the opposite is more impactful than vague promises for walls along the border with Mexico. Though the building stock of 200 Amsterdam may be rather high-end, the same principal is extended by NIMBYs to any new developments, and the real rhetoric against outsiders and newcomers from residents of the Upper West Side is more impactful than the tentative plans for border walls that are bantered about in Washington. In this regard, New York is as bad or worse than any Red State when it comes to truly “deplorable” political behavior.
Arguments against 200 Amsterdam are a weak attempt by a group of ignorant moneyed regressives to derail a new development. While these NIMBY groups will ultimately meet the inevitable fate of demographic obsolescence within the next decade or two, it seems the intervening years will entail fights with increasingly bold mini-tyrants like Brewer.
Fortunately, the hot air of hatred has been no obstacle to excavation, which continues apace, and the first pilings are also being laid. Elkus Manfredi Architects is responsible for the building’s design, with CetraRuddy responsible for interiors.
Once complete, the project will bring an estimated seven million dollars per year in property taxes. Opening is expected by 2020.