President’s Letter: August 2019

August 29, 2019

Earlier this month, we were delighted to see the news that Justice Arthur F. Engoron of the New York State Supreme Court overruled the approval of the mega high-rise project in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan. MAS served as Amicus Curiae in the case, which I call the “City v. City.” The first City refers to the fearless Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The second is the Department of City Planning. The question at hand is whether the decision to forgo ULURP for the megaproject was reasonable.

Justice Engoron’s emphatic “no” is unusual, but warranted. And (here’s something you don’t say every day) the decision was actually kind of fun to read! I suspect that there will be more volleys before this fight is over, but a victory lap, or perhaps victory breather, is indeed welcome.

rendering of Manhattan skyline with proposed Two Bridges towers
Photosimulation looking from the East River showing proposed developments at Two Bridges. Based on DEIS CEQR No. 17DCP148M ©Google Street Image. Modified by MAS.

On another legal front, we have just recently pulled the trigger on filing a fresh Article 78 lawsuit on 200 Amsterdam–this one seeks to hold the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to Justice Franc W. Perry’s March 14 decision, which they have conveniently ignored. The Court ordered the BSA to reconsider the agency’s approval of the project’s gerrymandered zoning lot (this time using a “plain reading” of the zoning code), and the BSA simply said that they were not convinced by the Court’s arguments and reaffirmed their original specious decision. That seems pretty arrogant to us.

Meanwhile, we hear that the developer is already marketing apartments in the building. Talk about hubris. (Word to the wise, we would caution against buying one of those $40 million penthouses! They might not be there on move-in day…)

That we need to file a new suit at all is frustrating, of course. It feels quite unfair to win and then have the decision of the Court ignored. That is, of course, our opinion and the one that matters will be Justice Perry’s.

I have asked myself many times this summer what the tipping point is–where is the line between MAS being tenacious and just being stubborn? Here is a case where the developer seems to be persistent all right, and perhaps even brazen. The same can be said for the BSA.

In the end, we decided that standing down now is not really a possibility. Throughout this entire process, MAS has been clear: a fundamental tenet of zoning is being flouted. That is illegal, period.

This is a fight worth having. We’re going to defend the Zoning Resolution with the same persistence as those intent on undermining it. So along with the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development as our Co-Petitioner, we are headed back to Court next month. Wish us luck….

In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend. Those of us who are fortunate enough to do our daily labor from inside this organization are so thankful for your support, which makes all of this possible!

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

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