Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

City issues new stop work order on Tribeca project

By Brooke Edwards

Northern Tribeca is rife with controversial development projects currently underway within blocks of each other, and 415 Washington St. is no exception.

The city Department of Buildings last week issued another stop work order on the seven-story development, which counts actor James Gandolfini as one of its principal investors.

Thirty-two complaints have been registered with the D.O.B. since demolition work on the former parking lot and gas station began last May. D.O.B. has issued five violations, three stop work orders and nearly $5,000 in fines that have yet to be paid, all for vibrations caused by the demolition in neighboring landmarked buildings and for construction crews working without the proper permits.

As planned, 415 Washington will have 30 residential units for sale, ranging from 1,200 to over 3,500 square feet in the penthouse, according to project architect Joseph Pell Lombardi. He expects construction to be completed around February of next year on the Atlantic Walk building, near Laight St.

The project first raised red flags for many nearby residents when the developer applied for a special rebuilding permit, based on a foundation from a building that burned down in 1932.

To qualify for a rebuilding permit, which can allow developers to construct a bigger building than what is legally allowed in the area, the original structure has to be mostly intact or it must have its original foundation untouched. The permit for 415 Washington was granted on the basis of using the original foundation.

Mark Stern, a resident of neighboring 430 Greenwich St., along with his attorney Jack Lester and a group of residents, challenged Atlantic’s acquisition of a rebuild permit and has been putting pressure on the developer and the D.O.B. for months.

Last week, Atlantic Walk changed their building permit application to a new construction. “It will be a new building,” Lombardi said.

But Stern and other residents are still concerned about the size of the project.

The developers applied for a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals that would allow them to build outside the zoning restrictions. Currently, Northern Tribeca is still zoned as a commercial district, although there have been plans in the works to rezone the area as residential for some time.

The B.S.A. eventually allowed 415 Washington St. a variance for a residential conversion, but refused their request to build beyond the zoned 5.0 floor to area ratio.

However, Stern says that to make the property conform to the required F.A.R., they simply removed interior floor space but did not change the bulk of the building.

Stern says there is nothing to stop the owners from adding the removed floor space down the road.

Lombardi explained that there are some duplex units with 22-foot ceilings, a feature the developer can’t change.

“It’s not possible in that it’s illegal,” Lombardi said.

Stern and other residents also distrust the developer’s engineer, since the company, Cifron Environmental Services, has been found guilty by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection of falsifying data about hazardous substances seeping into a lake.

“Unfortunately, very often the Department of Buildings is willing to take the work of a developer or an engineer hired by a developer or a property owner as the final word with very little critical thinking or follow-up to check and see that what they are saying is true,” Stern said.

A Buildings spokesperson declined to comment on the agency’s followup procedures.

Though the developer has scaled back their original plans, neighbors are still concerned for the safety of their buildings with the track record that has been established.

Stern said he watched from the window of his apartment on May 1 as two moving trucks pulled up at midnight. He says 10 guys got out, running and shouting, and had put up fencing and padlocks around the existing parking lot in about 10 minutes.

The next day, Stern says, they brought in a large mechanical digger and began work before any permits had been filed with the city. This resulted in the first stop work order issued on the property.

“These people are operating recklessly and not proceeding with any indication of caution for the surrounding buildings,” Stern said.

Community Board 1 has heard Stern’s concerns, but they have tabled the issue until they can get more documentation and information from the city on the complicated and ever-changing development.

“We’re fortunate in that we can deal with it ourselves,” Stern said. “We can raise the $20,000 to hire our own lawyers and engineers. But what about people who cannot afford to do that? People are being left vulnerable by those we think we are paying to protect us.”

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