Halt on 160 Imlay condos ... again

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Call it the luxury condominium project that New York judges just love to hold.

Work on a locally contentious, $70 million, water’s-edge development in Red Hook was halted once again, after the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, agreed to review a lawsuit by local businesses and community groups contesting the city’s allowance of the residential complex in the industrial area.

On July 6, Justice Judith S. Kaye, the state’s chief judge, ordered a leave to appeal, agreeing to review the petitioner’s complaint once again and halting construction at the former warehouse for the third time.

The progress of the developers, 160 Imlay Street Associates LLC, in converting the hulking six-story former book-binding facility into 144 luxury condominium lofts with sweeping views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty is opposed by the Red Hook/Gowanus Chamber of Commerce, which has sought legal means to block the project every step of the way.

A spokesman for 160 Imlay Street Associates, Bob Liff, said the company would push ahead with its case for conversion.

“The developer’s pursuing all actions available to him,” Liff told The Brooklyn Papers. At the behest of the court and petitioners, the respondents agreed to only continue construction that would be needed for the underlying as-of-right zoning, not the residential conversion.

Gary Spencer, a spokesman for the Court of Appeals, said the court is selective in choosing which cases to hear.

“Litigants have to get the court’s permission to appeal in most cases, like the [U.S.] Supreme Court gets to decide the cases it wants to hear,” he said. “So the party files a motion to appeal, and the court either grants or denies it. In this case, it did grant the motion,” though he said the court doesn’t specify why there is interest in a case.

Spencer said the case is scheduled to be heard on Sept. 8, in Albany.

“It’s purely a court of law — they just take the facts as they are established in the lower courts,” he added.

Kaye said that retail and commercial developments planned by the developer may proceed on the ground level and second floor of the building, one of a set of twin warehouses that sits between Verona and Pioneer streets. Such commercial uses are included in the current zoning for the site.

The plan is for ground-floor retail and restaurants, and possibly second-floor gallery space for local artists, according to the developer, Bruce Batkin, a principal of Industry City Associates.

Though the suit against 160 Imlay was originally arguing against the merit of the city’s granting of a residential zoning variance, which the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) passed in December 2003, much of the Red Hook/Gowanus Chamber’s time in court has been spent defending the merit of their own suit, which has been dismissed twice so far for a procedural glitch — failing to name the developers in their original filing, which included the BSA and City of New York as defendants.

The technical error was made by the Chamber’s former legal counsel, Peter Basta Brightbill, who filed the suit barely within the statute of limitations for arguing a BSA ruling. By the time the error was noticed, in February 2004, it was too late to fix it.

The developers filed a petition of their own to dismiss the suit, but that was overruled by state Supreme Court Judge Yvonne Lewis.

As Lewis was considering the case, the developers went ahead with their petition to the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court, which ultimately dismissed the case due to the filing error.

The suit filed by the chamber — which includes local developers and businessmen Greg O’Connell and Douglas Durst — claims the variance granted by the BSA to allow the development of luxury condominiums in a heavily industrial area had not proven its burden of hardship.

The variance, which allowed four of the six stories to convert to residential development, was voted down when it came to Community Board 6 in late 2002. But that recommendation was ignored by the BSA.

Batkin told The Brooklyn Papers in May that plans for 62 Imlay St., the twin building adjacent to 160, for which he has not yet applied for a zoning variance, may seek similar luxury-style residential development, a hotel or both, despite the opposition expressed by the community board and chamber toward his first project.

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