The Real Deal New York

WV residents move to block 150 Charles condos

Suit claims developer Witkoff Group illegally switched construction plans

August 14, 2012 12:00PM
By Leigh Kamping-Carder

150 Charles Street in June

A group of West Village residents has gone to court to block the construction of 150 Charles Street, the Witkoff Group’s 98-unit condominium conversion of the former Whitehall Storage building. The 11 plaintiffs, who all live near the site, are claiming that the developer has run afoul of zoning rules.

The residents say that Witkoff won special permission to enlarge the existing structure because the project is a conversion, rather than ground-up construction. But now, the developer has demolished the warehouse, waiving its right to the extra floor area, the residents allege in a complaint filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court.

The suit also names Robert LiMandri, commissioner of the Department of Buildings, alleging that he failed to enforce zoning regulations.

“It’s outrageous that the developers tell the city one thing and then just go and do whatever they want,” said Barry Mallin, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “The DOB has not been enforcing the law here and allowing [the developer] to get away with things they should not get away with,” he added.

The long-awaited project – which occupies an entire block between West 10th, Charles, Washington and West streets — is set to hit the market in the upcoming months, with Prudential Douglas Elliman power brokers Leonard Steinberg, Raphael De Niro and Darren Sukenik handling sales.

Pricing has not yet been released, but plans for the Cook + Fox-designed development call for increasing the height to 15 stories, adding 338,284 square feet of space, while preserving the existing four-story façade, according to DOB records. Steinberg has called the project “the ultimate Village experience.”

But the residents allege that Witkoff has switched gears and “destroyed” the Whitehall building, meaning the company can no longer take advantage of a waiver allowing it to build higher and larger than what is normally allowed at the site.

Mallin cited recent photographs of the construction site that allegedly demonstrate Witkoff has torn down the existing structure (see above) A source familiar with the project said that plans for the development had not changed.

The plaintiffs also filed a complaint with the DOB, but the agency has not moved to halt construction or revoke Witkoff’s building permits, Mallin said.

Hence, the residents have asked the court to order the construction to stop and to effectively rescind LiMandri’s approval of the project.

The development has raised hackles in the neighborhood in the past. Another group of West Village residents posted an 11-minute YouTube video, entitled “The Rape of the West Village,” that lambasts the development for failing to fit in with the neighborhood’s character.

The plaintiffs had initially wanted the land at 150 Charles Street to be turned into a community park. “[B]ut if that can’t happen, then for the developers to adhere to the zoning rules,” Mallin said of the goal of the lawsuit.

The 150 Charles Street development is not the only Village development to generate controversy. In the past, locals have challenged Rudin Management’s conversion of St. Vincent’s Hospital and sought to curtail the scope of New York University’s expansion plans. Both projects have been approved by city council.

Craig Murphy, Witkoff’s director of project development, was travelling and unavailable for comment. Steinberg declined to comment. A spokesman for DOB did not immediately provide a comment.

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