A zoning dispute in Brooklyn came to a close on Tuesday with authorities sending a message to the city's real estate entrepreneurs: Developers who try to lie and cheat to push their projects through legal loopholes should step lightly.
In an apparently unprecedented move, the city's Board of Standards and Appeals, which hears arguments from property owners looking to bypass various city regulations, ruled that the construction of an 11-story apartment building in South Park Slope should be halted due to "serious concerns about the credibility of the developer."
In their testimony to the board, neighborhood opponents of the project accused Global Development of carrying on illegal work at the site, something the company denied. Neighbors provided the board with videotapes showing evidence to the contrary.
Global had applied for permission to continue the construction of the apartment building even though its proposal violated the zoning regulations passed in the neighborhood last November. According to the board's zoning rules, Global would have been allowed to proceed with the project if the company could prove that it had laid a "substantial" portion of the building's foundation and completed excavation on the site before the new rules went into effect.
Neighbors and community leaders accused Global of illegally using mechanical demolition to beat the buzzer on the new zoning laws, arguing that if Global had used manual demolition — the only method it had permission to use — it would not have completed enough of the foundation before the cut-off date. That would have required the company to scrap the project and redraw its plans for the development.
Global admitted that it had performed mechanical demolition on the site late last summer, but at first told the board that it had done so for only one day, on August 23, 2005. Later, when neighbors provided the board with video footage that showed contractors using various demolition machinery for as many as six days, Global changed its story, conceding that mechanical demolition had, in fact, occurred more than once.
The developer's attorney, Howard Hornstein, who served as the board's commissioner for three years in the 1970s, argued that this did not matter — that the legality of the demolition was irrelevant as long as the developer had completed the site excavation and made substantial progress on the building's foundation. But in Tuesday's resolution, the board wrote that if it was "compelled to disregard the impermissible acts of developers merely because they occurred pre-excavation, it would mean that developers would have an incentive" to ignore the law.
Thus, the board has set a precedent. From now on, if a developer does something illegal to beat the clock on zoning regulations, the board will take it into account when deciding whether to grant or deny their applications.
"The board's decision is a legal error," Mr. Hornstein said yesterday, "and we're going to discuss going to state Supreme Court."
According to a member of one of the neighborhood advocacy groups opposing the project, Aaron Brashear, the board's decision may have an impact on the three pending South Slope cases that will be decided in the near future.