On Henry, Building and Suing

By Trudy Whitman
Hills & Gardens

Those planning to leave Cobble Hill for a stretch might be excused in six month’s time for not recognizing, on their return, the Henry Street block between Congress and Amity Streets. Major change is on the way.

On the east side of the street, the final piece of the 110 Amity Street puzzle has been put in place by developer Simko Aranbayev, who has begun excavation for the construction of three townhouses — 357-361 Henry Street.

This property was part of several contiguous sites, including the former Lamm Institute, on Amity and Henry purchased from Long Island College Hospital in 2007 by Jonathan Wachtel in partnership with Time Equities, Inc. Original plans for the Henry Street properties were nixed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and just when things seemed to be coming together for Wachtel, the real estate bubble burst.

Over the next few years, the parcels were sold separately to different buyers. The empty Amity Street lot went first — a townhouse is rising quickly there — and then the large Beaux Arts structure originally built as a nurses’ residence was purchased by three separate owners, who will convert the building to three private residences. The Henry Street lots have long worried the community. Empty and surrounded by an unattractive fence since the Wachtel purchase, the site was formerly home to a jerrybuilt medical library, nicknamed “the Quonset hut” by neighbors. But now preliminary work for the construction of three townhouses is under way. The original design firm, BKSK, has been replaced by Dal Chun, explained Aroza Sanjana, broker with Warren Lewis Realty LLC in Park Slope, the exclusive sales office for the project, but the exteriors will adhere to plans already approved by Landmarks.

“No prices are being released in advance of the launch in 2012,” Sanjana advised. But for each of the 4,000 square-foot townhouses, she added, the developers are considering “the possibility of pre-selling…to allow limited customization of finishes.”

Cross the street and walk south to encounter another Cobble Hill property that used to be in the hands of Long Island College Hospital and is now privately owned. 364 Henry Street and a connected carriage house, 129 Congress Street, date back to the mid-19th century, and are “quite old historic buildings” according to John Weiss, deputy counsel with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. As with the empty lots, attention should be paid to this valuable piece of real estate, according to Cobble Hill neighbors.

The two buildings, surrounded by protective scaffolding, are owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who has been wrangling with Landmarks since 2005. The agency has worked “to get him to voluntarily make repairs,” the LPC attorney informed this newspaper. The property owner has over the years done work on the buildings, the lawyer clarified, some of which has been compliant with permits and some not. And recently, meetings with the owner’s architect have resumed.

In April 2010, LPC filed a lawsuit to compel Quadrozzi to fix the buildings. Weiss explained that under the Landmarks law, every owner of a landmarked building has an obligation to keep the structure in good — not pristine — repair. LPC files lawsuits against property owners in extreme cases only, he stressed. According to Weiss, legal actions such as this have been instigated only nine or ten times since 1965, when the laws went on the books. “We consider this a very serious matter,” he remarked.

Since John Quadrozzi has already been fined for non-compliance and since a new round of penalty hearings is scheduled to begin soon, neighbors are guessing that positive changes at 364 Henry may soon be seen. Fines for non-compliance begin at $1,000 a day and go up to $2,000 a day. “It’s up to the judge,” John Weiss observed, “to decide what fines, if any, should be imposed.”

Weiss stated that there is a “deterrent effect” when other property owners observe cases such as 364 Henry Street: “Owners need to realize that they have to follow the law; if not there are consequences.”

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