LANDMARK WEST! has filed an Article 78 to challenge the BSA approval of special permits allowing Congregation Shearith Israel to build a community house with a stack of luxury apartments atop–luxury apartments which break with contextual zoning and are much taller than otherwise permitted.
Read press release on this challenge below:
For Immediate Release: Contact: Linda Cronin-Gross, LCG
May 15, 2017 Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org, 718.853.5568, 917.767.1141
Landmark West!, Upper West Side Neighbors Association File Suit to Stop Construction of Outsized Luxury Development;
Petitioners, Neighbors Ask How Real Estate Interests, City Hall Connected Lobbyists Continue to Crush Neighborhoods, Despite Investigations
Citing the undue influence of City Hall connected lobbyists and law firms, Landmark West!, in conjunction with Upper West Side Neighbors Association and other community organizations (the Coalition), filed an Article 78 proceeding in New York State Supreme Court on May 5th against the City of New York, the Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) and Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) to overturn the BSA’s decision to allow CSI to build an outsized, out-of–character mid-block luxury condo development at 8 West 70th Street, all in direct violation of NYC’s zoning rules.
The petitioners ask that the variance given by the BSA to CSI for the development be revoked and that the BSA discontinue its practice of bending the zoning rules at the whim of lobbyists and other well-connected developers’ advocates.
At more than 105’ tall (plus nearly 15 feet of rooftop mechanicals), the new building would be the tallest mid-block structure ever built in the area since the creation of the “R8B” contextual zoning district The proposed project has received widespread and near universal opposition, including from Community Board #7, civic and neighborhood groups and leaders, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.
Plans include five floors of luxury condominiums to be built on top of a brand-new community house that the Coalition maintains serves no purpose other than to artificially enlarge the building to a height that would provide Central Park views on the upper floors.
“It’s clear that the CSI never intended to – or needed to, as they suggested – use the space for education purposes. It was a ruse designed to get approval for multi-million dollar luxury condos and nothing more,” said Jeanne Martowski, of 91 Central Park West, one of the petitioner groups.
The suit also maintains that the BSA is an institutionally-biased administrative agency that kowtows to developers at the behest of lobbyists and well-connected law firms.
“Incredibly, as noted in the lawsuit, the BSA approves 97% of developers’ variance applications,” said Kate Wood, President of Landmark West!. “People are increasingly angry that its own government has found ways to give developers carte blanche to get what they want,” she added.
The suit states that this case provides a telling example that “the law and facts are often irrelevant to the BSA’s determinations; instead, outcomes are obtained through exertion of political influence, generally at the instance of lobbying firms such as Capalino and Co.” As noted in the petition, Capalino, the lobbying firm which lobbied on behalf of CSI, has been at the center of the criminal investigations involving the de Blasio Administration.
Michael Hiller, who represents the Coalition challenging the BSA’s decision, remarked that “it is particularly distressing that irrefutable documentary evidence confirms that CSI repeatedly misled the BSA, the City and the State in connection with this development, and yet, the BSA somehow waived its own rules and approved CSI’s application.” He further commented that, “without a well-connected lobbyist and law firm, I can’t imagine that the BSA would have spent more than five minutes on this application before rejecting it.”
CSI originally approached the Department of Buildings (DOB) in 2007 for a permit to build “15 supposedly indispensable classrooms” and luxury condos that would require zoning variances. The BSA granted its request, but the project never moved forward. CSI proceeded, over the next several years, to re-file and to change its plans a number of times. The “15 supposedly indispensable classrooms” repeatedly morphed, over time, into the current plan, in which more than 98 sets of changes were made to the plans originally approved by BSA. Despite the number and breadth of changes to the plans, which include re-engineering of the entire structure, an expansion of the building’s envelope, and the reconfiguration of every floor, the BSA “determined” that the changes were “minor,” and, on that basis, approved the plan.
This lawsuit is another in a huge uptick in the number of litigations instituted against the City and its various commissions and agencies to stop inappropriate, out-of-context and mammoth real estate developments. Despite various investigations by law-enforcement agencies, including the United States Justice Department, Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the pattern of approvals for such projects continues nearly unabated.
“It’s a sad day when ordinary citizens have to resort to lawsuits to try to get some measure of justice and to keep our neighborhoods from being crushed,” said Ms. Wood.
Full copies of the verified petition are available; please contact LCG Communications as listed above.
A fact sheet about the CSI development project can be found here and an up-to-date blog history of Landmark West! and community efforts to halt the project can be found here.