Back to Work They Go

City files appeal backing developer of 200 Amsterdam project, allowing work to continue

09 Mar 2020 | 01:29

A slew of Manhattan politicians had to cut their victory lap short last week when their proclaimed triumph over the 200 Amsterdam project proved to be fleeting.

In February, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered that 20 floors be lopped of the 55-story Upper West Side tower because it violated city zoning laws. But the city has chosen to back the developer and filed an appeal in the case. By appealing, the government has been granted a stay in the judge’s ruling, meaning the developers can continue work on the 668-foot building, which has already topped out.

The city is not appealing the substance of Judge Franc Perry’s ruling, which said a zoning lot could not consist of partial tax lots. In fact, the Department of Buildings closed that loophole last week before filing its appeal. Rather, the city is appealing based on jurisdiction, saying the court should not be the final arbiter of this decision.

“We closed the loophole that allowed the developers of 200 Amsterdam to legally gerrymander a 39-sided zoning lot to construct a luxury tower,” City Hall spokesperson Jane Meyer said in a statement. “Now, we are challenging the judge’s ruling that the building violated zoning laws. It is the City’s responsibility to fix flawed policy — not the Court’s — and we must appeal this decision because of its far-reaching implications for how policy is shaped.”

The DOB’s rule change also excludes the 200 Amsterdam project, saying that this would not affect projects with permits issued before the change.

Paul Server, one of the attorneys representing the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan, said the court ruling had gone against decades of precedent.

“The court ignored all of that,” said Server. “The court basically blew it off.”

He added that by going against this precedent, the ruling makes the development process in the city uncertain.

“I think it is very, very unhelpful to people who have to advise owners, builders, real estate folks who come into New York, or who are in New York, who are looking to buy a piece of property, because if we cannot rely on 40 years of buildings department conduct and interpretation, what can we rely on?” said Server. “What do we tell our clients?”

"It Defies Reason"

The elected officials who were celebrating the court’s edict again stood in unison, issuing a joint statement saying the de Blasio administration’s decision to appeal was “shocking” and “disappointing,” especially in light of DOB’s rule change.

“It defies reason for the Administration to fight a court order which affirms its own correction of its initially flawed process,” read the statement, which was released by Congressman Jerry Nadler, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Assemblymembers Linda Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

In a separate interview, Brewer said the developers have not only continued work on the building, but have been trying to sell apartments.

“That’s pretty bold,” Brewer said, adding that by doing so, the developer has now made this a consumer issue as well.

In response, Brewer sent the DOB a stop work order as well as a letter to New York State Attorney General Leticia James. In the letter to the attorney general, Brewer asks for a review of whether potential buyers had been given all of the correct information and whether any or all sales that have taken place so far are valid. Additionally, Brewer asked whether apartments could continue to be sold, given the court’s decision.

Regardless of the city’s actions, it’s not an issue Brewer is likely to drop.

“It’s absolutely the real estate story,” she said. “You can be at the fanciest event and someone will whisper in your ear, ‘Are you taking down 20 stories?’ And I say, yes.”

The elected officials who were celebrating the court’s edict again stood in unison, issuing a joint statement saying the de Blasio administration’s decision to appeal was “shocking” and “disappointing.”