New York City’s local communities may be getting the “breath of fresh air” (and ray of sunshine) they have been fighting for over recent years. Supertall development at the Upper West Side’s 200 Amsterdam Avenue site and along the Two Bridges neighborhood’s waterfront has currently come to a halt. This success comes with legislative recognition of corrupt developers and municipal organizations, such as the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), twisting and bending zoning law to fit their ostentatious and irresponsible financial needs. However, it is not the city government that has come to see the error in this insensitive development. Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials still pander to big development, taking handouts and turning a blind eye at the expense of their citizens.
These most recent successes in the fight against supertall development actually came from New York State Supreme Court rulings. Vested community groups are suing developers and city organizations in the State Supreme Court, arguing that they plan to profit from these zoning loopholes at the community’s expense. The judges, who are simply tasked with responsibly interpreting the law and properly enforcing it, are not swayed by the economic or political agendas that are guiding city officials. In turn, they are siding with the people of New York, those fighting to protect our human scale city. In these cases, the fight has been led by community groups who support responsible development, such as the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (CESD) in the case of 200 Amsterdam and Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON), among others, for the Two Bridges development.
200 Amsterdam has been an incredibly contentious addition to the Upper West Side since its zoning lot was first sculpted pursuant to co-op sales in the 1980’s. Throughout the entirety of its planning, design, and construction process, the building has faced community opposition that has developed into challenges with various city organization, most notably the DOB and the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). Community members question the legality of the building’s gerrymandered 39-sided zoning lot, which collects various other buildings’ air rights and allows for its exorbitant height. While the corrupt nature of these city institutions caused the communities claims to initially sputter and fail, MAS and CESD took their case with SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, the developers behind 200 Amsterdam, to the State Supreme Court. Judge W. Franc Perry revoked the city’s building permit for the recently topped out 668 foot tower. It is rumored that up to twenty floors of this building may need to be removed from the design and ultimately deconstructed.
The Two Bridges development is intended to comprise four towers, wildly higher than their local context. The first tower, One Manhattan Square, was completed in 2019 and stands at 847 feet at 247 Cherry Street. Designed by Adamson Associates Architects and developed by Extell Development, this building’s story, and that of the entire Two Bridges tower development, began when JDS Development Group filled plans for a 1,008-foot tower on the site in 2014. Since, ownership of the site has changed hands and plans have slightly diminished, but until recently, three more towers over 700 feet tall were planned adjacent to the completed Extell building along the East River. LESON, among other community lead groups, has continued to fight the development of these towers since their proposal, arguing to the City Planning Commission that the proposed developments do not abide by the city’s zoning policy regarding “large-scale residential developments.” While these complaints were purposefully ignored on a city level and permits had been given for the remaining towers, State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron recently nullified the City Planning Commissions approval in the case brought forth by LESON. The fate of the final three towers in Two Bridges is uncertain.
It seems that the tide is turning in the fight against contextually blind, luxury, residential high-rises. Currently, Landmark West! is awaiting a decision from the BSA concerning its challenge of the proposed tower, also developed by Extell, at 50 West 66th Street.