It’s going down: BQE won’t survive builder’s excavation of Heights courtyard, locals claim

It’s going down: BQE won’t survive builder’s excavation of Heights courtyard, locals claim
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

They want this plan to stay buried.

Officials’ approval of a developer’s long-gestating proposal to dig up a tree-lined courtyard behind a Brooklyn Heights building to make way for an underground parking garage sandwiched against the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway could send the road’s already crumbling triple cantilever crashing down before it is repaired, warned residents and their reps.

“Whatever work they are doing is threatening the integrity of the BQE,” said Joel Kupferman, an attorney in charge of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, who is representing the building’s tenants fighting the project along with lawyer Stephen Dobkin of Manhattan-based firm Collins, Dobkin and Miller, LLP.

The chief of builder Pinnacle Group, Joel Weiner — who owns the Riverside Apartments at the corner of Joralemon Street and Columbia place within the nabe’s designated historic district — wants to excavate the complex’s backyard to install 97 parking spots that would sit about 11 feet below the ground, according to the Department of Buildings.

But the project — which would also unfreeze some tenants’ rents that were locked in place after the ca. 1890 building’s previous landlord paved over part of its original outdoor courtyard to add parking in the ’90s — has sat in purgatory for much of the last decade, because it requires approval by both the city and the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

State leaders panned the proposal back in 2009, but Weiner revised his then Landmarks Commission–approved plan — moving the entrance of the proposed garage after officials objected to its former location, among other tweaks — and the division eventually green-lit his scheme last December.

And the city’s Buildings Department issued the developer a permit to start construction back in 2014, according to a spokesman.

But as concerns over the complicated city-led rehabilitation of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway’s three-tiered triple cantilever heat up, Riverside tenants are demanding Weiner halt work on the garage until a thorough environmental study proves the job won’t sabotage the Department of Transportation’s impending repairs to the roadway.

“Of the utmost concern is the fact that the outer wall of our courtyard is the actual BQE triple cantilever bridge wall,” said Lenore Mitchell, who leads the Riverside Tenants Association. “We are at a loss as to why DOT has not acknowledged the risks posed by such a project.”

The Transportation Department, however, didn’t need to officially sign off on the parking-garage project since it falls within the jurisdiction of the Buildings Department, according to a rep, who said local transit leaders reviewed the proposal anyway to ensure it complied with the agency’s regulations, and gave it a thumbs up because they said it won’t affect their engineers’ expressway rehabilitation, which is still a few years off.

“This project has been reviewed by NYC DOT, meets the guidelines previously mentioned, and should not impact the rehabilitation of the BQE,” said a spokeswoman for the city agency.

Weiner is still waiting for the state’s final go-ahead because the tenants association filed an administrative appeal in January to combat the Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s approval of the plan. A rep for the state-run division declined to comment on the issue, citing the pending appeal.

But if the division upholds its green light, Weiner can start digging immediately, and ultimately unfreeze those tenants’ rents that haven’t budged in decades — which a rep for the builder said would initially decrease by about three percent — after finishing work on the garage and fully restoring the courtyard to a state that the rep claimed will surpass its current condition.

“The plans for what goes on top of it are a rather beautiful new courtyard with considerably more trees,” said former Brooklyn Heights Councilman Ken Fisher, a spokesman for Weiner.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.