Condo Fatigue on the Upper West Side

Residents on the Upper West Side have by no means been shy about their opposition to new developments that they consider conflict with the space’s prewar sensibilities. The neighborhood’s newest actual property battles embody three luxurious condos which have prompted petitions, opposition teams and lawsuits.

Preservationists argue that the proposed towers merely don’t belong in an space recognized for its stately prewar residence buildings and townhouses. They additionally take difficulty with the approach builders have taken benefit of loopholes in the zoning code to maximise the peak of their initiatives and consequently their earnings.

The three contested buildings embody: a 69-story apartment at 50 West 66th Street the place building has been stalled by authorized challenges since 2019; a 52-story apartment at 200 Amsterdam the place a choose ordered the developer final yr to take away the high 20 flooring, however is now slated to open at full peak this summer season; and a 20-story cantilevered constructing on 91st Street that neighbors oppose for its mass and design.

Despite the lawsuits and protests, to this point, the builders appear to be profitable.

From the perspective of Sean Khorsandi, govt director of the neighborhood preservation group Landmark West, all three buildings “run cross grain to the fabric of the neighborhood.”

“Together,” he mentioned, “they underscore an underlying disregard for context and community while spotlighting the many loopholes in our zoning resolution and the failure of city agencies to uphold zoning intent.”

50 West 66th Street

The proposed 775-foot tower at 50 West 66th Street would possible grow to be the tallest constructing on the Upper West Side, however building was halted after the basis was poured a while in 2019. The metropolis’s Department of Buildings ordered the developer, Extell Development, to take down a crane final month that had stood silent there for practically two years.

Located half a block from Central Park and inside the Special Lincoln Square District, it will be close to different tall buildings, however its peak can be rivaled solely by Extell’s different initiatives under the park on Billionaire’s Row: One57, a 75-story condominium, is 1,004 toes, and its subsequent door neighbor, the brand-new Central Park Tower, is 1,550 toes.

Upper West Siders have objected to Extell’s obvious march northward and to the 66th Street constructing’s design. Extell pushed the peak to 775 toes by creating mechanical areas with unusually excessive ceilings, often known as voids, which might not depend towards a constructing’s most peak, thus permitting the developer to extend the constructing’s general peak, and due to this fact the worth of the higher flooring.

In 2016, Extell submitted a allow software for a constructing that will be 262 toes tall, a peak extra consistent with the space. The developer subsequently pieced collectively 5 completely different parcels to increase the constructing web site and likewise bought air rights from a close-by armory. Then in the summer season of 2018, Extell submitted a revised design through which Snøhetta, an Oslo-based structure agency, included a large, 160-foot mechanical void on the 18th flooring of the constructing, in addition to two different smaller mechanical voids, so as to obtain a peak of 775 toes.

Chris Giordano, president of the West 64th-67th Street Block Association, known as it a bait-and-switch. “Even if you take away the issue of shadows on your neighborhood and a skyline scarred by a building that’s too tall,” he mentioned, “we still find it to be immoral. We want there to be reasonable development, but that’s not what they’re doing.”

Two teams, Landmark West and the City Club of New York, a nonprofit centered on sensible city improvement, filed challenges with the Board of Standards and Appeals, opposing the voids and arguing that the constructing’s peak introduced a hazard for the metropolis’s hearth division. Each problem moved on to the state Supreme Court, the place City Club argued and gained its case (which Extell is now attempting to attraction) and Landmark West is awaiting a court docket date to argue its newest attraction.

When the metropolis’s Department of Buildings requested Extell to amend its design in the spring of 2019, the developer got here again with a proposal that also contains three mechanical areas that collectively scale back the complete peak for mechanical areas by simply 16 toes, from 192 to 176 toes.

The opposition teams are claiming at the least a partial victory out of this persevering with saga: In 2019, the New York City Council voted to shut the zoning loophole that allowed extreme voids.

“This isn’t nipping it in the bud, but it is making it a little more difficult,” Mr. Khorsandi mentioned. “Billionaire’s Row is 15 years old now, and people are just now starting to wise up to what’s happening there,” he mentioned. “They’re bogarting the sky and pushing away the public.”

200 Amsterdam

At 200 Amsterdam, a 52-story condominium on 69th Street, the builders bought unused improvement rights not simply from adjoining buildings however from a number of neighboring tons, making a 39-sided zoning lot that critics described as “gerrymandered” to get the 668-foot peak they wished.

SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America have spent the final two years in court docket and seem to have gained out. The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and the Municipal Arts Society of New York, which filed the authentic lawsuit in 2018, claimed that the constructing must be scaled down since the authentic zoning lot wouldn’t permit such a tall constructing. In February 2020, a State Supreme Court choose sided with the group organizations and ordered the developer to take away the high 20 flooring.

But the builders appealed and gained a reprieve final March. Both group teams, backed by many native public officers, have filed one other attraction, however regardless of the ongoing authorized battle, the challenge is predicted to open to residents this summer season. One of the 10 penthouses, priced at $17.5 million, offered this spring.

“If they get away with it, that means they can do anything,” mentioned Olive Freud, founding father of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development. “The decision could affect an awful lot of housing in New York from here on out.”

The Upper West Side is one in every of the most in-demand and costly housing markets in the metropolis, however due to its compact location between two main parks, there may be little room for brand new building. What is beneath building now although, in accordance with Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal agency, is harking back to a interval in the 1980s when many builders rushed to construct on the Upper West Side and sought out websites exterior the neighborhood’s historic districts.

“What’s different this time is that we have towers that are contrasting the existing skyline,” he mentioned. “The developer can rationalize the size because they’re able to build higher and have more apartments with more views.”


Other new condominium developments convey extra modest modifications to the neighborhood’s skyline. Broadway’s industrial hall, for instance, will probably be dotted with practically a dozen new buildings, most of which is able to hover at about 200 toes tall, or 20 tales, which is allowed by the present zoning.

The Era condominium, at 91st Street and Broadway, sparked native debate final yr over its cantilever design. Some neighbors consider it isn’t suitable with the Upper West Side’s extra classical structure. Credit…Rendering by MOSO Studio

The most controversial design on this group is Era, the 20-story cantilevered constructing at 91st Street, the place the builders, Adam America Real Estate and Northlink Capital, bought air rights over the property subsequent door to construct wider as an alternative of taller.

The constructing, which topped out in June, could have 57 models starting from two- to five-bedrooms when it opens subsequent spring. The challenge was designed by ODA New York, and could have outsized home windows framed by angled limestone blocks — a nod to the use of limestone on different space buildings.

Eran Chen, a longtime Upper West Sider and the founder and govt director of ODA, mentioned that the cantilever permits for extra flats to be included at the high of the constructing versus the typical tower cake building, the place the constructing narrows because it ascends. “We’re creating a new typology for New York City,” he mentioned, calling it “inverted living.”

In early 2020, a neighborhood petition made the rounds, amassing over 350 signatures towards the cantilever design. Wayne Kabak, a spokesman for the Cantilever Opposition Group, mentioned, “We basically feel it’s an eyesore that doesn’t fit within the look of a neighborhood that’s mostly defined by classical architecture.”

When requested about criticism of the design, Omri Sachs, co-founder of Adam America and a neighborhood resident himself, mentioned, “I do think people jumped to conclusions in this case. Yes, the building is bold architecturally but it does blend into the street and is contextual. Sometimes it’s a question of aesthetics.”

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