And it’s all legal!

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn architect Robert Scarano is the consummate survivor.

The city’s investigation into his eyebrow-raising building practices — which led him to surrender the right to certify his own buildings in August — may have crimped his style, but it hasn’t stopped him from turning a profit.

“The Washington” in Prospect Heights, Scarano’s chichi seven-story, 45-unit building on Washington and Underhill avenues, is nearly sold out, even though some of the apartments have been jury-rigged to reduce total square footage and meet city zoning requirements.

By order of the Department of Buildings, Scarano has converted a number of the building’s high-ceilinged rooms into five-foot-tall crawl spaces with the installation of plywood platforms. (So-called “mezzanines” under five feet tall don’t have to be included in the building’s overall square footage.)

The result, said one potential buyer, is an awkward, unusable space in an otherwise luxurious building that boasts a Zen garden and private gym.

“Imagine you can’t walk into a room, but instead have to hop onto a platform,” he said. “I’m six feet tall and would slam my head against the ceiling.”

Roslyn Huebener, of Aguayo and Huebener Realty, which is brokering the condo sales, told The Brooklyn Papers that the apartments have been selling like hotcakes — or like apartments that don’t have odd plywood structures in the bedroom.

“There aren’t many left,” said Huebener. “The apartments sold immediately and quickly. Are they desirable? Absolutely.”

The mostly two-bedroom apartments have sold for between $500,000 and $700,000, she said.

That’s not all that surprising, given that it’s common practice for new owners to modify their property — in this case, by ripping out “floors” — once the inspectors have left.

“I would absolutely expect [them to take out the floors],” said Kenneth Freeman, a sales director for Massey Knakal Realty. “It’s a lot like when you see artist lofts for sale, and they’re not allowed to install a shower or a stove. But of course, once you buy it, who’s gonna stop you? And when you want to sell it, nobody’s going to raise a red flag. The certificate of occupancy doesn’t list square footage.”

This is Scarano’s latest architectural sleight of hand in a career marked by both creativity and a crafty manipulation of zoning requirements.

As The Brooklyn Papers reported in April, Scarano pioneered the inclusion of “mezzanines” in his building plans to get around square footage limits.

After the construction on The Washington began two years ago, Scarano came under the scrutiny of the city Department of Buildings [DOB] for repeatedly “over-building” his developments by misrepresenting his building plans.

In August, under pressure from the Department of Buildings, he surrendered his privilege to self-certify his projects. At the time, The Washington construction was well under way, so Scarano had to pave over his mistakes.

Scarano obeyed, and was awarded a temporary certificate of occupancy on Nov. 9. But the Department of Buildings is not obligated to renew the certificate on Dec. 9, when it expires, if it finds the building isn’t up to code.

Scarano defended his work.

“People do not have their facts in order as usual,” he said. “This height makes the level free of floor area. End of story.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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