Williamsburg developers, homeowners to sue city over Grand Street downzoning

A group of Williamsburg developers and homeowners say they will sue the city over last week’s decision to downzone their properties, which the developers claim will cost them millions in lost revenue that they expected to make from new developments.

In a draft filing provided to The Real Deal, the petitioners accuse Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 of intentionally neglecting to notify affected property owners of the proposed changes.

In response to outrage from some community members over two towers designed by architect Karl Fischer, the Department of City Planning began a public review process in December to reduce the density of new developments on 13 blocks along Grand Street, roughly bounded by Berry Street and Marcy Avenue. Three weeks later, on Jan. 8, the community board approved the proposed changes, which generally put a three- or four-story height limit on blocks where there were none.

On March 26, the City Council issued its final approval, stopping work on more than a dozen projects that were planned or in the early stages of construction.

Property owners May Liu and Timothy Phillips petitioned the State Supreme Court last week to block the vote, but were denied. He estimates the rezoning will cost him $3.5 million in anticipated income after he cuts a planned six-story apartment building and nursery in half.

Attorney Lawrence Lo said 50 to 100 property owners could join in their revised lawsuit to overturn the rezoning.

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Connie Pankratz, deputy communications director for the city’s Law Department, said, “The court properly determined that the City Council should not be prevented from voting on the zoning amendment. We are unable to comment further on this lawsuit, as we have not yet received the legal papers.”

Phillips likened their legal fight to eminent domain battles elsewhere in the city.

“The only difference is, eminent domain is targeted against a specific homeowner and the government is required to compensate you for the loss at some sort of market rate,” he said. “Whereas in zoning … there’s no requirement for compensation and a very limited requirement for notice.”

The filing claims that Community Board 1 voted on the rezoning in an emergency session called immediately after the January hearing without directly notifying the affected property owners. The petition alleges that the board’s agenda for the meeting didn’t mention the issue, and that a misleading notice of the hearing was passed out to pedestrians for only one hour in the middle of the day.

Phillips said he has met with about 100 property owners over the past few weeks, and claimed that none had known of the community board meeting in advance.

Carlos Isdith, another developer who submitted plans for a five-story building on Grand Street, said he expects an estimated a $1.5 million loss. He and his son, John, said they’re strongly considering joining the case.

The Fischer-designed buildings were 10- and 15-story structures planned for opposite corners of Grand Street and Driggs Avenue. 

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