View of the contentious Upper West Side luxury residential skyscraper designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects. All images courtesy of 200 Amsterdam.

The saying goes, “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” but a lawsuit between a New York City high-rise development and Upper West Side community groups could leave the former at a loss for 20 stories of already-constructed luxury condos.

The 668-foot tower at 200 Amsterdam was poised to be the tallest building on the West Side, and pushed forward with plans for the 52-story building, despite protests and legal action from opposing community groups from the onset. As reported by the New York Times, there were claims that the developers used a zoning loophole, creating an irregular 39-sided zoning lot in order to access the unused development rights of as many adjacent properties as possible — stretching what would have otherwise been a roughly 20-story structure to more than twice that size.

In a surprising ruling last week, the NY State Supreme Court agreed with the opposition to the development, as Justice W. Franc Perry issued the order that the Department of Buildings revoke the building permit for the tower and compelled the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, to remove all floors that exceed the zoning limit. This could result in the removal of as many as 20 stories of the structure, though lawyers for the defendants have already said they will appeal the decision.

View of the 200 Amsterdam tower, which would be the tallest structure on the Upper West Side, if allowed to stand as completed.

“The developers knew that they were building at their own peril,” Richard D. Emery, a lawyer representing the community groups that challenged the project, told the Times. For their part, the development team is already pushing back against the ruling and the publicity surrounding the snafu.

“This ruling is a shocking loss for New York City and its residents,” reads a statement supplied to Hyperallgeric by representatives of the 200 Amsterdam project. “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.”

Whether the triumph of community members over the glass giant will hold up under the weight of property law — many pages of which was also supplied to Hyperallergic by Paul Selver of Kramer Levin, one of the attorneys representing the development team — remains to be seen. Selver argues, among other things, that this interpretation of the zoning law will threaten the security of future investors, as well as affecting the zoning of six residential buildings on the block that are already in existence, and “effectively invalidates the certificate of occupancy of the Lincoln Square Synagogue.” One has to wonder, considering the legal pyrotechnics that will continue to ensue, at what point it becomes cheaper to just take 20 stories off the building.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...