Did Shaoul build another too-tall building?

By Sarah Ryley | August 27, 2010 12:00PM

Developer Benjamin Shaoul, and the call box at his Sky East at 636 East 11th Street shows only residential apartments, not the promised doctors’ offices, on the first floor and ground level.

Benjamin Shaoul, the developer ordered earlier this month to dismantle a penthouse atop an East Village tenement, has yet another expensive mistake he needs to fix, The Real Deal has learned.

Just blocks from the vertically challenged tenement on East 6th Street is Sky East, a luxury rental building for which the city granted him the right to build at least two stories taller than normally permitted in exchange for including 26 medical offices on the first and garden levels.

But there are no chiropractors, dentists or urologists hard at work at the base of this building — just 22 apartments.

The discrepancy led the Department of Buildings yesterday to issue two violations to Shaoul’s company, Sky East LLC, which carry a combined maximum fine of $35,000, said DOB spokesperson Jennifer Gilbert. The building has been slapped with six violations on the matter since January 2009.

Shaoul claimed the 31,000-square-foot, seven-story building at 636 East 11th Street “complies with the current zoning.”

But on the official Certificate of Occupancy filed with DOB, he only lists 36 apartments on the second through seventh floors, and medical offices on the first floor and garden level.

There are 58 apartments listed on the call box, including the 22 on the first and garden levels, and no medical offices.

The Real Deal recently spoke to two tenants living in the first and garden levels, one who signed a lease less than two months ago, and another who was asked to renew his lease less than two months ago.

“There are definitely no medical offices anywhere in the building,” said the long-time tenant, adding that some studios were so small they looked like they should be offices.

A doorman blocked The Real Deal from gaining entry into the building, but a look through the only unfrosted street-facing window on the first floor revealed that a shoebox studio comes with a full set of stainless steel appliances, including a dishwasher.

In January 2009, DOB issued Shaoul four violations for “illegal occupancy” on the lower floors, with fines totaling $4,250.

He was told to either remove the showers in the lower floor units and convert them to doctors’ offices, or get a permit to use them as apartments, which would require a zoning variance approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals, the same entity that ordered him to dismantle a penthouse earlier this month.

Shaoul said he is in the process of having the apartments permitted, but claims they are legal under the current zoning.

This isn’t the first time the young developer has been accused of flouting the building code.

Shaoul “has overbuilt several buildings in my district all using similar tactics,” said City Council member Rosie Mendez.
“This developer repeatedly and brazenly converts community facility space to residential and commercial use in an effort to exceed the allowable zoning. It’s a tried and true scam.”

Earlier this month, the BSA ordered him to dismantle a seventh-story penthouse he built atop a tenement at 514-516 East 6th Street, but not the sixth floor he also added, which was also in dispute.

Shaoul called the decision “our victory” and said he is currently working “to obtain approvals from the Department of Buildings as to how we will eliminate the seventh story.”

A similar addition to a tenement at 515 East 5th Street is still in dispute, according to the New York Post.

And The Real Deal reported in April that summer partying at the luxe condominium the A Building, at 421 East 13th Street, was dampened for weeks, on multiple occasions, when DOB shuttered the rooftop pool because it wasn’t included in the approved building plans.

Susan Stetzer, the local community board’s district manager, said legislation should be enacted to give DOB “teeth” to force developers to actually fix their violations, as opposed to just issuing fines.

“They’re supposed to be given extra height for giving something to the community, and they’ve reneged on their part of the deal,” Stetzer said.

At Sky East, the least expensive of the 22 illegal apartments listed on Streeteasy.com still pulls in $20,400 a year in rent, giving the developer a powerful financial incentive to simply continue ignoring the law.

When asked what DOB could do to force the developer to give the community its promised medical offices, Gilbert responded: “Property owners have a responsibility to follow the law, and when they fail to do so, the Department [of Buildings] can issue violations in order to hold them accountable. If violating conditions persist, the department will continue to investigate to ensure compliance.”

Shaoul said in a statement: “We are responsible members and supporters of the community in which our properties are located and we are committed to responding to and solving any issues or questions that may result from the often complicated development or construction process in New York City.”