It should have been the easiest judicial ruling any court had to make, except it never happened.
On February 4, 2015, Judge Lawrence Knipel was asked to decide if the developers building in Brooklyn Bridge Park could rely on their falsified documents to increase the height of the Pierhouse Building, violating New York City law and increasing their profit. Judge Knipel said he needed three weeks to make a ruling. Almost 6 months later, the Judge handed down his decision – stunningly, he sided with the developer
Here, in brief, is the story of justice gone wrong. First, a summary:
- The second building that Toll Brothers is constructing at The Pierhouse project has breached a protected view of the Manhattan skyline.
- The drawing for how to measure the view boundaries has been the same since 1974.
- All documents which Toll Brothers submitted to the city and public used this correct drawing…UNTIL February 2015.
- In February 2015, Toll Brothers filed a falsified drawing with the Department of Buildings, decreasing the size of the protected view area so that they could claim they were building the building’s penthouse outside the protected view.
- Toll Brothers and the BBPC did not notify the public that they had changed this document.
- For some reason, the Department of Buildings, which reports to the Mayor, approved this falsified document.
- Save The View Now and the Brooklyn Heights Association commissioned a survey which confirmed the breach of the view and submitted the survey to the Department of Buildings.
- After being stonewalled for almost two months by the Department of Buildings, Save The View Now and the Brooklyn Heights Associations filed suit. (Interestingly, the DOB filed well-prepared papers the day after we filed suit. Hmm….)
- The Judge decided that citizens should have discovered this falsified document sooner.
The Judge’s decision cuts a legal path for developers to ignore both laws and negotiated agreements once they get approval for building projects. It also deprives citizens of any say in the growth and development of their neighborhoods. And, most importantly, because the case was discarded on technicalities, none of the profound questions it raised, such as, was there a political agreement by the city to ignore the issue in return for political donations, or was the judicial system manipulated, will ever be answered.
Additional background – After 20 years of negotiations and planning between developers, residents and the city, the designs for a large waterfront park in Brooklyn were finalized in 2005. The plans called for piers that stretched into the river with sports facilities, picnic areas and walkways. The toughest part of the negotiations related to the construction of the Pierhouse project, consisting of two buildings next to the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation said that money from those buildings was necessary to help maintain the park, and agreed at that time that the buildings would not destroy several iconic and legally-protected views, including spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline. It has not worked out that way.
As the buildings went up, it became clear that developer, Toll Brothers, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the park overseer, would steal views that belong to New Yorkers and tourists from around the world, and give them to wealthy tycoons who would move into the buildings. Moreover, of the $700 million in profits that Toll Brothers and their partner, Starwood Capital, will be making on this project, $200 million comes from the view breaches.
With regard to the protected scenic view in the second building, Save the View Now partnered with the Brooklyn Heights Association in an effort to bring the building back into compliance. Efforts to gain political backing went nowhere, including complete silence from the Mayor’s office. Maybe this is because Toll Brothers had raised significant campaign funds for the mayor. Only two elected officials helped, Senator Squadron and Councilman Levin, and, unfortunately, they were stonewalled in their efforts.
Today there is only one hope to stop this developer and future developers from getting away with falsifying building documents and ignoring neighborhood needs: We need to appeal this decision. Will you help us by donating today?
*All funds donated go towards legal costs. We are all unpaid volunteers.