HL23 developer sues over stop work order, ‘shake down’

TRD New York /
Jun.June 17, 2008 04:40 PM

The developer of a high profile residential project on the High Line has sued the Department of Buildings over a seven-week-old stop work order. The lawsuit claims that the stop-work order is in place because the builder refuses to pay a “shake down” fee to a neighboring developer.

Alf Naman, the developer of HL23, called 23 Highline in court documents, filed the lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court on June 9 against the city, next-door developers Highline Park and Sleepy Hudson, the developers of 519 West 23rd Street, a Lindy Roy-designed condo building finished in the fall of 2007, and its condo association.

The suit sought to lift an April 30 Buildings Department work stoppage for Naman’s project at 515 West 23rd Street for performing shoring work under next-door 519 West 23rd Street without the neighbor’s permission. That work was completed in November, 2007.

A partial stop work order remains, which allows only foundation work. To completely lift the stop work order, the city wants Naman to get permission from the neighbors to proceed, the suit says.

But Naman said a representative from developer Highline Park sought $850,000 to get its permission during a meeting in April, the lawsuit claims.

Paul Bonnar, president of Leeds United Construction, the general contractor at the neighboring site, was at the meeting and disputed that account.

“The truth is there was no request made or demand made for money,” he said.

The stoppage has also endangered construction financing for HL23 project, the lawsuit claims.
Naman did not respond to requests for comment.

A DOB spokeswoman said the stop work order would remain in effect until the judge orders it to be lifted or the developer obtains consent.

Naman’s 14-story, 11-unit luxury condominium project was designed by architect Neil Denari. An exhibit of the building at the Museum of the City of New York opened yesterday.

The building was designed in close collaboration with the city, which permitted variances that have not been given to most developments in the area. For example, it is within five feet of the High Line park, closer than the standard 15-foot setback. Also, the top two top floors are cantilevered over the tracks, a public space.

However, the tighter scrutiny of the DOB following recent crane and building collapses may make lifting the stop work order more difficult for the developers, real estate experts said.

The lawsuit charged that during a May 8 meeting, Max Lee, the DOB’s Manhattan Deputy Borough Commissioner, would not address evidence that the foundation shoring work was performed according to drawings.

“He simply advised that ‘it had come from above’ that DOB would not lift the SWO (stop work order)” unless the developers could prove they had consent from the neighboring building to complete the work, the filing said.

Trying to force the city to lift a work stoppage is “not an unusual proceeding,” said Stephen Nahley, a partner in the real estate practice of law firm Moses and Singer.
The next court date was set for June 18.

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