On Friday October 20, 2017 the NY Appellate Court heard the oral arguments in our case.
First, I want to thank all who showed up to the courthouse supporting STVN. It was great seeing everyone.
The four judge panel is clearly interested in the case, allowing both sides to present oral arguments for much longer than expected. The judges also appear to fully appreciate that the Pierhouse development on Pier 1 is much larger than what the community was promised in 2005. Finally they also seem to recognize the inconsistency between the Park’s planning documents written in 2005, and the Pierhouse buildings that Toll Brothers actually built.
The panel of judges asked a number of questions related to the views that existed before the demolition of the Cold Storage Warehouse versus the Pierhouse which took its place. I am sure many of you remember that in 2005 the community was told that the building that replaces the Cold Storage Warehouse would improve the views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade. I remember, even as the Pierhouse was being built, hearing that the views of the Brooklyn Bridge will be preserved. Well that did not happen and instead Toll Brothers was allowed to almost double the size of the building that was specified in 2005 blocking not only the views to the Brooklyn Bridge, but also the protected views from Middagh St. of the Manhattan skyline.
We do not know why Toll Brothers was allowed to double the size of the building. What we know is that in 2005 the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp hired a consultant to write a set of design guidelines for Pier 1 and the two other development parcels in the Park incorporating the agreement to preserve the view. If the proposed building on Pier 1 (the Pierhouse) had been built in accordance to these 2005 guidelines the views of the Bridge would have not only been preserved, they would have been improved. Why Regina Myers ignored those guidelines for the construction of the Pierhouse and violated the size and height restriction promises to the public is anyone’s guess.
That being said, the judges are not ruling on our case’s merits, but on whether or not we brought the suit in a timely manner.
While there is no hard time line for the Judges’ decision, I am told we can expect to hear from the Court in 60-90 days.
Save The View Now
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.
No Word Yet from Judge Knipel on SV-1 Violation
Pier 6 Needs Your Support on June 7th
The Pierhouse SV-1 Violation
The last court appearance regarding Toll Brothers’ violation of the Brooklyn Promenade Scenic View District (“SV-1”) was on February 4, 2016. Judge Knipel has yet to hand down his decision on whether he will let the case move forward. We are surprised by the amount of time that has passed since the court date, and we have received no word from the judge.
The SV-1 violation is very straight forward: Toll Brothers moved the Scenic View District borders in order to affect the measurement of SV-1, so that they could oversize the penthouse apartment on top of the Pierhouse condo building. The NYC Parks Department planning documents, the Pier 1 leases and even diagrams by Toll Brother’s architect, Jonathan Marvel dated 2013, show the SV-1 borders correctly. It was only in 2015 that Toll Brothers decided to change the borders without any public disclosure, shrinking the protected region – the only protected Scenic View Plane in New York City. The U.S. Attorney, the NY Attorney General and the FBI should investigate this sleight-of-hand ploy as another potential Mayor de Blasio pay-to-play real estate corruption case.
The Pier 6 Vote
We now have confirmation that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp Board will be voting on whether to build the proposed Pier 6 towers shortly. It is indefensible for the City to move forward with the plans to develop Pier 6. First and foremost, Brooklyn Bridge Park (the “Park”) does not need any additional funding, which is the standard necessary for building residences in the Park. Real estate values have dramatically increased from the original estimations in 2005, and extra square footage has been added to the original plans for the income producing developments of Pier 1, Empire Stores, and John Street. It’s evident that Brooklyn Bridge Park has more than enough income. Not surprisingly, this was confirmed in a recent independent study using NYC’s proper auditing rules and procedures.
The Park is also already overcrowded and it is not yet finished. It is irresponsible of the Mayor and his appointed Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp Board to permanently take any more Park space from the public and turn it over for private use for the benefit of a developer. If the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp cannot live within what is likely the highest budget per square foot for any park in the world, then we need to find more fiscally responsible management by installing new board members.
Come Show Your Support on June 7th
It is time to show Deputy Mayor, Alicia Glen, and the other Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp (“BBPC”) Board members that we will not stand by silently while they disregard the commitment to build only what housing is necessary to support the Park.
Please add your voice to the next BBPC Board meeting:
Tuesday, June 7th,, 9AM
5 MetroTech – the NYU Dibner Library
The meeting starts at 9:00 am, but try to get there by 8:45 so you can register to speak.You can read more about the Pier 6 issue in the WSJ article here:
A standing-room-only crowd filled St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church on Montague Street for a town hall held Wednesday night to update Brooklyn Heights residents about raging development controversies in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Read the full article: Brooklyn Bridge Park leadership derided for ‘broken promises’ at Brooklyn Heights town hall | Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Stephen Levin have written Howard Zemsky, President & CEO of the Development Corporation, asking what jurisdiction can the Empire State Development Corporation exercise over the Pier 1 development’s compliance with SV-1.
Read the letter by clicking here.
Save The View Now along with The BHA, Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, and People for Green Space Foundation conducted a Town Hall Meeting on May 4th to update the community on three important development issues within Brooklyn Bridge Park:
1) The obstruction of the views of the Brooklyn Bridge by the Pierhouse
2) The violation of the Scenic View District (SV-1), and
3) The unnecessary towers proposed for Pier 6 at the foot of Atlantic Avenue.
Download the .PDF of the presentation: