Housing Policy

Judge Rules Developers Must Remove Up to 20 Existing Floors From Manhattan Condo Tower

Two non-profit groups argued that developers had been improperly awarded a building permit for a 112-unit condo building on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

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NIMBY ("not in my backyard") activists often stop housing from being built. Anti-development groups in New York City might achieve the rare feat of tearing down already existing housing.

Last Thursday, New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry ruled that up to 20 floors would have to be removed from a nearly complete 112-unit condo building in Manhattan.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by two community groups who accused the developers of the tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue of abusing city zoning laws to construct a building that was horribly out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

"We hope this decision will be a signal to the development industry that the days of flouting the zoning code in search of greater heights and bigger profits is over," said Olive Freud, president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD), one of the community groups that brought the suit, in a press release.

"The directive to partially demolish the building is appropriate given the willingness of the developer to ignore every sign that their project was inappropriately scaled for the neighborhood," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society, another plaintiff.

In April 2018, the two groups sued the developers of the project—a joint venture by SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America—arguing that they had inappropriately assembled partial lots of land in order to get the rights to construct a larger building.

New York City's zoning code allows developers to build taller, denser buildings on a piece of land provided they also preserve open space on adjacent lots.

According to the complaint from CFESD and the Art Society, the developers patched together a string of tenuously connected parcels of land in order to get enough open space to enable them to build their project.

The size of the new building, they argued in their lawsuit, "would fundamentally transform the character of this historic neighborhood, casting long shadows over the streets and nearby buildings, and further crowding sidewalks that are less navigable every year."

In 2017, the city's Department of Buildings issued the developers a permit for a 55-story building. CFESD and the Art Society appealed that permit to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which twice affirmed that the Amsterdam Avenue project was legal.

Thursday's decision thus came as a shock to the developers, who hadn't paused construction during the legal challenge, and who've already been marketing units that may now have to be dismantled, according to The New York Times.

A lawyer for the developers told the Times that they would be appealing the decision.

New York City, like many growing coastal metros, has been adding lots of jobs post-recession, but not enough new housing units to accommodate all these workers. The result is rising rents and home prices for those who can still afford to live in the city, and longer commutes for those who can't.

Building new housing is necessary to ensure that New York can continue to be a dynamic city where employers and workers can afford to locate. That includes pricey, luxury developments like the Amsterdam Avenue project. New research suggests that higher-end units take the pressure off housing at the lower ends of the market, making housing more affordable for everyone.

By actively seeking to destroy existing housing, groups like CFESD and the Art Society are making the city a less affordable, less dynamic place.

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  1. Those two groups did post a bond equal to the potential lost earnings if they lose, right?

    1. Why would they do that?

      The appellant is the one who posts bond on an appeal.

  2. “the developers patched together a string of tenuously connected parcels of land in order to get enough open space to enable them to build their project.”

    Sort of like redistricting?

  3. Michael Bloomberg approves!

  4. Fuck with them – remove the bottom 20 floors.

    1. Build on the sides like tumors. The complaints say nothing about it looking ugly.

  5. Let me guess, those who sued already had their places under rent control, so they will never feel the pain of housing shortages. They got theirs, fuck everyone else. Keep Manhattan unlivable!

  6. You don’t abuse the law. The building either complies with the code or it doesn’t. If it does, then these people have no case. If it doesn’t, then they should have brought their case when the building permit was issued. Unless this building was built without a permit and with no public notice, which I seriously doubt, then the groups problem is with the city who issued the permit not with the builders.

    Even if it is in violation of the code, that doesn’t mean the right remedy is tearing it down.

    1. If the floors are illegals, shouldn’t they be sent back to where they came from?

    2. Mu understanding is the legal issues were on-going from the beginning. They went ahead and built anyway without a clear indication the courts would permit the building. So, no a lot of sympathy for the builders.

      1. That’s what I read too — the developers chose to go ahead with the clear warning that they might have to back track if they chose poorly.

        Stupid zoning is stupid, but these guys were in the game and made a bet which just came due.

      2. I agree with you no sympathy for the builders. If I were the builders I would be suing the lawyers that told them to just go ahead with the build. They might have suggested they could win the case and if so the lawyers were wrong. If they went ahead with the build without checking with their lawyers, they are just plain stupid.

      3. One thing. The builders had been granted the permit and won multiple appeals already. With court cases able to stretch out years or even decades, your solution is tantamount to waiting an eternity until a case is decided with prejudice.

    3. That would be a sensible position if the permitting process was a matter of objective criteria. But as is so often the case in the places with the worst housing supply problems, whether or not the project complies with regulation is in the discretion of the beholder. This kind of post facto attack is unusual, but there’s no legal theory that bars it from happening.

  7. We can’t have our urban centers losing their rustic appeal. I’d be willing to bet that the protesters believe that city living is proper living.

    1. New York is where they’d rather stay
      They get allergic smelling hay
      They just adore a penthouse view
      Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue

  8. Property rights? What are those?

  9. I’m sure there’s going to be an appeal by the builders. The appeal is going to be to the two terrorist non-profit groups: “We’ll give you these big bags of money if you drop your case. Or we’re naming Hillary Clinton to our board of directors.” I don’t know what 20 floors of a Manhattan condo building are worth, but I’m sure it would be enough for me to start thinking of how much it would cost to arrange a series of unfortunate accidents.

  10. “…to construct a building that was horribly out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.”

    NO!!!!
    Not ‘out of scale’! How dare those scheming bastards? Next thing you know, they’ll paint it some color which doesn’t harmonize with the buildings on either side!

    1. Cover it with monitors and cameras so that when you’re looking at it, all you see are the buildings on the other side.

      1. InvisaBuild!

      2. And they’re worried about shadows. 50 million lumen spot lights should fix it. Of course, we’re leaving those in at night. The wind may accidentally point them at the NIMBY houses around 2am.

  11. So what happens if the developers finish the building anyway? I mean, what can the court do to actually enforce that order? Fine them? That’ll just get figured into the rents.

    1. The court could — and likely would — order the building razed.

      And, if circumstances warrant, impose contempt penalties on the relevant entities and persons.

    2. Explicit contempt of court like that? The people who gave the order could get arrested.

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  13. This means they can cram housing into those “tenuously connected” adjacent parcels that they were going to leave open to get the height variance right?

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  15. So 112 stories is “inappropriately scaled for the neighborhood” but 92 stories is OK?

    1. 112 units, 55 stories.

      Lopping off the top 20 stories would likely give you something around 70 units over 35 stories. Perhaps less, perhaps more. I would guess that the top several floors of a 55-story building has much more desirable (and expensive!) penthouse units compared to its 35-story counterpart.

  16. The leader of the NIMBY group is named Olive Freud. I wonder what her famous predecessor would say about her wanting to shorten the long, rigid object being erected nearby.

  17. This is housing only in the sense that wealthy people will buy it to say they own a place in manhatten and visit once a year

    I do not know if this building really stretched the codes, but it has been going on for some time, and is one of many where developers push the rules around.

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  19. We sure could use some people like Vito Corleone again. Guys like him could get things done.

  20. This is a perfect example of why progressives must be stopped. They will destroy anything they can get away with. They are experts at what I call social barratry – they use the system to destroy itself. I’ve been victimized by them http://theviews.org/boulder-county.html .

    They’re one reason for my sig:

    Atlas Shrugged was supposed to be a warning, Not A Newspaper!

    1. Aw, gee you are ridiculously unaware of local zoning laws and it cost you the preferred location for your luxury house, gee, I feel, so, sniff, so…..Oh wait. I don’t feel anything

      In a libertarian utopia you would have built your mcmansion and they promptly would have built a lead smelting plant next door

  21. Michael Bloomberg said that He will sale all his firms if He became next president. and now we have another building for sale. Manhattan is always great place to see luxury condos.

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  23. I live next to that building.
    The resistance is coming from retirees in the neighborhood who have nothing better to do than complain.
    This is the NYC equivalent of “get off my lawn you whipper snappers”.
    There are plenty of other tall buildings in the neighborhood, so not completely out of line actually.
    “character of this historic neighborhood”, that’s a laugh, there’s no historic character at all. It’s just apartment towers everywhere.
    “cast a shadow”, it’s NYC, every building casts a shadow, get over it!
    NYC is short on housing and these developers have brought a beautiful new building to the neighborhood, hopefully nice restaurants will follow.

    I say Let them build!

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