A judge has temporarily barred the city’s transit system from halting work at a Manhattan hotel. The decision was a muted victory for the developer, Peter Zen’s FIT Investment Corp., though, given that the state has now shut down most types of construction.
But the ruling raises questions about whether projects with “essential” components should also be exempt from the Cuomo administration’s new restrictions on construction.
Back in January, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ordered FIT Investment to stop building a 173-key hotel at 50 Trinity Place so another developer, Trinity Place Holdings, could work on an elevator at the Rector Street subway station. FIT sued, seeking to continue work on its project.
Trinity Place Holdings is building a 90-unit condo tower 42 Trinity Place (also known as 77 Greenwich Street) and had agreed to build the elevator to secure approval for its project. The MTA argued that Trinity Places’ contractor needed access to the street and sidewalk in front of 50 Trinity Place to install the elevator — and that FIT’s construction fence was in the way.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Suzanne J. Adams ruled in FIT’s favor March 25, granting a preliminary injunction preventing the MTA from enforcing a stop-work order at 50 Trinity Place while the developer’s lawsuit is ongoing. The judge also rejected the MTA’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit.
But there’s a twist: While fighting the transit agency, FIT is also building something for it — and hoping the state, which controls the MTA, will spare its hotel project from the governor’s construction moratorium.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week ordered all non-essential construction to stop, but exempted transit projects, among other things. As part of its hotel, FIT is building a mechanical room for the MTA in the cellar. Attorneys for the developer have asked the state if this qualifies as essential work and if so, if the exemption applies to the entire project or just the mechanical room.
“We think it’s in the best interest of our client and the MTA to allow work to continue,” said Herrick’s William Fried, one of the attorneys representing FIT.
Owners can apply individually to Empire State Development to have their projects exempted from the governor’s order. Representatives for the development agency and the MTA didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment.
Herrick’s Brendan Schmitt said FIT is “nothing short of ecstatic” about the judge’s decision. He pointed to the judge’s comments on the application of the public authorities law, which the MTA believed allowed it to get FIT’s construction fence out of the way.
The transit agency had argued that the law enabled it to occupy city streets for construction purposes. But FIT asserted that the law doesn’t apply to its project site because a private developer, Trinity Place Holdings — not the MTA — is paying for and constructing the elevator. The judge agreed.
“The language of the statute presumes that MTA is itself undertaking a development project, and provides that in such instance it may occupy city streets for this purpose without having to obtain the city’s consent or pay the city any kind of remuneration,” the order reads. “The statute on its face does not convey a broad, unqualified right of MTA to occupy city streets and sidewalks for any reason whatsoever on an ad hoc basis.”
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at firstname.lastname@example.org