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By LESLEY SUSSMAN | In a razor-thin vote, the developer of a partially completed, seven-story building on Ludlow St. last week got Community Board 3’s reluctant approval for a Board of Standards and Appeals variance to allow him to finish work on the long-stalled residential/commercial project.
The full board’s 17-to-16 vote in favor of developer Michael Goldberg’s B.S.A. application for 179 Ludlow St. came amid a contentious debate by board members at their Tuesday evening, Nov. 22, meeting at P.S. 24, at 40 Division St. Board members argued back and forth whether the developer deserved any community support after financing a structure that, for the past five years, has been a neighborhood eyesore and is often referred to locally as “The Rat Castle.”
The project at 179 Ludlow St. was initially started in March 2006 by brothers Peter and Steven Salvesen, who, three months later, declared bankruptcy. A new developer, Michelangelo Russo, then took over the project for $5.2 million with capital funded by Goldberg. That effort, too, quickly failed because of a crash in the real estate market, and the 70 percent completed structure has stood unfinished ever since.
Goldberg has now decided to try and complete the project. He plans two lower-level floors of commercial use totaling 2,880 square-feet, and five two-bedroom condo units above.
The developer, however, needs the B.S.A. variance because his new plans exceed the maximum square footage limits on the lot, which is located between Katz’s Deli and the EarthMatters natural foods store.
At the pre-Thanksgiving 6:30 p.m. meeting, attended by a small number of community residents, several board members said they were weary of listening to plan after plan for the building by Goldberg and other developers with no one ever fulfilling their promises.
Board members said that over the years they had heard everything from the building being a luxury apartment building with heated balconies to it being the location of a Kabbalah Center operated by Madonna.
Meghan Joye, C.B. 3 Economic Development Committee co-chairperson, said the only thing the community has ended up with is “an eyesore that’s hurting business and is dangerous.”
Other board members expressed concern that the first-level commercial space would be used for a “monster club” or another liquor-selling establishment. Some expressed doubt that Goldberg would adhere to C.B. 3’s request that he “make every effort to supply community space in the building.”
Arguing in favor of the variance were several community board members who said that the notoriously delayed project was a dangerous blight on the neighborhood, and that C.B. 3 should do all it could to hasten its completion.
“Let them have their variance so they can finish it,” said Herman Hewitt, C.B. 3’s first vice chairperson.
“We want them to go ahead with work because it’s an eyesore,” chimed in fellow board member Carlina Rivera.
Rivera added, however, that she doubted Goldberg would devote any part of the building to the community.
“My feeling is that it will be just another luxury co-op with no community space,” she said.
Goldberg, meanwhile, who appeared at a recent C.B. 3 Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee meeting, tried to allay board members’ concerns by telling them he only wanted higher-end gym tenants, like Soul Cycle, to move into the lower-level commercial spaces.
The final close vote recommending approval of the B.S.A. application drew groans from many opposing board members.
“Let them get their variance so that they can continue to lie to us about what they will do there,” board member Thomas Parker angrily said later.
“This building will do nothing for the community if we allow them to put it up,” said Joyce Ravitz, who was equally incensed at the outcome. “In a month to six months they will be giving a liquor license to someone because no one else will rent that first floor but a bar.”
Harvey Epstein, who led the opposition to the variance, said the building is “too big, offers no affordable housing and doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.”
Dominic Pisciotta, C.B. 3 chairperson, said, “I think the plans are not really solid —especially for the lower levels — and it made me question the entirety of the project.”
In other matters, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver informed the community board that his office has sent a letter to the Department of Education urging the schools chancellor to keep P.S. 137 open.
The elementary school on East Broadway is in danger of closing after getting a failing performance grade from D.O.E. Parents and education advocates have argued that P.S. 137 is a good school — and that D.O.E.’s evaluation procedures are badly flawed.
“Assemblyman Silver has asked the Department of Education to work with the school, parents and him to keep the school open,” Silver aide Zach Bommer told board members.
In his letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Silver said, “I urge the D.O.E. to take the necessary steps to improve student performance at P.S. 137 and not to close this important neighborhood school.”
Although the poorly attended community board meeting was held two days before Thanksgiving, it was coffee — not turkey — that was on board members’ minds as they voted to deny an application for a beer-and-wine license unless certain stipulations were met at the popular The Bean coffeehouse, which will soon open at 54 Second Ave.
Among those stipulations were that The Bean, which is moving from its longtime location at 49 1/2 First Ave., operate as a full-service restaurant and coffee shop, and not have live music or D.J.-promoted events or schedule any event at which a cover fee will be charged.
Richard Ropiak, C.B. 3’s Economic Development Committee co-chairperson, asked the board’s S.L.A. Policy Task Force chairperson, Alexandra Militano, “Why does a coffee shop need a liquor license?”
Militano told him that she was told by the coffee shop’s operators that they “were doing it as an amenity for their customers because their customers were asking for it.”
Ropiak said that did not sit well with him. He asserted that the way The Bean previously did business at its First Ave. location was “generally satisfactory to the residents who lived around it. There was never any problem with it being a coffee shop,” he said. “It was a friendly coffee shop and that’s what it should be. It should not involve alcohol.”
In an earlier interview, a spokesman for The Bean said that serving wine and beer “is a way to add something. But we will be very careful not to let that change what we’re really all about,” the spokesperson said. “Our intention is to maintain the feeling and vitality of the shop we operated on First Ave.”