It is the case of the phantom warehouse.
Neighbors of the Rock and Roll Playhouse, a planned kid-friendly restaurant in Gowanus that will double as an adults-only nightclub after 8 pm, say that the city should not have grandfathered the venue into an historic commercial zoning designation because the warehouse that would contain the business has been a dead-zone for more than a decade.
“Neighbors next door said the place was empty and vacant,” said Jack Lester, a lawyer representing the not-on-our-street-corner group We Are Gowanus, which fears the kids bar will flood the residential neighborhood with noise and boozed-up music fans.
The warehouse at Bond and Degraw streets is subject to a zoning law that says buildings that have had a commercial function since before 1961 can stay in business unless they are unoccupied for two years or more. We Are Gowanus reps and neighbors told the Board of Standards and Appeals on Tuesday that the site has been quiet as a mouse for years, citing 2011 court testimony by Isacowitz in a separate matter saying his business Excellence in Plumbing had not done any jobs in three years. The Bond Street facility also has no tax records, invoices, or payrolls records, and a letter sent to the site was bounced back to the sender, according to Lester.
“If you were running a business, you would have some record of a business, right?” he said.
A lawyer representing Isacowitz countered that his client was looking for work, as he said in the deposition, which does not necessarily mean that the company was kaput.
And the Playhouse camp has records that he says back that up.
Another rep showed the board copies of phone records, e-mails from Verizon, and insurance documents in hopes of proving the plumbing business had been up and running from 2002 to 2012, a year after his wife Sharon Ackerman handed the lease over to Brooklyn Bowl honcho Peter Shapiro, who is behind the edu-tainment venture.
Plumber Seth Nahoum swore in an affidavit that he worked five days a week as a foreman for Excellence from 2003 to 2010. An accountant who says he still prepares tax returns for Isacowitz said he listed the pipe professional’s home address on past filings.
The plumbing business often ran from 6:30 in the morning into the afternoon, so it is likely that neighbors missed activity on the site and wrongly concluded that the operation was defunct, lawyer Richard Lobel said.
“Although we don’t really want it to be their opinion or our opinion, the truth is that certain documentation overrides opinions here,” he said.
The Department of Buildings sided with the Playhouse, arguing in a March 14 letter to the Board of Standards and Appeals that We Are Gowanus has not come up with adequate evidence to show conclusively that the Bond Street warehouse fell out of use for two years or more. Lester said his team has produced more than enough proof.
“The DOB’s position is absolutely irrational,” he said.
The Rock and Roll Playhouse is slated to offer music classes for kids as well as nightly adult programming, including theatrical and jazz performances. Venue director Amy Striem is intent on meeting the city’s demands, she said in a statement.
The Board of Standards and Appeals has asked Lobel to come up with more evidence showing commercial activity on the property from 2010 on. The next hearing will be on May 20.