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Two Homecrest neighbors won a hard-fought victory in their legal battle against the owner of a bizarre, unfinished building after a state Supreme Court judge ordered the Board of Standards and Appeals to review the permits they authorized the Department of Buildings to hand over to the defendant and his architect.
“The [Board of Standards and Appeals] abandoned its obligation to review and, if necessary, correct the mistakes of the Buildings,” State Supreme Court Judge Yvonne Lewis wrote in her decision. She also said this time the city agency ought to look at the permits before rubber stamping them.
The E. 12th Street home is a structure towering about two stories over its neighbors and — literally — built cantilevered over the ruins of a bungalow. A cantilever is a long beam projecting from a wall to support a balcony or bridge-like structure. This means that this two-story structure is not held up by pillars and has enough space between it and the bungalow’s foundation for someone to walk under.
In 2006, the city issued a zoning change that lowered the E. 12th Street block from an R6 to an R4 zone. This limited the maximum height of residential structures on that block, according to Bella Center, the tower’s immediate neighbor and co-complainant in the lawsuit against Joseph Druzie, the bizarre building’s owner.
Prior to the zoning change, architect Shlomo Wygoda, on behalf of Druzie, his client, filed papers with the Buildings seeking permits for an “alteration” to a modest bungalow between avenues R and S. Normally, the Buildings would have audited Wygoda’s plans, but the architect had been awarded “self-certification” privileges.
In self-certification, also known as professional certification, the city allows architects and engineers to submit permit applications without review, assuming that the plans are in compliance with all applicable laws, as a way to shorten approval times. The Buildings took it on faith that these professionals wouldn’t violate the city’s regulations, but some unscrupulous builders abused the privilege.
Wygoda was allowed to self certify and Druzie’s immediate neighbors have since been living in the shadow of what’s described as “grotesque,” “hideous,” “a blemish,” and undoubtedly one of Homecrest’s most bizarre structures, according to attorney Stuart Klein. He represents E. 12th Street resident Betty Travitsky in her crusade to get the cantilevered tower demolished.
“[Wygoda] put in plans that were grossly deficient,” he said. “It’s absolutely, unbelievably hideous, and it’s a sign of arrogance to put something like that up, between two buildings that are half its height.”
In addition to being an eyesore, the attorney, his client, and Center, the co-complainant, fear that the half-finished tower — which hasn’t received any construction work for two years — is structurally unsound.
“We think there’s a very real danger,” said Klein. “This is a grotesquery, a horrible blight on the neighborhood and [the Department of Buildings] is allowing it to happen.”
Opponents of the building contend that, not only should the Buildings never have given Wygoda the permits he requested, but that the architect was actively trying to dupe the city when he filed for an “alteration” permit. Considering the new structure is several times larger than the one it’s supposedly “altering,” the architect should have applied for a permit for a new building, according to Theresa Scavo, who chairs Community Board 15, which voted not to approve Druzie’s plans when he brought them before the board.
However, the city’s approval process for alternation permits is less arduous, and owner Druzie wanted the project started before the zoning change took affect, said Scavo.
“In 2006, the zoning on that block changed,” she explained. “What he tried to do was get everything done, so it could be vested before time ran out. And what he did was add that structure on top of the small structure that’s already there.”
Despite their victory, Klein is sceptical that the Board of Standards and Appeals will revoke Druzie’s building permit, considering that the board handed it out — without review — in the first place.
“We feel the [Board of Standards and Appeals] is going to rubber stamp it again,” said Klein.
But the lawyer’s clients, perhaps less cynical for having fewer dealings with the city, are holding out hope that they’ll be able to make things right.
“Lets put it this way, we are ever hopeful they will see reason,” said Center. “Something has to break this monolithic structure.”
A message left with a secretary at Druzie’s E. 14th Street medical practice was not firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-4514.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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