Loehmann’s could be getting a loft.
Community Board 15 narrowly approved an application to re-open a 20-year-old zoning variance to allow the owner of the Loehmann’s building to construct office space on top of the existing structure, which has been vacant since the department store chain went out of business last year.
The attorney representing owner Alex Levin said the additional space is necessary to keep the building viable because the cellar space was so severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy that it now rents for about 40 percent less than before the superstorm — and the only way to make up the difference is to build higher.
“As with everything that took a beating during Sandy, its value has decreased,” said attorney Eric Palatnik, “and consequently, the rent that the owner could charge for that space no longer could command what they once did.”
But one local activist argued virtually every resident and business near the water suffered from Hurricane Sandy — and approving one owner’s request sets a dangerous precedent.
“Loehmann’s wants to ask for a Sandy variance because they got flooded. Guess what? So did thousands and thousands of other people in every community across the waterfront,” said Steve Barrison, the president of the Bay Improvement Group. “Did they get a variance? Did they get to build more? Are you saying every single property owner that was flooded gets to build more? You gotta think about the consequences.”
Another concern is that the expansion plans include fewer than half of the additional parking spaces that regulations demand for the added office spaces, which would leave employees and shop patrons with a mere 198 total spaces rather than the required 215.
An elected official who attended a meeting in November with representatives of the owner and a small group of residents to discuss tentative plans for the building said he doesn’t support the current project — and parking problems are one of his main concerns.
“The application that was submitted is not going to fly with me, but it’s something that we’re having ongoing talks about,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay). “There were a number of issues of concern — especially after Hurricane Sandy — and the parking issues and technical stuff that still needs to be addressed.”
The project still needs approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals but Barrison said if the project goes through, it could destroy the neighborhood strip of restaurants and boutique gift shops — modeled on waterfront cities around that world — that is supposed to be a seaside staple.
“We wanted waterfront maritime use like you see everywhere else in the world,” he said.