Sheepshead Bay residents aren’t happy with plans to make the old Loehmann’s building taller.
The owner of the bankrupted department store’s former location on Emmons Avenue wants to increase the rental income of the site by adding another story, but locals who attended a meeting at the vacant building on Nov. 5 panned the plan over concerns about parking, height and land use.
Owner Alex Levin’s attorney, architect, and traffic planner shared a rendering of the proposed redevelopment, which includes building an addition about the size of two basketball courts on top of the existing structure to provide office space above a clothing-store anchor tenant on the ground floor.
One local leader said residents dislike the proposal in part because the plans explicitly contradict the neighborhood’s special district zoning guidelines, which require waterfront property to be used for tourist-related activities.
“What I’m saying is you can follow the uses, which a restaurant is one — or three or four restaurants there — and then you wouldn’t be upsetting the community,” said Steve Barrison, the president of the Bay Improvement Group.
The city approved a variance nearly two decades ago allowing Loehmann’s to open at the site, but Barrison said that was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated.
“Just because it was approved, doesn’t mean it was right,” he said.
The new plans also include limited parking — 198 spots, 17 fewer than the 215 spaces normally required for the addition — which concerns residents who doubt a claim by Levin’s team that demand for parking in the building’s garage peaks evenings and weekends, so there would be ample parking for office workers during weekday business hours.
Residents are also concerned about the building’s aesthetics, and how the proposed third story would affect neighbors’ views.
Levin’s architect Robert Palermo compared the addition to the city’s second-tallest building, and conceded that Manhattan Beach residents’ view would be obscured by the addition, but nearby pedestrians wouldn’t notice the height because it would be set back.
“You’d have to be on the marina side because the angle of your eyesight looking up,” said Palermo. “When you’re up front and up close to the Empire State Building, you have no perception of how tall it is.”
He then quickly backtracked and said the building wouldn’t be anything like the Empire State building.
For Levin to get a variance to build the addition, he would have to show “special circumstances” that require the change, and his lawyer said the flooding from Hurricane Sandy makes the rooftop office space necessary.
Attorney Eric Palatnik insisted that the only way to make the waterfront building profitable is to build higher. He said that Levin suffered tremendous losses in the wake of the superstorm, with below-ground space now renting for 40 percent less than before the flooding, and the additional space would be a way to make up for the lost rent revenue.
“The problem here is now that we’ve lost the space due to the water we can no longer charge rent — full rent — for the space,” said Palatnik. “What we are here is to tell you that we’ve lost income as a result of downstairs and in order to make up that income, we need space upstairs.”
But Barrison said Sandy shouldn’t be considered a “special circumstance” for Levin, because every business in the area suffered from it. He said Levin needs to stop looking for a quick fix for his bottom line and focus on rebuilding the waterfront district that makes the neighborhood unique — and was intended to be the basis of community’s long-term prosperity.
“That is why we have a special district because we got this unique bay, the only one probably in America just like it, and that is why they designed the zoning,” he said. “Not to last 10 or 20 or 30 years … it is to last way longer — 100 years from now, 200 years from now.”