Cutting Off The Finger?

From Philip DePaolo, [email protected]

Board of Standards and Appeals public hearing on 144 N. Eighth St. (a.k.a. the “Finger Building”). BSA offices (40 Rector St., between Washington Street and the West Side Highway, in Manhattan, sixth floor), Oct. 16, 10 am. Call (212) 788-8547 for information.

In 2004, Mendel Brach and a partner, paid $7 million to two property owners, Scott Spector and Richard Brand, for a building on North Eighth Street, as well as air rights so a 220′ building could go up at 144 N 8th St. Residents have given it the name, The Finger Building for obvious reasons. The block that this building is going up on has been rezoned to M1/R6B Meaning anyone who wants to build on this block can only build up to 50ft, unless they add affordable units.

Prior to the Williamsburg rezoning in May 2005, this developer worked through stop work orders as documented by the D.O.B., worked weekends without permits, and worked all hours of the night on weekdays, so that the development could be grandfathered under the old zoning regulations, allowing them to build a much larger building than would be allowed under the new zoning. Despite numerous complaints and plentiful documentation by neighbors, and news media, the D.O.B. rewarded this illegal activity and vested the project. The question is, if by doing something improper, did the owners negate their vesting? And if they did, should the site have to comply with the new R6B zoning?

Developer Mendel Brach and Architect Robert Scarano used land and air rights that they did not own in order to construct this building, so I believe the incomplete building must be made to conform to the new R6B zoning. To allow this building to stay at its current height would not be an adequate punishment since it would be twice as large as the current zoning allows. Requiring Mr. Brach to remove half his building and conform to current zoning would send a powerful message to any developer or architect who wants to abuse zoning laws in communities throughout the city undergoing zoning changes. But my gut tells me the BSA is not going to do the right thing. Hopefully I am wrong.


October 13, 2007

‘Finger’ may get amputated
By Adam F. Hutton
for The Brooklyn Paper

A notorious, half-built tower on North Eighth Street — which locals call “the Finger Building” because of how it resembles a middle digit flipping the bird — should get cut off at the knuckle at a public hearing next week, members of Community Board 1 say.

The board’s land-use committee has opposed owner Mendel Brach’s application to finish a 16-story tower in an area that was downzoned in 2005 to bar anything higher than 10 stories.

Brach’s project, between Berry Street and Bedford Avenue, was far enough along to change the plans or halt construction when the new zoning went into effect, according to the Department of Buildings.

But is remains unfinished thanks to legal challenges, several work stoppages by the city, and problems getting the right materials, according to Peter Geis, a lawyer for Brach’s development company.

That’s why he’ll ask the Board of Standards and Appeals for another 18 months to finish the 42-unit condo tower. But as far as CB1 is concerned, Brach had his chance to finish his project before the two-year deadline lapsed this summer.

“We really want the tower to stay the size it is now,” said CB1 member Evan Thies.

Thies and others don’t only have a problem with the design of the finger building, but also its designer.

The building’s architect is Robert Scarano, whose champions credit him with putting his unique aesthetic stamp on a wide swath of Brooklyn, but whose critics accuse him of playing fast-and-loose with building codes.

“Developers like to use Scarano because he is a master of circumventing city zoning laws,” said Williamsburg downzoning advocate Phil DePaolo.

As reported by The Brooklyn Paper last year, the Department of Buildings pulled Scarano’s right to self-certify his designs after accusing him of rubber-stamping 17 plans that were larger than current zoning law allows.

The agency also accused Scarano of negligence at a handful of job sites.

Posted Under: Community Boards, Enforcement, Tower, Williamsburg

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