200 amsterdam clears hurdle

| 03 Oct 2017 | 10:50

A controversial 668-foot residential tower is one step closer to rising over the Upper West Side following the Department of Buildings’ decision last week to lift a hold it had previously placed on the proposed project.

The proposed 55-story building at 200 Amsterdam Avenue has faced consistent opposition from a number of neighbors, community groups and elected officials, who claim that the design of the tower, which would be the tallest on the Upper West Side, does not align with the scale or context of the surrounding neighborhood.

The Department of Buildings placed a hold on the project in June, following a zoning challenge filed by the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development that cited various technical issues in the proposal, including that the open space used to justify the building’s exceptional height does not meet zoning requirements. The department lifted the hold September 26, paving the way for the project to move forward.

The proposed building’s height is based, in significant measure, on the large, irregularly shaped zoning lot on which it would sit, which opponents of the development have likened to a gerrymandered political district. Though the tower itself would occupy the former site of Lincoln Square Synagogue, near Amsterdam Avenue and 69th Street, its zoning lot — the size of which helps determine a building’s maximum size — is significantly larger than the proposed building’s footprint. Snaking in untidy fashion across much of the block, portions of the sprawling 110,000-square-foot zoning lot front 70th Street, West End Avenue and West End Avenue.

In July, the Department of Buildings issued a notice of objections and an intent to revoke “to verify the open space ratio and that the zoning lot was properly formed.” After the hold was lifted last week, a Department of Buildings spokesperson said that the developer had supplied the necessary additional information and zoning calculations to support the approval and resolve the Department of Buildings’ objections. The spokesperson noted that no changes to the structural plans for the building were required to resolve the objections. After the hold was lifted, the applicant refiled the permit application for the project and the Department of Buildings issued a new building permit.

Details regarding the applicant’s responses to the Department of Buildings’ objections had not been posted to the department’s website as of press time.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, whose district includes the site of the proposed tower, has criticized the project and joined in support of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development’s zoning challenge. Rosenthal issued a statement objecting to the Department of Buildings’ decision to lift the halt on the project, stating that the questions raised in the challenge “simply have not been answered to my satisfaction.”

“When this proposal was filed, it failed to include even the necessary facts and figures pertaining to its compliance with Open Space requirements,” Rosenthal said in the statement. “This was highlighted in the Committee’s challenge and led to the audit and the issuance of the Notice of Intent to Revoke. That information has apparently finally been provided. But the substantive concerns about the proposal’s bizarre, gerrymandered zoning have not been addressed.”

Olive Freud, the president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, said that the committee plans to file an appeal with the Department of Buildings and, if necessary, with the Board of Standards and Appeals.

George M. Janes, a planning consultant who filed the zoning challenge on the group’s behalf, said that the appeals process could take months to play out. “That’s precious time lost,” Janes said. “There’s no stop work order, so the applicants can continue building the building.”

Freud said that Committee for Environmentally Sound Development would seek administrative relief through all available avenues. “If this 600-footer goes up, it sets precedence going all the way north on Broadway and Amsterdam and Columbus,” Freud said. “It’s horrible. Everyone on the West Side needs to be concerned about this.”