Friday, April 18, 2008

DoB admits it approves buildings that don’t meet zoning requirements

An absolute stunner in today’s New York Times:

The high-rise building under construction on the East Side where a crane collapse last month killed seven people did not conform with zoning regulations and was approved in error, the city’s buildings commissioner said on Thursday at a City Council hearing.

Later, in a clarification, the commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, told reporters that the Buildings Department should not have approved the building as proposed. But she left open the possibility that it might have been properly approved in a different configuration.

The commissioner would not say whether the high-rise, set for 43 stories at 303 East 51st Street and Second Avenue, should have been built at a different height or interior square footage.

. . . .

The approval error was discovered before the crane collapse when the developer, James P. Kennelly, asked that his plans be reviewed for compliance, Kate Lindquist, a department spokeswoman, said after the hearing.

“The zoning issues have to do with the configuration of the building and the way the tax lots are combined,” Ms. Lindquist said. A tax lot is a tract of land used by the city to determine real estate taxes.

The department did not seek to stop the project as soon as the error was discovered because buildings officials were talking to Mr. Kennelly to resolve the matter, Ms. Lindquist said. Neither she nor Ms. Lancaster would give a specific date for the discovery of the error. Calls to Mr. Kennelly were not returned.

. . . .

Under direct and often withering questioning by council members at the hearing of the Housing and Buildings Committee, called to review crane safety and inspection, Ms. Lancaster said the building under construction had been approved “not in accordance with the zoning regulation.”

“Wow,” said Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, whose district includes the site of the crane collapse. “You’re telling me this building should never have been approved in the first place?”

“That is correct,” Ms. Lancaster replied.

After her testimony, Ms. Lancaster sought to clarify her remarks with reporters.

In response to a question about what specifically was wrong with the Buildings Department’s clearance of the project, Ms. Lancaster replied: “It has to do with the zoning regulations, where setbacks and the height and width and the combination of zoning laws, and when you can combine them and when you can’t. It’s complex.”

Does this mean that the building should never have been approved at all? the reporter continued.

“I think the community doesn’t want the building at all,” the commissioner replied. “In fact, that property owner has property rights like anybody else who owns property and can build a building there. The question is the configuration. It’s a small adjustment in the configuration.”

Asked to elaborate on the adjustment, Ms. Lancaster said officials were “still in conversation” with the developer about that.

During the hearing, the buildings commissioner said she could not quantify the pace of building construction in New York City. Several council members said it was “out of control” and “astronomical.”

Another stunner: Pat “splat” Lancaster still has her job.

As has been reported earlier, the Trump SoHo is also being built in violation of its area’s zoning restrictions. But, as Lancaster has now admitted, the Department of Buildings doesn’t let a silly thing like the law get in the way of a developer’s rush toward astronomical profits.

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