MHCC Files Zoning Challenge to Savanna Tower at 543 W. 122nd Street

P. O. Box 250405 Columbia University Station
New York, NY 10025

Contact: Robert Stern
917 885 4096

For Immediate Release:

Morningside Heights Community Coalition (MHCC) Submits Zoning Challenge to Savanna Real Estate’s Proposed Out-Of-Context Luxury Tower at 543 W. 122nd Street, Alleging Proposed Building Violates Zoning Code

Gerrymandering is no longer just the creature of election districts – it has found its way into the NYC zoning process. The Morningside Heights Community Coalition has filed a zoning challenge with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) against Savanna Real Estate’s proposed 34-storey luxury condominium tower to be located at 543 W. 122nd Street in Morningside Heights, over what the coalition says are serious violations of the city’s zoning code.

George Janes, an urban planner representing the coalition, outlines in the zoning challenge various errors and omissions made by the luxury real estate developer’s filing that joined the adjacent zoning lots, and in the building descriptions submitted to secure DOB permits for construction. The byzantine Zoning Lot Development Agreement, that saw the city split the tax lot so that the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) could convey the land and existing structures to Savanna for $96 million, created a zoning lot that was gerrymandered in such a way so as to attempt to transfer unused development rights and allow the out-of-context tower. JTS sold their properties to Savanna and other developers with no consultation with the community.

“Developers cannot come into our community, or any community, and not follow regulations and zoning conditions that have been put into place for the good of the areas that they are building in. Here in Morningside Heights, neighbors are working together to ensure that all development that occurs does so in accordance with all regulations and laws. We will do this on each and every development project that comes on line in our community,” said Laura Friedman, MHCC President. Council Member Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, State Senator Brian A. Benjamin, and Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell have all signed on in support of reviewing the zoning challenge filed.

Savanna Real Estate has submitted a proposal to construct an approximately 170 unit, 34-storey luxury condominium tower. Aside from casting shadows and blocking views and sunlight, the luxury tower will cause area tax rates to rise, leading to higher rents, and displacement of long-time residents and small businesses. Other impacts include an incentive for surrounding landlords to harass tenants and deregulate rent stabilized apartments, pressure on neighborhood schools that are already over-capacity, difficulty in growth of small neighborhood businesses, overcrowded transportation, a neglect of accessibility for seniors and the disabled, and an uncontrolled increase in density, among other issues.

Other Morningside institutions, such as Union Theological Seminary, St. John the Divine, and St. Luke’s/Mt. Sinai have negotiated deals with luxury developers to take advantage of “height factor” zoning, often combined with the unfettered purchase of development rights or “air rights” to create out-of-context luxury towers contributing to the overdevelopment and gentrification of Morningside Heights.

The Morningside Heights Community Coalition is a group of Morningside Heights tenants, co-ops, organizations, business owners, and other residents who have come together to ensure that future development in Morningside Heights is sustainable, contextual, and does not displace existing residents and businesses.

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