‘Homecrest horror’ house halted

Judge rules city agencies must review permits for monstrosity
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Homecrest neighbors and local leaders may have finally slain the “monstrosity” in their midst.

After a torturous back and forth over construction of an outsized house that a city panel allowed to proceed despite a judge’s order — and the city’s admission that the project should never have been approved in the first place — the Department of Buildings has ordered the work halted and threatens to revoke the permit unless the builder addresses the agency’s objections.

The move came as the result of a meeting with department officials where neighbors and local leaders pressed for action against what they see as a scofflaw project.

“The lack of good faith surrounding this permit is outrageous,” said Ed Jaworski, president of the Madison-Marine Civic Association, who was at the meeting.

Late last week the Buildings Department sent a notice of “intent to revoke approvals and permits” to the building’s architect, Shlomo Wygoda, demanding that the project be reviewed by a structural engineer, and that Wygoda submit a plan to protect adjacent buildings.

The bizarre building on E. 12th Street — which neighbors describe as a “grotesque” and “hideous” “monstrosity” — is a two-story structure built over the crumbling ruins of the bungalow that occupies the lot. The new structure is cantilevered over the older building, meaning that the floor extends far past the supports on one side.

At 43 feet high, it stands about twice as tall as the surrounding homes and would not be allowed under a 2006 zoning change that came into effect shortly after the long-delayed project began.

Neighbors objected to the construction — and eventually sued to block it — because of its excessive height, their fear that the cantilevered design was unsafe for neighboring buildings, and the fact that type the permit issued should not allow the sort of construction being done.

The lawsuit sent the permit to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeal, which oversees the Department of Buildings, for review, but the board refused to revoke it.

Then a state Supreme Court judge ordered the board to review the permits again last June, saying that the board had “abandoned its obligation to review and, if necessary, correct the mistakes of the DOB.”

But in July, the board again ruled that the permit was lawfully issued — despite acknowledging that the builder should have applied for a permit for a new building rather than merely an “addition” to the crumbling bungalow.

The crux of the dilemma is that Buildings did not review the builder’s application before it issued the permit, under a policy meant to speed up approvals known as “self-certification,” in which the department simply takes architects at their word that their permit applications meet all city requirements, thus evading any scrutiny.

It is not unheard of for the city to revoke an architect’s self-certification privileges, but such action is rare and comes only in cases of repeated abuse.

But after seeing the quagmire that self-certification has caused in the Homecrest “monstrosity” case, the local assemblyman who arranged the recent sit down with Buildings, Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay), wants to create a stronger deterrent to exploiting the privilege. He has introduced bill in Albany that would suspend the license of any architect who “knowingly or recklessly certified documents that contained false information or documents that were not in compliance with applicable law.”

The Buildings Department will meet with Wygoda on Feb. 24 to determine whether it will allow the project to move forward.

Wygoda declined to comment for this article.