6 Months Later – Judge Sides with the Developer

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:

  1. The second building that Toll Brothers is constructing at The Pierhouse project has breached a protected view of the Manhattan skyline.
  2. The drawing for how to measure the view boundaries has been the same since 1974.
  3. All documents which Toll Brothers submitted to the city and public used this correct drawing…UNTIL February 2015.
  4. 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.
  5. Toll Brothers and the BBPC did not notify the public that they had changed this document.
  6. For some reason, the Department of Buildings, which reports to the Mayor, approved this falsified document.
  1. 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.
  1. 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….)
  2. 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?

DONATE

 

*All funds donated go towards legal costs.  We are all unpaid volunteers.

No Word from Judge Knipel; Come Support Pier 6 on June 7th

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
Brooklyn

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:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/vote-is-set-on-apartment-towers-inside-brooklyn-bridge-park-1464802442

 

Download the May 4th Town Hall Presentation

pierhouse_may1Save 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:

Townhall May 4 FinalV2

 

 

SQUADRON, LEVIN STATEMENT ON PIER 1 SUIT

Today, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Stephen Levin released the following joint statement regarding the Save the View Now and Brooklyn Heights Association lawsuit regarding the Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 project:

“This Special Scenic View District designation was established to protect the historic view of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights promenade. While we have long opposed luxury development in Brooklyn Bridge Park, everyone has always agreed that any development must comply with the Special Scenic View District.

At the request of our constituents, including Save the View Now and the Brooklyn Heights Association, we have reviewed the Zoning Resolution establishing the Scenic View District and the SV-1, as well as calculations from the developer and city pertaining to the Pier 1 project. It is our view that SV-1 zoning rules have been incorrectly applied.

This incorrect application should be addressed, and compliance with the SV-1 zoning rules should be ensured.”

City Councilmember Stephen Levin’s Affidavit is attached HERE.

 

Councilman Levin’s Affadavit

Appeal Is Filed

This is an important case. It is clear that the iconic views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade were promised to be protected by the Park planners in 2005. At some point, however, the combined Defendants decided that the view was no longer important to protect, instead it was more important to oversize the buildings so that Toll Brothers could reap additional revenue, by our estimate, of about $140 million.

We greatly appreciate all your financial support and encouragement. We are overwhelmed by the number of responses we received from you to pursue our case to the appellate division.

Click on the blue button below to see the .PDF of our recently filed appeal:

Save the View Now Appeal

2015 12 16 Photo of the view

 

Special Scenic View District Violation

The Brooklyn Heights Association (“BHA”) and Save The View Now (“STVN”) recently filed a new lawsuit against Toll Brothers and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (“BBPC”) for violating the Brooklyn Heights Promenade Special Scenic View District regulation, commonly called SV-1. Below, you will find answers to many of the questions we are receiving about this lawsuit. Please email us if you have any further questions.

Q1. How does this suit differ from the prior suit?

A1. In the prior lawsuit we were primarily concerned with the height of the buildings and roof top structure on Parcel A (the Hotel Complex). Parcel A is not subject to SV-1. Furthermore, in January 2015, we warned the BBPC that the design for Parcel B (“Condo Building”) revealed that the Condo Building would breach SV-1. Subsequently, the Department of Buildings (“DOB”) issued a stop work order until Toll Brothers resubmitted drawings for the Condo Building (“Misleading Drawings”). The Misleading Drawings we received from the BBPC in March led us to believe that the Condo Building would be in compliance with SV-1. We now know that Toll Brothers drew the SV-1 framing line west of the correct location so as to increase the size of the penthouse.

Toll Brothers added the penthouse and other structures to the Condo Building roof in August 2015. At that point, we began suspecting the building did not comply with SV-1. We filed a complaint with the DOB, but they found the building was being built to plan. Our only option was to hire an independent surveyor who found that the penthouse was, in fact, illegally protruding into SV-1 by approximately 20 feet.

On October 16th, after reviewing the survey and report, Senator Squadron and Councilman Levin submitted the information showing the breach to the DOB commissioner, in order for the DOB to take action. The BBPC also received a copy of the information. After reviewing the material for over 7 weeks, the DOB told us they would do nothing. DOB was also refused to meet directly with us to discuss the violation. Therefore, the BHA and STVN were forced to file the current lawsuit.

Q2. What is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade Special Scenic View District?

A2. In 1974, New York City passed a regulation protecting the extraordinary views from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (“Promenade”). The regulation protects “the panoramic view of the lower Manhattan skyline which includes such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge archway, the South Street Seaport, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, and the vistas of the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island.”

Q3. What are the boundaries of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade Special Scenic View District?

A3. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade Special Scenic View District is bound by the “view reference line” and “framing lines” defined in the regulation. The views start on the Promenade at roughly eye level and extend out 2300’ to sea level. The view reference line runs from the north side of Orange Street to almost Remsen Street. From Orange and Remsen Streets the view framing lines fans out to the north and south as shown in the diagram below. The north side fans out at a 160° angle, while the south side fans out at a 145° angle.

Save the View Now's photo.

Q4. How are the north and south boundaries described in the SV-1 regulation?

A4. The regulation precisely describes the boundaries in four short paragraphs; sections 102-611 to 102-614. Paragraph 102-611 states:

“the northwesterly edge of the ‪#‎view‬ plane# which forms an angle of 160 degrees measured in a horizontal plane with respect to the #view reference line# at point A;”

Paragraph 102-612 provides the definition for point A and the view reference line:

“The #view reference line# of the SV-1 Special District is a line at an elevation of 66 feet located along the westerly vertical face of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and which is approximately 4 feet above the Promenade. The #view reference line# is formed by joining two end points, A and A1, as shown in Diagram 1.

Point A is located at the intersection of the westerly face of the Promenade and the prolongation of the north side of Orange Street.

Point A1 is located 50 feet north of the intersection of the westerly face of the Promenade and the prolongation of the north side of Remsen Street.”

In simpler English, you take the north side of Orange Street and draw a line until it hits the western railing on the Promenade giving you point A, and then draw a straight line to point A1 located on the railing 50 feet north of Remsen Street. In case you are wondering why Point A1 is located 50 feet north of Remsen Street, it is because the railing does not extend to Remsen Street but stops before that point. The writers of the regulation did not want any part of the view reference line floating in the middle of the air.

Q5. Where did Toll Brothers draw the View Framing Line?

A5. In an apparent effort to maximize the size of the penthouse, Toll Brothers shifted the northern View Framing Line about 20-30 feet west. They justify this by inventing a new concept, the extension of the westerly face of the Promenade. To be perfectly clear, in no place in the regulation does it mention an extension of the westerly face of the Promenade. Toll Brothers made this concept up in an obvious effort to maximize the size of the penthouse and deny the public the benefit of the extraordinary view from the Promenade.

Anyone who walks along the Promenade can see that the northern side of the walkway curves east towards Columbia Heights. Toll Brothers, by inventing the concept of the extension of the westerly face of the Promenade, places point A 20-30 feet out into the middle of the air over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway instead of in the correct position on the western face (railing). This ignores the curve on the Promenade and moves the view framing line in a deceitful attempt to justify their increase to the size of the Penthouse.

It is disgusting that Toll Brothers is trying to maximize their profits by filing Misleading Drawings hoping no one would notice their deceit. What is also outrageous is that the DOB and the BBPC agree with Toll Brothers’ re-interpretation of the SV-1 regulation. There is no place in the SV-1 regulation, a highly-detailed document, which refers to an extension of the westerly face of the promenade. The SV-1 regulation, instead, says that point A is at the intersection of the westerly face of the Promenade and the prolongation of Orange Street. This is yet another land grab by Toll Brothers with the full support of the New York City agencies who are responsible for overseeing the developer.

Q6. Didn’t the RFP have a picture of the Scenic View Plane?

A6. Both the RFP and the Leases for Pier 1, written by the BBPC show the below site plan confirming point A is on the railing. Even if you thought there was any ambiguity in the SV-1 regulation, which there is not, the site plans in both the RFP and the Leases confirm the correct placement of point A is on the railing.

Save the View Now's photo.

BHA and STVN file lawsuit

For immediate release

BHA and STVN file lawsuit against Toll Brothers and Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp to ensure Pierhouse compliance with SV-1

Brooklyn, NY – December 4, 2015. The Brooklyn Heights Association (“BHA”) and Save the View Now (“STVN”) have joined forces to ensure that the construction of Pierhouse on Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is completed in compliance with the Special Scenic View District (commonly referred to as “SV-1”). Yesterday, the BHA and STVN filed a lawsuit against the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (“BBPC”), the City of New York, the Department of Buildings (“DOB”) and Toll Brothers, among others, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that Pierhouse is brought into compliance with SV-1.

As previously announced, a survey was completed revealing that the penthouse of the condominium building of Pierhouse intrudes into SV-1 by approximately 20 feet. On October 16th a complaint was filed with the DOB regarding the violation.  A copy of the survey and of the report by the licensed surveyor was also submitted to the DOB and BBPC. For nearly 7 weeks, we heard through Senator Squadron’s and Councilman Levin’s offices that the DOB would provide a timely response.  We finally learned two days ago that the DOB would not be taking action. 

This violation of SV-1 is another example of Toll Brothers’ overbuilding of Pierhouse in disregard of the project plans. It also exemplifies BBPC’s failure to properly oversee the project and uphold the commitments it made to the community. It is regrettable that we must resort to litigation as BBPC and DOB were unwilling to meet with us to discuss the survey report and explain why no action would be taken to address the significant intrusion into SV-1. 

STVN has also begun its appeal relating to the Pierhouse hotel complex’s exceeding the 100 foot height limitation mandated by the project documents and by BBPC’s commitment to protect the view of the Brooklyn Bridge. STVN is pleased to announce that the BHA has made a significant contribution to fund this appeal.

For more information please contact: Peter Bray, Executive Director, Brooklyn Heights Association; 718-858-9193, or Steven Guterman, Save The View Now, at savetheviewnow@gmail.com

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