City closes “loophole” that developers exploit to build towers

Clarification comes as war over 200 Amsterdam Avenue intensifies

200 Amsterdam (Credit:
200 Amsterdam (Credit:

UPDATED March 2, 2020, 6:33 p.m.: The Department of Buildings on Monday said newly formed zoning lots cannot consist of partial tax lots, settling an issue that has dominated a contentious case over a condo development at 200 Amsterdam Avenue.

The clarification — issued in a sparsely worded bulletin — is effective immediately and is not retroactive, said Jane Meyer, the deputy press secretary at the mayor’s office. That means it won’t apply to the Amsterdam Avenue tower.

In mid February, a judge found that the city should not have let developers SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America use a gerrymandered 39-sided zoning lot for the 668-foot tower, which topped out last summer. The decision contradicted previous decisions from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which supported the Department of Buildings’ decision to issue the permit.

Lawyers for the developers relied on a historical interpretation that a zoning lot could consist of partial tax lots — drawn from the 1978 “Minkin Memo” — but a 2018 bulletin from Buildings offered a conflicting interpretation. The developers’ lawyers argued the latter bulletin was merely a draft and, moreover, that it should not be applied retroactively.

The latest bulletin clarifies the issue, going forward.

“The developers of 200 Amsterdam took advantage of a decades-old zoning interpretation to create a gerrymandered 39-sided zoning lot in order to construct a luxury building that is one of the tallest on the Upper West Side,” the city’s Meyer said in an email. “We are closing this loophole so that developers will no longer be able to cobble together partial tax lots for new buildings.”

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In a statement, a spokesperson for the developers of 200 Amsterdam said the bulletin “clearly states previous applications of the Minkin Memo relying on partial tax lots, which includes numerous existing buildings in the city, are permissible, which includes our permit issued in 2017. Furthermore, the city recognizes that its new interpretation should not be applied retroactively. This is the fourth time the city has affirmed our permit.”

The lawyer representing opponents of the project had a decidedly different take.

“I’m glad that the Department of Buildings is recognizing what I consider obvious and what they have previously recognized in their draft [bulletin],” said Richard Emery. “I think their position regarding the currently issued permits that violate the zoning law is insupportable, especially with respect to 200 Amsterdam.”

It is not yet clear whether the city will join the developers in an appeal.

In a statement, senior counsel Kimberly Joyce said the city is “nearing a decision about its appellate options.”

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at