This classic New York City real estate story has attracted international news coverage.
In an extraordinary ruling, a state supreme court judge has ordered the developers of a nearly completed 668-foot block of flats in New York to remove as many as 20 or more floors from the top of the building.
The decision is a major victory for community groups who opposed the project on the grounds that the developers used a zoning loophole to create the tallest building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A lawyer representing the project said the developers would appeal the decision.
Justice W Franc Perry ordered that the Department of Buildings revoke the building permit for the tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue 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-storey tower to conform to the regulation.
â€œWeâ€™re elated,â€ said Olive Freud, the president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, one of the community groups that brought the suit.
â€œThe developers knew that they were building at their own peril,â€ said Richard Emery, a lawyer representing the community groups that challenged the project before the foundation was even completed. Mr Emery said this decision sent a warning to other developers who proceed with construction despite pending litigation.
The question at the heart of the suit was whether the developers had abused zoning rules to justify the projectâ€™s size.
It is common for developers to purchase the unused development rights of adjacent buildings to add height and bulk to their project. But in this case opponents of the project argued that the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, created a â€œgerrymanderedâ€, 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 storeys tall, instead of the nearly finished 52-storey tower that now stands.
The decision also sets an important precedent, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York, one of the advocacy groups that brought the suit against the project.
If you were ever wondering why big cities have constant shortages of housing and why real estate prices climb into the stratosphere, this particular story illustrates just how costly, difficult, and risky real estate development can be in places where zoning and regulation reach levels that Imperial Austro-Hungary Bureaucracy could have envied, and where “community groups” made up of self-appointed trouble-makers, busy-bodies, environmental fanatics, and communists can operate much like arms of the government.