The Real Deal New York

UWS sliver building wins 10-year battle over city, but is the fight over?

May 05, 2010 02:15PM
By Adam Pincus

alternate textFrom left: Robert Ricciardelli, the current building at 330 West 86th Street and a rendering at the site

A sliver condominium project dreamed up a decade ago for the Upper West Side but stymied through years of litigation by city agencies cleared what could be its final hurdle last month when a review ruled in favor of the developer.

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals decided in favor of Midtown-based Darkhorse Development April 20, removing a barrier to a 17-story building on a 20-foot wide plot at 330 West 86th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.

The ruling says the city’s Department of Buildings cannot restrict the height of the proposed four-unit building to just a few stories.

Despite the victory, developer Robert Ricciardelli remains bitter at the city for what he said was a waste of his and taxpayers’ time and money. He estimated he has spent $500,000 on fees for attorneys and consultants.

“It is the city being stubborn and illogical because for this site the highest and best use is clearly a tall building,” he said, adding, “Frankly, if they really had an objection they should have told us about it 10 years ago.”

Even with the ruling, the case remains in court, where Ricciardelli is suing the city to allow him to build more than just four units.

The city, through Warren Shaw, senior counsel for the commercial and real estate litigation division of the city’s Law Department, said the case remains active.

“This is simply the latest development in an 11-year-old controversy that is still being actively litigated in Supreme Court. We are reviewing the decision and considering all options,” he said in an e-mail.

The winding story of the condo project began in 1999, when residents bought the five-story rental building for $340,000 from the city under the condition that the tenants rehabilitate it. The nine-unit apartment building was purchased at the request of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, through a state urban rehabilitation program called the Urban Development Action Area Project.

Two years later, in February 2001, the residents sold the building to Ricciardelli’s Darkhorse Development for $2.25 million, the developer said. To block Ricciardelli’s plans to build the 17-story tower, that would be wedged between two 15-story apartment buildings, one of those neighboring cooperative sued in New York State Supreme Court, and the case went all the way to the Court of Appeals.

In April 2007, the court ruled that Darkhorse had the right to demolish the existing building and build a new tower, but any new building would be limited to four apartment units.

With that ruling in hand, Darkhorse filed an application for a new building permit in 2008. Ricciardelli said he was about to win approval in May 2009 when DOB made a last-minute objection, stating that because the building had been sold in 1999 through the Urban Development Action Area Project, the new building should be limited to just a few stories.

Darkhorse appealed that objection to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which ruled in the builder’s favor April 20.

But even if he gets the new permits, Ricciardelli has to contend with the weak market and the very skinny plot, today still occupied by the original building with market-rate units.

Residential broker Stephen Weber, an associate with Sotheby’s International, said because of the thin plot it will be difficult to construct and to arrange the living space. But at the same time the unique shape could also give the project a boost.

“There is a challenge with everything because it is 20 feet wide, and you take up space for stairs and elevators,” and other necessary elements, Weber said. However, the width is similar to smaller buildings.

“It sounds like something very interesting, like a townhouse in the sky,” he said.

Ricciardelli says he is confident he could sell units in a thin building.

“In that area [of the Upper West Side] there is definitely a market for 20-foot-wide buildings,” Ricciardelli said, but he added, “It is clearly more difficult to build tall, large units [like Darkhorse is doing] than building say seven or eight units. That would be preferable.”

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