Size Doesn’t Matter As Architects Plot High Rises On Odd Shaped NYC Lots

Bizarre shaped lot sizes and convoluted zoning laws are no impediment for creative architects and developers keen to make a profit.

By Jeff Vasishta April 24, 2017

“Complicated” would be a good word to describe the Upper West Side’s zoning laws and the way its streets and buildings are mapped out. With more twists and turns than a treble clef, comprehending what land belongs to which building can be confusing.

Case in point is the proposed new 668-foot-tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue and West 69th Street, which recently received an approval from the buildings department. The footprint of the building is 10,800 square feet but its zoning is ten times that size.

The actual lot associated with the proposed tower is convoluted. At times as narrow as a sidewalk winding around corners, allowing room for landscaping, is a odd looking parcel.

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“Whoever thought this up is very creative,” George Janes, a planning expert and consultant who reviewed the approvals told Crain’s.

The new building is being being developed by SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America and was previously owned by the Lincoln Square Synagogue which was acquired in a land swap with American Continental Properties. The arrangement saw the new owners adding air rights to the lot in order to build a larger building.

This part of the Upper West Side, unlike Midtown and other parts of the city, stipulates that a certain amount of open space (parking towers, grassy areas) are including into a zoning lot. The larger the building, the more space in the lot.

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The cost of land and the value of the buildings in New York City means that every inch of real estate is precious and makes for some unique parcels. In 2009, in Crown Heights a sliver of land on Washington Avenue & Montgomery by some noisy train tracks St sold for $77,000. Five years later, it sold for $330,000 according to public records. The triangular building at 995 Washington Ave was described as “Great use of a very odd shaped lot” at the time.

In Manhattan it’s not only the Upper West Side that has the run of quirky lots and off buildings. In Greenwich Village and Soho, some of the oldest parts of the city, there is a lot which is one-inch wide at one end and 356 feet long along Sixth Avenue. It hosts a 203-foot-high condo built on a triangular site on Sullivan Street.

“While it is kind of a shame what happened in a lot of places on Sixth Avenue,” Cary Tamarkin the building’s architect told the Wall Street Journal, “we made this into an opportunity.” As only New Yorkers can.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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