Hook condos halted

The Brooklyn Paper
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A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ordered an injunction last week stopping the conversion of a former warehouse on the Red Hook waterfront into a luxury residential condominium.

The ruling could be the first step in overturning a Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) zoning variance to allow residential development in the industrially zoned area. The issue has pitted Red Hook working waterfront activists against some residents and merchants who want to see more housing brought to the area.

Justice Yvonne Lewis on Dec. 9 ordered Industry City Associates to permanently halt the conversion of the massive industrial building at 160 Imlay St., near Pier 11, pending the outcome of an Article 78 case filed by attorneys for the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber wants the site maintained for industrial use.

Work on the warehouse, one of a pair of twin behemoths on the small industrial street, was stopped five weeks ago when Lewis issued a temporary restraining order pending her decision.

The Red Hook chamber’s argument, according to the group’s lawyer, Michael Hiller, raised issue with what it called an inadequate application filed by the developers, that they said failed to prove that Industry City developers Bruce Federman and Bruce Batkin had thoroughly searched for industrial or commercial tenants to occupy the site under its present zoning, before it went to the BSA and asked for a variance to create 153 luxury condo apartments.

Community Board 6 had recommended that BSA deny the Industry City application.

“We’re reviewing the judge’s decision and we remain committed to the project,” said Bob Liff, spokesman for Batkin.

“We complied with everything the BSA requested, and we had to prove that,” he said. “The demolition work is basically finished, and now it’s an open building, and it’s ready to be reconstructed into a residential structure.”

Asked if the company would be prepared to consider other uses if the BSA ruling was overturned, Liff said they would first take the case to the appellate court, but in the meantime will fight the injunction “with no mercy.”

“We’re confident,” Liff said, that the building conversion will happen.

The building has been largely rendered a shell with just concrete floors, walls and ceilings that is shrouded in scaffolding and protective netting.

“All they did was open up the walls, and the walls were mainly glass block that were pasted over. All the supporting walls and columns are still there,” said Tom Russo, president of the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce. He said the building could be converted into a refrigerated food warehouse.

“Several of our members are in the food business and they send their products over to a warehouse in New Jersey. We have 45 food service businesses in the area,” he said

Justice Lewis believes the Article 78 proceeding could last three months. In the next few weeks she will review the developers’ filings with the BSA, and determine if the chamber’s case seeking to overturn the city panel’s decision was warranted.

According to a court source, her review will be “limited to making the determination that the legislative body’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious and irrational.”

The chamber supporters claim that an influx of high-end residential units will put unprecedented strain on the manufacturing and shipping industries that currently exist in the area. Others, who have moved to Red Hook taking advantage of the competitive housing market, argue the need for more residential to fuel the already burgeoning housing boom.

But in the judge’s chambers on Dec. 7 the main bone of contention was over the value of a bond the chamber was required to put up for any damages Industry City might suffer as a result of the injunction should they win the case. The chamber posted $36,000, which Industry City officials considered way too low. They claim more than $2.8 million has been lost.

“The information they provided — it was almost laughable,” said Hiller. “It’s so absolutely untrue.” He said Industry City officials reported that they’d need to put plywood up to block off the building.

“They say that plywood costs $17 a square foot. I mean, plywood!” said Hiller who said his own analysis showed it cost 50 cents a square foot “at least for wholesale,” and added they didn’t need to put up wood on the concrete building.

“Concrete on the inside of the building is the same as concrete on the outside of the building,” said Hiller. “The whole thing is truly ridiculous.”

But Batkin’s spokesman, Liff, said the projected costs were within reason.

“We were requesting a significantly higher bond, because we see a much higher potential loss,” said Liff.

A court source said the judge’s bond ruling was “based on actual losses, verifiable actual losses, not speculation,” which is why Lewis ordered the bond of $36,000 as requested by Hiller, instead of the amount requested by Robert Davis, the lawyer for Industry City.

“We have a disagreement with the judge,” said Liff, explaining it was Industry City’s position that potential losses should be accounted for as well.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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