Brooklynites sue Landmarks over “devastating” 265-foot project

Residents of 529-foot tower allege commission was improperly swayed by public benefits

Gotham Organization CEO David L. Picket and renderings of the (Photos via Gotham; FXCollaborative)
Gotham Organization CEO David L. Picket and a rendering of 130 St. Felix Street, to the right of the taller One Hanson Place (Photos via Gotham; FXCollaborative)

Did bodysnatchers visit the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission this summer? Maybe so, a Brooklyn neighborhood association alleges in a lawsuit.

Preserve BAM’s Historic District, a group of residents of the Brooklyn Academy of Music Historic District, sued in New York State Supreme Court to overturn the commission’s approval of a 265-foot building that the Gotham Organization seeks to build at 130 St. Felix Street.

The group — mostly residents of One Hanson Place, the condo within the 529-foot-high Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building — alleges that the landmarks agency shirked its duty to disapprove the building, which it characterizes as “devastating” to the historic district.

Instead, the lawsuit alleges, the commission prioritized the community benefits the project promises, including 36 affordable apartments and the expansion of the Brooklyn Music School. This violates the purpose of the commission, which is to protect historic structures, the suit says.

“Too many indications cast doubt that the system worked here, and suggest that it may be susceptible to undue influence in other instances,” the suit reads, calling out specifically “the susceptibility of the commissioners to a temptation to support solutions that will promote the general public welfare, such as by aiding music schools and low cost housing.”

Additionally, the group speculates the project was approved under pressure from or in exchange for favors from the de Blasio administration, though the suit admits that this is “not known.”

The Gotham Organization declined to comment. The Landmarks Preservation Commission could not immediately be reached.

The neighborhood group’s objections stem from two commission meetings over the summer. At the first, on June 23, commissioners blasted Gotham for its proposed 23-story, 151,000-square-foot building, saying it failed “the most basic test of appropriateness” and did not fit the scale of the neighborhood.

During the hearing, the landmarks agency’s general counsel stated that commissioners should not consider the community benefits, and that “the only proper issues to consider concerned such architectural and aesthetic issues as height, positioning of bulk, colors and materials, etc.”

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The developer was given a chance to resubmit its application.

Gotham returned six weeks later with a new plan, which chopped 20 feet off the tower and reduced the massing on its St. Felix Street side, shifting much of it to Ashland Place. The commission approved the proposal almost unanimously.

The plaintiffs argue that the developer’s “modest” concessions did not merit approval, and speculate that the commissioners were swayed by “political and social issues.”

“Although the rationale for acceptance was not cogently expressed, it appeared — by dint of eliminating other possible explanations — that the desire to provide more space to the Music School and to facilitate some ‘affordable’ housing had won out and become the deciding factor,” the complaint reads.

The group’s motivation may go beyond preserving neighborhood character: The complaint acknowledges that many project opponents wish to preserve views from their condos in One Hanson Place, which until a few years ago had been the tallest building in Brooklyn for decades.

The structure would also replace a parking lot next to the bank building, which, the suit notes, residents of the condo use. “Continuation of that use might be deemed most appropriate, at least by some,” it reads.

Preservation of parking lots is not part of the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s mission, however.

The project has not yet received broader approval from the city; if Landmarks’ approval is not overturned, it will still need to go through the uniform land use review procedure.