Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fight Over Tall Washington St. Building Enters Third Round

The 163 Washington Street building that could rise to 16 stories in a neighborhood that has been downzoned to seven stories goes to a "third round" at the Board of Standards and Appeals today. Brownstoner has been all over the story as it's developed, noting that there is ample evidence the building should not be vested under the old zoning. Yet, the BSA has had a track record of ruling in favor of developers, most recently in the case of Williamsburg's Finger Building. In any case, another hearing takes place tomorrow morning. Here's a bit of the press release we got from a group called Building Too Tall, which is fighting to cut the building down to size. It calls the battle against the building "a fixed fight against GLC Developers Group who are trying to build a 16-story tower in pre-Civil War Clinton Hill half a block from the modest frame house where Walt Whitman wrote 'Leaves of Grass':
GLC failed to complete the 100% of excavation and foundation work necessary for grandfathering the 16-story tower before the new zoning of July 25, 2007 limited structures to 7 stories. The BSA appears to be bending its rules to greenlight the GLC building at 16 stories. BTT has produced proof of the developer working illegally -- after hours, without a permit. The developer's records have been uniformly sloppy and inconsistent -- yet at each of the hearings the BSA has declared itself ready to give the go-ahead for 16 stories.

It is unusual for the BSA to go 3 rounds with the same opponents, but the developer has repeatedly failed to make his case. BTT has continued to point out serious inconsistencies and omissions, thus forcing Tuesday's round. Were it not for the little gritty BTT fighters, the BSA would have long since lifted the Stop Work Order and the Too Tall Building would be reaching for the sky -- for those luxury Manhattan views, the only attraction in historic, low-rise Clinton Hill for GLC.

The BSA's problem with GLC's data was neatly put by Sharon Barnes representing the Society for Clinton Hill at the December 11 hearing: "If there was one mistake, one or two discrepancies [in the developer's numbers] that would be probably attributed to error but when all of that documentation seems to be riddled with discrepancies -- our view is that it is probably intentional. We know at the end there was a tremendous race going on between the community trying to get the zoning completed and between the developer trying to get the concrete poured. So, how much poured when and in what manner is really critical. We would ask for a thorough audit and analysis of that because we think our case is very clear that the work was not completed."
GL Analysis:
There is a pattern of the BSA siding with developers in such cases of Beat the Downzone, even where there is clear evidence that work wasn't completed in time to allow for "vesting" of building or there is evidence that developers flagrantly violated the law by working after-hours and on weekends to accomplish construction miracles. There have been many cases in the last 24 months of buildings being okayed by BSA that should have been rejected based on the public record. One wonders if the Board will again thumb its nose at both the evidence and the law and allow an oversized building to tower over a low-rise neighborhood or whether the mountain of evidence in this case would be too embarrassing to ignore. Based on the board's record, we will be stunned (and pleasantly shocked) if it does the right thing and chops 163 Washington down to size.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

during the hearing something very disturbing came to light: Commissioner Susan M. Hinkson was recommended to the BSA by the law team, Sheldon Lobel, who is representing the developer in this case

5:41 AM  

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