In NYC Real Estate, Street Width’s in the Eye of the Power Broker

Freeman Plaza North.

MANHATTAN (CN) — When New York City real estate developers clash over riverview condominiums, everything can come down to money, power, and secret lobbying campaigns, even the street measurements.

The developer Agime Group has been eyeing 568 Broome Street as the site of a 25-story residential tower, steps away from the Holland Tunnel.

Madigan Development, the group behind a more modest 15-story property around the corner at 111 Varrick Street, says that the Department of Buildings signed off on some fuzzy math to grant Agime permission for so tall a building.

Crunching the numbers in a lawsuit, 111 Varick Street’s corporate vehicle claims that the tree-lined stretch of Broome Street has been classified as narrow for more than 100 years, until a “lobbying campaign conducted out of the public eye.”

“That structure will be more than 100 feet higher than what is allowed by law — and will impose more than 25 stories over a street that is only 60 feet wide at that spot, creating the potential for a future ‘canyon’ effect proscribed by the zoning resolution,” Randy Mastro, an attorney for 111 Varrick LLC, wrote in an April 28 petition.

In order to give Broome Street more girth, Agime included an adjacent public plaza in its measurements, according to the lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court.

“That land, currently known as Freeman Plaza and consisting of landscaped and beautified plazas, is not, and has never been, a ‘street,’ and can be fully developed by the Port Authority at any time,” the 42-page petition states. “In short, its existence does nothing to change the plain fact that Broome Street is the only street abutting 568 Broome, and that it is a ‘narrow street.’”

Largely unused since 1927, Freeman Plaza received a makeover four years ago on the heels a $200,000 flush of funds meant to fuel local development.

Weeks earlier in April, Agime cast Madigan’s zoning objections as sabotage in a lawsuit.

Neither Agime nor Madigan is a party to the April 28 petition, only other entities tied to the two properties.

Targeting only city agencies and officials, 111 Varick LLC accuses the Building Department, its commissioner Rick Chandler and its appeals board of being swayed by a well-connected lobbyist.

The Department of Buildings, for its part, cast itself as a bystander caught in warring developers’ crossfire.

“We’re confident that our permit was issued correctly,” the department said in a statement. “This appears to be a dispute between two developers over views and they should work it out among themselves.”

Mastro, the lawyer behind the suit, is no stranger to the hidden hand of politics.

After serving as a former aide to ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mastro burnished a reputation as an intractable foe of his former boss’s successor Michael Bloomberg, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tapped him to lead the investigation into the Bridgegate scandal.

Despite a career serving Republicans, Mastro has said that he considers himself a Democrat. He now accuses one of the Democratic Party’s allies — James F. Capalino & Associates, run by a powerful consultant who once served Mayor Ed Koch — of pulling the strings behind Broome Street’s sudden widening.

“Publicly available records show that the firm has been paid more than $100,000 by SoHo Broome in order to lobby the DOB with regards to a ‘building determination,’” Mastro wrote in the petition.

Blasting the “wide street” designation as an “illegal determination,” Mastro argues the request was “granted at the behest of a well-connected lobbyist.”

Capalino and his firm, which are not accused of wrongdoing, declined to comment.

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