From high-rise to low-rise? Judge orders NYC tower cut down to size

From high-rise to low-rise? Ju...
200 Amsterdam is still under construction but is nearing completion and reached its maximum height back in August 2019
200 Amsterdam is still under construction but is nearing completion and reached its maximum height back in August 2019
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200 Amsterdam is still under construction but is nearing completion and reached its maximum height back in August 2019
200 Amsterdam is still under construction but is nearing completion and reached its maximum height back in August 2019

200 Amsterdam, by Elkus Manfredi Architects, is a residential skyscraper that reaches a maximum height of 668 ft (203.6 m) on Manhattan's Upper West Side. However, this may not be the case for much longer, as a State Supreme Court judge has declared that it must be partially dismantled.

It's a complicated situation, but put simply, the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CFESD) and the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) brought a court case against the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), arguing that the unusual 39-sided plot the tower is situated in is in violation of zoning laws and should never have been approved.

New York County Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry agreed and has now ordered the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals to compel developer Amsterdam Avenue Redevelopment Associates to remove enough floors to bring the building into compliance. How many floors will actually end up being removed is not yet clear but the New York Times reports it could be as many as 20.

"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," says Olive Freud, President of the CFESD. "Any New Yorker walking past 200 Amsterdam today can tell this building is grossly out of scale with the neighborhood. The BSA and Department of Buildings failed to hold this project accountable, leaving us no choice but to go to court."

Naturally, reducing the height of a skyscraper is going to be a massively complex and expensive undertaking and a statement from Amsterdam Avenue Redevelopment Associates confirms that the decision will be fought tooth and nail.

"[The recent] ruling is a shocking loss for New York City and its residents. It defies more than 40 years of precedent in the city’s zoning laws. It also ignores the thoughtful decision of the DOB to grant the permit which was upheld by the BSA following exhaustive document review and testimony over a two-year period. Both of those decisions recognized that retroactively applying new interpretations of the city’s zoning to previously approved projects undermines the stability of the regulatory environment needed to support the investment that is critical to New York City’s economy, tax base, housing stock and services. We will appeal this decision vigorously in court and are confident that we, and the City, will prevail on the merits."

That said, the situation isn't entirely unprecedented. Back in 1991 the New York Times also reported on a developer that was forced to remove 12 floors of a high-rise.

Sources: MAS, Amsterdam Avenue Redevelopment Associates

It's been not uncommon in NYC history for developers to simply add more floors or more apartments than listed on the plans approved by the zoning commission or the building department. Usually it's just a slap on the wrist and a variance.

But there's a reason for those rules in terms of urban livability, and I have no sympathy for the developers. (Here, they're trying to get out of the many millions of dollars they will owe people to whom they've sold illegal apartments that may be worthless even if not disassembled.)
The builders have spent a great deal of money based on the approval of the city's board. This should constitute a contract, especially since the zoning rules are completely arbitrary. The two groups who brought the suit don't have standing anyway. Readers not from NY should also be advised that in New York, a "Supreme Court" is not at all supreme. In NY, "supreme" is a synonym for "not that high, kinda ordinary". Hopefully, this capricious decision will be overturned.
The plan was submitted as it now stands. Maybe payoffs, maybe not BUT this is ridiculous.
Brian M
Does beg the question why didn't they bring the case when the building was approved?
@Brian M:

It's quite plausible that the organizations have been trying to stop the building since it was announced. Courts are not fast in NYC. And unless the building department was willing to issue a stop-work order, construction would simply proceed. (The developer, of course, argues against the issuance of a stop-work order because of the money it would cost to hold onto the property without building on it, and then argues against sanctions once the case is decided because, well, there the building is, it would be wrong to modify it.)
686 feet represents what? 45 floors? For a non NYC resident it's like, what the big deal? There are buildings much taller in Manhattan. At this point, lopping off 20 floors that have already been built is kinda dumb. They should've nipped it in the bud when the permits were handed out.