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Is Your View a Property Right? A Case in Inwood Raises Questions - and Controversy

The Cooper Street rock in 2003. Photo by John Buryiak

Along with other major criteria (location, square-footage, 'light,' 'air,' etc.) a good view from one or more windows can be a big selling point for an apartment. In fact, many a buyer has purchased their unit based on the view. Some will even boast about their view of say, the Hudson River, when one would literally have to climb out the window and be held by the legs to actually see it. Views are a big deal, no question – but is your view a part of your property rights? Can the owner of an adjacent lot construct a building that would affect or eliminate your view without regard? Clearly, such an action would affect the value of your unit – but whether you have any recourse against it can be a complicated question.

The Case the Cooper Street Rock

One case in point is the Cooper Street rock, located along Cooper Street in Inwood in upper Manhattan. Upper Manhattan – encompassing Inwood and adjacent neighborhoods Washington Heights and Morningside Heights – displays a unique geology that often includes large basalt outcroppings. One such 'bump' can be found at 184th Street and Overlook Terrace. The rocky neighborhood fixture resembles a small cliff that's been plunked down in the middle of an otherwise bustling urban block; its craggy face dotted with scrub brush and small, hardy trees. Birds flit from branch to branch, and the shareholders of an adjacent co-op at 60 Cooper Street have established a community garden next to the rock.

More than a decade ago, a developer attempted to excavate the site, remove the rock, and build a luxury condominium property in its place. The Great Recession ended that project, but the Cooper Street Rock is again in the sights of developers looking to hurl a Bronx cheer at nature and defy the odds to bring urban progress to a defiantly rural neighborhood feature. In this case however, it's not economic catastrophe that's standing in the way of developing the site; it's the owners at 60 Cooper Street, who contend that new construction there would cost them their light, air, and views.

Much has been written about the effect that removing or altering the outcropping and then building next to, or on top of it would have on the neighborhood as a whole and specifically on the residents of 60 Cooper. The broader question for co-op and condo owners that the dispute raises is whether their basic property rights extend to their light, air, and views.

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3 Comments

  • Further complicated by the R7A rezoning having been overturned, reverting to the old R7-2 zoning. Will this last or also be overturned on appeal? In the meantime, what would DOB even accept for filing plans?
  • Article confuses two addresses. 60 Cooper St is just south of 207th not 184th which I think might have its own rock cropping story. If editors had just google mapped it, it would’ve been obvious.
  • these rocks are not on Broadway, but cooper st between 204 th and 207th