Writings: Don’t waste an already-built tower on the Upper West Side

Writings Writings and Lectures

Originally published: New York Daily News

“In a surprising decision a couple of weeks ago, a state judge ruled to revoke the approval for the top 20 floors of a market-rate, luxury, residential building on the Upper West Side, 200 Amsterdam Ave.

“Despite the unusual zoning lot that the developers created to amass the air rights for this 52-story tower, few would have imagined that after receiving the required approval from the Department of Buildings and the Board of Standards and Appeals, the developer may need to demolish the upper third of the building.

“While I am sympathetic to the wish to respect the scale of the neighborhood and the resentment towards developers’ insatiable appetite, I fear the implications for the architectural and building professions of revoking the permit for a project under construction. But I am even more horrified by the idea of dismantling an already constructed structure.

“With some of the world’s wealthiest residents, New York City is also home to thousands who do not have a clean, warm and dry place to sleep. The city is struggling to address its housing shortage for lower-income individuals and families and to provide shelter to its 60,000-plus homeless. Yet, New York City also has a record number of empty, unsold, new luxury apartments. Over the last decade, newly constructed apartments have grown in size and amenities.

“According to analyst Nancy Packes, prices have tripled, from an average of $1.15 million in 2011 to $3.77 million in 2019.

“With affordable housing so scarce, it feels diabolical and wasteful to demolish tens of thousands of square feet of housing in a central location such as the Upper West Side.

“Here is my provocative proposal. Instead of removing the upper floors of 200 Amsterdam, we should convert part of the building into affordable housing. Let the developer keep the top floors, which include two large duplex penthouses priced at over $40 million dollars apiece. In return, let the city or a nonprofit reclaim the bottom 20 floors for low- and middle-income families.

“The condominium’s website shows three large apartments on each of the floors from four to 18. They could easily, and without major changes to the building’s services and structure, be converted into eight to 10 affordable apartments per floor, creating between 160-200 new units ranging from studios to two-bedrooms.

“Tenants will greatly benefit from living in such a central location. Studies have shown that one of the best predictors of a child’s success in school and beyond is the neighborhood in which he or she was raised. Kids from different socio-economic backgrounds growing up in safe and affluent areas tend to benefit from that environment.

“There is also a strong environmental argument for not demolishing the top floors of 200 Amsterdam. Our world is already overburdened with human trash and waste; our carbon footprint is way too heavy. It would be a shame to add potential housing inventory to the landfill.

“Last, the creation of a diverse tenant population would celebrate the heterogeneous beauty of New York City. As New Yorkers, we are proud to live near people of all races, ethnicities, religions and genders. It is time to stop averting our gaze from those who are less fortunate economically and invite them to be our neighbors and in our apartment buildings.

“I realize there are legal and pragmatic challenges to this proposal; the judge’s ruling is not that the building has too few apartments, but that the zoning lot was improperly assembled, allowing the edifice to become too tall. But I trust that a real-estate legal team that was able to create a 39 sided zoning lot is up for this challenge, if they only choose to do good.”

by: Esther Sperber

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