Samuel Lindenbaum, a counselor at the firm Kramer Levin who was considered one of the city’s leading land use attorneys and who was known affectionately throughout the industry as Sandy, died this afternoon the firm announced. The cause of death was esophageal cancer. He was 77.
Mr. Lindenbaum was well known for his deep knowledge of the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws and regulations and was the council of choice for major developers, including Donald Trump, Harry Macklowe and the real estate investment trust Vornado, in the throes of winning city approvals for big time projects.
In an island city where real estate riches can be won or lost in rejiggering what type of development a parcel of land can accommodate and how big that building can be, Mr. Lindenbaum’s skill set was considered invaluable to a generation of builders.
In the 1990s, he played a key role in helping Mr. Trump secure the rights to raise the Trump World Tower on the East Side, a building that Mr. Trump envisioned as the city’s tallest residential tower and that drew heavy opposition from the powerful neighborhood residents, including Walter Cronkite.
Mr. Trump had used a controversial process to achieve the building’s size, buying up air rights so that it could blossom beyond initial zoning limits, a technique that was eventually prohibited. Mr. Lindenbaum however steered the building successfully through the City Planning Commission’s approval process as it was taking fire, then defended the building in court when the neighbors sued to block its construction, which was already in process.
“We were already up to the 29th floor and they were suing us to stop the construction, which is never a good feeling,” Mr. Trump recalled. “But Sandy was the best at what he did, he got us through.”
“Sandy was great at not just helping developers win approval for added development rights or a zoning change but finding creative ways to get more out of what they already had,” Michael Sillerman, an attorney at Kramer Levin who was a long time colleague of Mr. Lindenbaum’s said.
Mr. Lindenbaum worked with Mr. Macklowe on several development projects and zoning changes, including alterations that allowed Mr. Macklowe to famously install an Apple store under the General Motors Building with an entrance in the building’s plaza. The glass cube that was built as the gateway to that store became an icon of creative retail dealmaking in the city and became one of Apple’s most profitable stores.
“This is a sad moment for me,” Billy Macklowe, Harry’s son and former partner in the real estate business, wrote in an email.
More recently, Mr. Lindenbaum was involved in helping Vornado win approvals with the Planning Commission and the City Council for a huge office tower across from Penn Station to be called 15 Penn Plaza. That building too had opponents, including Anthony Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, who said the skyscraper would blight the profile of his building on the skyline. Mr. Lindenbaum again deftly swept 15 Penn Plaza through the approvals process, making certain concessions that would step the property back from the street as it rose into the sky but achieving impressive height and size increases.
Though zoning battles often draw accusations of impropriety, such as the influence and money of powerful developers on the city’s planning officials, Mr. Lindenbaum was known for his spotless ethics.
“I can’t tell you how many times I would hear a new client come in and say ‘Sandy, I need influence on this development’,” Mr. Sillerman said. “And Sandy would say ‘I’m a good lawyer, I’m smart and I’m capable but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong office’.”
Mr. Lindenbaum began his career in real estate in early 1960s after graduating from Harvard Law School. Zoning was in his blood, his father was chairman of the City’s Planning Commission for a period and was also an attorney.
Mr. Lindenbaum passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Linda and their family according to Kramer Levin.