Although local organizations and officials are hailing the new ruling as a victory, Extell, the developer has one message: “We are going to appeal.” The luxury high-rise plans for 50 West 66th Street were previously approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to continue building what would be the tallest building on the UWS. This created outrage from community groups such as Landmark West and city politicians. There are also dueling lawsuits filed between The City Club and Extell based on the plans.
Why such a fight? The City Club of New York, amongst others, says that Extell is using an old zoning law which allowed for mechanical void space to not count against zoning, to a level considered an abuse of the law. Developers do this to offer better views and higher price tags for their apartments. While this particular project had been grandfathered in before the zoning laws changed, The City Club said that Extell was still violating the intentions of the law that were in place.
John Low-Beer, the lawyer for the City Club, stated that “In recent years, the city agencies charged with enforcing the zoning resolution have been too ready to endorse the stratagems of property developers who stretch its text past its breaking point. In this case, those violations of law would have led to the tallest building on the Upper West Side, a building totally out of scale, more than twice as high as intended by the zoning resolution. I am pleased, therefore, that the court has enforced the zoning resolution as it was written and intended.”
The latest decision on this matter came on Friday by Judge Arthur Engoron of the Manhattan State Supreme Court. He began his ruling with the following:
“This case calls to mind the old adage about not missing the forest for the trees. The parties have submitted reams (or the digital equivalent thereof) of well-argued papers supporting and opposing, respectively, the petition, and the reader who wants to know everything there is to know about the zoning rules at issue here, how and why they came about, and the tortuous history of the instant dispute, is welcome to peruse them. But in this Court’s view the case is simple and straightforward.”
Judge Engoron agreed that there was an overstretch by the developers and so he ruled against them. He said that governments, such as NYC, have the right to limit the height of buildings. He also noted that developers have the right to build as high as they want, but also have to follow laws that restrict them if there are any.
“Super-tall buildings have obvious advantages (economic, social, esthetic, environmental) and disadvantages (neighboring views, light, air, a different esthetic), and this Court is not called upon, and is not, weighing or passing judgment on them, a task for the legislative and executive branches of government,” he said.
The judge further states that the BSA’s decision was flawed and ruled against Extell’s reasoning, calling it “strained, counter-intuitive, and far-fetched as to be almost farcical.”
Extell has vowed to appeal the decision. In a statement they noted that the BSA are the experts on these matters and were in favor of the developments plans. So despite even this recent decision, this battle is far from over.