50 West 66th Street

The City Club filed a lawsuit on April 24th against Extell Development Co., the developer of a 775-foot-tall residential tower going up between West 65th and 66th Streets, a few buildings in from Central Park in the Special Lincoln Square District, alleging that the building violates the Zoning Resolution and seeking to halt construction.  

It is obvious to anyone who looks at the plans that the building would be grossly out of scale in the Special Lincoln Square District.  The District’s zoning regulations were intended to limit building height to around 30 stories, which would typically produce a height of approximately 350 feet – less than half the height of the proposed tower.  The developer was able to circumvent that using two tricks.  The first was inserting 196 vertical feet of empty space below the tower portion of the building.  The space was ostensibly for mechanical equipment, but in fact it was for the sole purpose of boosting the height of the apartments above it to secure better views and higher prices.  As we argued, it is ludicrous for the developer to suggest that the statute here, created to regulate height, should allow endlessly tall empty spaces, catapulting buildings to the heavens.  

The other trick takes advantage of the fact that the zoning lot straddles two districts, one zoned C4-7/R10, where towers are allowed, and one zoned R8, where they are not.  The portion of the lot where they are allowed is governed by two rules intended to limit height:  (1) the bulk distribution rule, which requires that 60 percent of the bulk be less than 150 feet high, and (2) the tower coverage rule, which requires that the tower portion of the building cover at least 30 percent of the lot area.  Together, these rules work to restrict the tower portion to a constant number of stories, regardless of lot size.  But to do this, the rules must be applied to the same lot area.  Here, the developer tried to have it both ways, using the entire property to calculate square footage below 150 feet, but only the C4-7/R10 portion to calculate tower coverage.  This sleight-of-hand enabled it to add an extra nine tower stories to the twelve that are legally allowed.

Our immediate Supreme Court filing was necessary in order to preserve our rights to have the building demolished if we win at the end.  Although the Supreme Court dismissed our case, holding that we had to first appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), this is only the beginning.  We have appealed the dismissal to the Appellate Division, and will also be appearing before the BSA on August 6th.  We are pressing for a quick decision, before the building is so tall that the courts will be reluctant to order it demolished.

The hearings, yes-we had a continuation on Sept 10, at the BSA were standing room only.  Dozens of speakers, Elected Officials: NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, ASM Dick Gottfried, ASM Linda Rosenthal, MBP Gale Brewer, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, and CCM Helen Rosenthal, advocacy groups, block associations, neighbors all testified in support.

Disappointingly, on the morning of Sept 17, 2019 the BSA denied our appeal.

We still have our appeal in the Appellate Division, which we hope will make it to the October calendar. We, now, must decide if we can financially afford to take this any further.

We believe pursuing these lawsuits and appeals are the right thing to do. Clearly, this building does not belong in this Special Lincoln Square District. But they come with a significant cost. There are bills to pay and we can use your help.

If you are able to contribute to our legal fees for 50 West 66th St, please mail your check, payable to The City Club of New York, with “50 W 66 St” in the memo. Mail to: 249 West 34th Street, #402 New York, NY 10001


Related reading…

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Construction of Extell’s 66th Street Tower

WestSideRag: by Carol Tannenhauser
April 28, 2019


Suit filed to block Extell’s Upper West Side skyscraper

Curbed New York: By Caroline Spivack  
Apr 26, 2019


Snøhetta’s design for 50 West 66th Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Courtesy of Binyan Studios
Snøhetta’s design for 50 West 66th Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Courtesy of Binyan Studios