Volume 19 • Issue 6 | June 23-29, 2006

Judge takes summer to decide Knickerbocker’s future

Knickerbocker Village had its day in court Monday.

Lawyers for the complex’s 4,000 tenants, its owners and the state appeared in State Supreme Court to plead their case for the future of the rent protected residential community.

In January, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which oversees the Lower East Side complex, ruled that the Knickerbocker owners could remove the 12-building complex from a rent protection program called Article IV. The tenants in turn sued the state and in March were granted a stay pending a court decision.

“Everybody wants this resolved,” said Robert Wilson, an elected member of the Tenants Association and the association’s former president. After a four-year dispute with the owners, the case is on “a clear track now. The airplane is now in the air and we’ll all watch how it lands.”

On Monday, Judge Walter B. Tolub’s 60 Centre St. courtroom was packed and the audience overflowed into the rotunda outside, said Wilson. After hearing arguments from both sides, Tolub said he would rule by the end of the summer.

Under the proposed provisions, new tenants would be offered rent stabilized leases, but the owners, Cherry Green Management, would no longer be required to select tenants that meet middle income requirements. In five years, Cherry Green could convert the building to a co-op, however current tenants could not be evicted for 20 years.

Knickerbocker is a nearly 1,600-unit stand of unassuming brick towers set in the triangle between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Since it was built in 1934, it has been protected by Article IV, a precursor to Mitchell-Lama, a middle income rent protection law. Changes to housing law that gave landlords provisions to move out of Article IV do not pertain to Knickerbocker because the law only applies to newer buildings, say tenants. But Cherry Green and D.H.C.R. insist that the law was not intended to keep a property regulated forever—that there must be provisions to deregulate a property at some point in time.

In May 2005, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency vested with rebuilding Downtown, set aside $5 million for Knickerbocker out of a fund to build and preserve affordable housing in the neighborhood. At the time, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctorofff said that the money would keep Knickerbocker apartments affordable permanently.

D.H.C.R. did not return calls for comment. Vincent Callagy, general manager for Cherry Green, referred all comments to his lawyer, who also did not return calls for comment.

—Ronda Kaysen


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