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17 May 2017
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The Devil is in the Details

A newly-proposed tower on the Upper West Side is set to be that neighborhood’s tallest building.  Since the plan was introduced, it has faced strong opposition from residents, organizations, and politicians.

The old Lincoln Square Synagogue at 200 Amsterdam Avenue had been empty since its congregation moved to a new location down the block.  In 2015, the lot was bought by SJP Properties, which soon thereafter released plans to tear down the synagogue and build a 51-story tower in its place.  This new development will contain 112 apartments, as well as other luxurious amenities.  Hauntingly, this tower will rise to 666 feet.

Opposition to the new “200 Amsterdam” first came from the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, which filled a challenge to the proposal with the Department of Buildings (DOB).  Soon, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Helen Rosenthal joined in the outcry—literally.  Ms. Brewer and Ms. Rosenthal organized a rally in protest of the tower, which was held on March 16th.  Due to the recognition stirred up by such public opposition, many locals have now started voicing their disapproval on social media.  The critics present two main arguments: first, that the height of the building is grossly inappropriate for the surrounding area; second, that SJP has manipulated zoning regulations to justify the height of the building.

SJP points out that it is not violating any zoning laws, which is true.  Zoning regulations are largely based upon the amount of square-footage incorporated in a lot.  The larger the lot, the higher the building can be.  The proposed tower would sit on approximately 10,000 square feet of land, which would normally limit its height to roughly 7 stories, if it took up the entire space.  However, SJP has slowly been buying unused air space from neighboring buildings, accumulating around 100,000 square feet of adjacent land.  This means that the building, occupying only 10,000 square feet of ground-space, can actually afford to be up to 70 stories tall.

Despite the opposition from certain sources, developers find SJP’s ingenuity inspiring.  So much so, in fact, that it has led other companies, such as DDG, to start similar projects in other parts of Manhattan.  DDG is specifically mentioned here because its project also faced strong opposition, but it eventually won the support of the DOB.  It was, after all, the initial challenge to the DOB issued by the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development that brought SJP’s project into the spotlight.  Though the outcome is still unclear, and strong arguments exist for both sides, SJP has already begun demolition of the old Lincoln Square Synagogue, and is prepared to start construction in the near future.

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