A group of neighbors won a lawsuit against a homeowner who built an outsize home over an existing bungalow in Homecrest because he filed the work as an alteration rather than a new building. Today the New York Daily News has a story on the home at 1882 E. 12th Street, which towers over its neighbors at 53 feet high. The architect on the job, Shlomo Wygoda, had “self-certification” rights with the Department of Buildings – the same rights that allowed architect Robert Scarano to build stuff like this. The judge has ordered the Board of Standards and Appeals to review the process, and it’s likely that the developer will be ordered to tear the structure down. In the meantime, the architect has lost his self-certification rights with the DOB. As the neighbor’s lawyer tells the NYDN, “if the plans had been properly reviewed by the Department of Buildings, would they have been approved? The answer is a resounding no.” The Board of Standards and Appeals will rule on the building by July 23. Neighbors Win Battle Over Notorious Tower [NY Daily News] Photo by Google Maps
The Wyckoff Heights blog noted a jump in applications for new buildings and alterations in Bushwick in the first quarter of this year. If the Department of Buildings were to approve every one, about 200 new units of housing would come on the market. For some perspective, that’s between half to one-third the number of units applied for in the same period in Williamsburg and Greennpoint combined. (Right now, Williamsburg has the largest number of construction sites in Brooklyn.) The blog created a series of maps showing where the new builds would be located and how many apartments in each one. The biggest area of activity is not the loft area where Roberta’s is located, but an area the blog calls “Bushwick West,” south of Flushing and East of Broadway. Click through to the original story to see more maps. 1Q-2013 Review — DOB Applications [Wyckoff Heights Blog] Map by Wyckoff Heights Blog
Late last week we posted about the residents of a damaged Bushwick building unable to return to their apartments; since then a resident shared more details about the situation there. Eight families vacated the building at 420 Melrose more than one month ago after nearby excavation caused cracks in the building. The photo above is from inside the apartment building, where looters have gone through the resident’s stuff and stolen some of it. The resident who started the 420 Melrose Twitter account explains the situation:
“We were never given an opportunity to go in and get things. The landlord is still holding our security deposit and half a month’s rent hostage while we all try and figure out individually where to live… Some people have moved to new places, some people are staying with friends, some people have just moved back home to places like Texas. For a move in, it seems like the landlord doesn’t have as much interest in getting us back in as he has in flipping the building and jacking up the rent.
As for the DOB, we’re filing tort claims, which you have to file if you want to pursue any action at any time against a city agency, but generally we have been redirected to any number of city agencies that were only able to individually offer us space in a no-kitchen, shared bathroom homeless shelter. That’s really about all the city offers in terms of protections for people that this kind of thing happens to. DOB seems pretty mum right now in general. It’s impossible to get a straight answer in regards to timelines.”
This past Sunday the DOB allowed residents to enter the building and they will return next weekend to take everything besides furniture, as the building is not stable enough to remove it. The tenants have hired a lawyer and are doing a fundraiser in the next week or so to cover the retainer costs, which we will keep you updated about. 420 Melrose Place Residents Still Homeless [Brownstoner] Bushwick Buildings Evacuated After Cracks Appear [Brownstoner]
There’s a story in today’s Post that suggests the purse strings are loosening on lending for new construction: “The city’s Buildings Department issued 112 permits for new Brooklyn construction projects from January through April, compared with 69 in the same period last year. Much of the spike is due to more than 350 new units of housing in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.” The story notes that a lot of the housing planned is one- to three-family residences rather than a number of of big condos, and some of what we’re seeing is financing coming through for formerly stalled projects. However, a quote from developer Abby Hamlin, who is working on the second phase of the State Street townhouse project in Boerum Hill, gives insight into what’s going on in the field: “‘The market is definitely getting much better for securing construction financing, but it’s not totally back,’ said Hamlin, adding that lenders financed 80 percent of her construction costs for phase one but only agreed to finance 65 percent for phase two.’” So is it time, perhaps, for cautious optimism? ‘Building’ up Brooklyn’s Economy [NY Post] Photo by Alex R.
Last Friday’s collapse of a billboard onto the BQE in Greenpoint prompts the Times to examine the legal gray area many of the structures occupy. Even though billboards have been illegal within 200 feet of highways since 1940 and the city started cracking down on many of the ones that do exist next to highways a couple years ago, they’re still legal if they advertise a business that’s at their base or a “noncommercial” nonprofit/charity. The billboard that fell was advertising the lottery on one side—but Dunkin’ Donuts on the other—and its owner says it was legal since the lottery is a noncommercial entity. A spokesman for the DOB says the billboard’s owner is getting citations for not properly maintaining the structure and for having the Dunkin’ ad on one side. The DOB also says it’s going to inspect other billboards near highways to try to make sure that they’re structurally sound. Meanwhile, Councilman Stephen Levin, who lives near the collapsed billboard, is quoted as saying that the city should be looking to get some billboards taken down “if some of these signs are getting in under permits that may be fraudulent.” The most interesting tidbit in the story, though, is how much money the billboards bring in for their owners: The lottery was paying $12,923 a month for the ad on the one that collapsed. Collapse Casts Light on the Murky World of Billboards [NY Times] Photo by Aviator Rob
This is great news for urban farmers (and their landlords). From yesterday’s New York Times article about the Bloomberg administration’s effort to encourage city agencies to buy locally grown food…
The mayor also signed a bill to exempt rooftop greenhouses from being counted toward buildings’ height and floor area measurements. The greenhouses will join structures like roof tanks, air-conditioning equipment and chimneys as apparatus that are not factored into buildings’ official totals, easing limitations on the construction of such structures.
Great news! Bloomberg has been really forward-looking on this stuff, trying to be proactive on helping small businesses (particularly food-related ones) grow. Two thumbs up from us. Photo from Amber Sandoval-Griffin via the Vertical Farm Blog
Yesterday the city announced that it had selected that very cool looking scaffolding rendered above—which is called “Urban Umbrella”—as the winner of a competition for new sidewalk shed designs. So is this what we’re going to be seeing at construction sites around town going forward? According to NY1, the new design won’t be mandated but the costs for installing it are similar to those for the current scaffolding that’s used. A prototype is going to be installed at a site in Lower Manhattan. The city was looking for a design that would improve scaffolding aesthetics and let more light onto the sidewalk. Winning Scaffold Design Provides Lift Above, Movement Below [NY1]
Last Friday there was plenty of coverage of the Bushwick loft building 345 Eldert Street, where the fire department ordered a partial vacate order due to illegal and poorly built mezzanines, illegal plumbing, blocked sprinklers, and blocked egress. Residents were ordered to leave their homes by 9 p.m. on Friday and demolition crews began tearing down loft walls. Yesterday a resident filled us in on what’s happened since then:
Looks like many of the residents have chosen to move their items into storage and will allow the management company to demolish any offending structures to bring individual units up to code. Six apartments yesterday [Saturday] decided to demolish their mezzanine structures as per instruction from the DOB and then this morning 4 more had vacate orders lifted. There were more during the day, but I have not received a total count yet.
Most are relying on the management company to enter tomorrow and begin demolition. A handful of units have decided to move out, wherein the management company has verbally agreed to void the leases.
Hey, remember back when Patricia Lancaster was in charge of the DOB? We’ve tried to forget those days too, but they’re the unmentioned backdrop looming behind the Times’quickie interview of Robert LiMandri, who took over at the DOB after Lancaster went the way in April ’08. Some key bits of info and quotes: In 2010 the DOB had slightly fewer inspectors because of budget cuts but “We put G.P.S. tracking on our 337 inspectors, so we know where our people are,” and “Permits for new buildings and major alterations fell around 19 percent last year, to 13,000 from 16,000. But permits for small-scale alterations â€” like moving a wall â€” rose 6 percent, to nearly 103,000. People are still doing smaller work, and that drives the economy as well. We’re starting to see pockets of demolitions. We just had seven or eight sites in the last couple of weeks. When you see demolitions come back, it’s a leading indicator that development is coming.” So the question is whether LiMandri’s leaner, meaner DOB is now really equipped for an upswing in construction, should one actually occur. The 30-Minute Interview: Robert D. LiMandri [NY Times]
Another Williamsburg loft building bites the dust. According to The Brooklyn Paper, the six-story structure at 571 Metropolitan Avenue (at Lorimer) was ordered vacated by the Department of Buildings on Thursday, leaving some 40-odd residents without a place to live. (The DOB file for the building lists both a Partial Stop Work Order and a Full Vacate Order in effect.) “We’re young, we don’t have savings,” said one of the displaced residents. “We had no idea about the problems here. The tenants are suing the owner of the building, which has over 150 violations on it–64 from the DOB for structural issues and another 94 from the ECB. Williamsburg Artists Evicted in Crackdown [Brooklyn Paper] Photo from Property Shark