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Judge Orders Developer to Chop 20 Stories from Condo Tower

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Zoning laws, air rights, condo tower, dismantling top of building, state Supreme Court.

The top 20 stories of this nearly complete condo tower might be dismantled (image via Google Maps).

Feb. 19, 2020

In this soft real-estate market, we’ve all heard about the condo price chop. Now comes the condo top chop.

In a closely watched case, a state Supreme Court judge has ordered the developers of a nearly completed 668-foot luxury condo tower on the Upper West Side to take the extraordinary step of removing 20 or more floors from the top of the building, the New York Times reports.

“We’re elated,” says Olive Freud, the president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, one of the community groups that brought the suit on the grounds that the developers used a zoning loophole to create the tallest building on the West Side north of 61st Street. A lawyer representing the project said the developers would appeal the decision.

Justice W. Franc Perry has ordered the Department of Buildings to revoke the building permit for the tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue near West 69th Street and remove all floors that exceed the zoning limit. Exactly how many floors might need to be deconstructed has yet to be determined, but under one interpretation of the law, the building might have to remove 20 floors or more from the 52-story tower to conform with the regulation.

The question at the heart of the suit was whether the developers had abused zoning rules to justify the project’s size. It’s common for developers to purchase the unused development rights of adjacent buildings to add height and bulk to their project. Witness Billionaires’ Row. But in this case, opponents of the project argued that the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, created a “gerrymandered,” highly unusual 39-sided zoning lot to take advantage of the development rights from a number of tenuously connected lots. Without this technique, the tower might have been little more than 20 stories tall, instead of the nearly finished 52-story tower that now stands.

“The way this zoning lot was constructed has been invalidated, and that is extremely important,” says Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York, one of the advocacy groups that brought the suit against the project.

What comes next is unclear. While further litigation would effectively postpone any disassembly of the tower, sales at the luxury condo would also be held up. Marketing is well under way for the 112 luxury apartments, and the most expensive units are on the top floors – including a $21 million penthouse, which would likely vanish if the court ruling stands.

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