diligence due + negligence committed as West 15 Street lofts + East 15 Street apartments lose views

NY Times tells tales of intrigue, hubris

Terrific piece by VToy in today’s Sunday real estate section of the New York Times, Is That A Bulldozer I Hear? The subtle take-away is that New York City apartment or loft owners who are concerned about the potential ramifications of development sites nearby should remain vigilant (not just diligent).

Her overall advice is probably appropriately general:

for anyone trying to buy or sell an apartment near a development site, knowing what’s being built is a must, since property values can be affected. Public records and real estate Web sites can reveal a great deal of information. Real estate blogs sometimes trade in rumor, but they can also offer reliable research conducted by real estate-obsessed New Yorkers across the city.

Her examples hint at a key source for information (the local Community Board) and for help, when things appear to be going badly after the train has left the station (the local City Council Member). As it happens, two of her real world examples concern development on the first block of West 15 Street and the first block of East 15 Street.

In the case of the planned school to be built behind an East 14 Street coop, the coop appears to have been asleep at some critical times, but marshaled some legal talent and political support to (gasp!) reduce the size of the planned public middle school and high school. This sounds to me the very embodiment of ‘entitlement’ (my use of bold):

The School Construction Authority recently bought and demolished a two-story building behind the co-op and plans to build a middle school and high school in its place. The co-op did not learn about the planned school until officials approached the board in February for permission to come onto the Victoria’s property to start demolition.

… the co-op board secretary, said residents had felt blindsided by the school project. But it was in May 2010, at a public hearing that the local community board supported the School Construction Authority’s plans to buy the 15th Street site.

Victoria co-op board members said they had not known about the meeting and felt they should have been notified directly, since the school site abuts their building.

The community board had posted notice of the hearing on its Web site. It had also sent an alert via an e-mail blast to its general list and put up flyers around the neighborhood.

Somehow, board members neglected to get on the local Community Board’s list for email alerts. Somehow, board members failed to notice the flyers posted around the neighborhood. As a result, they failed to mobilize before the School Construction Authority even bought the two-story building behind them that will be replaced by a middle school and high school.

And not just the coop board. What about the large number of coop owners who have looked out over a two-story building for years and years and years?

As many as 40 percent of residents will lose views or light by the time the school is finished, [a board member] said.

That building has 495 units, per StreetEasy, so “as many as 40%” means as many as 198. I can imagine that it might take a special civic interest for a common shareholder to get on a Community Board’s email list, but up to 198 people walking around the neighborhood failed to see the flyers posted about the May 2010 meeting.

morals aside
I will leave for another day the particular dynamic of coop shareholders retaining lawyers and enlisting the aid of their City Council Member to reduce the size of a new public school. Let’s just say that I hope I would find it difficult to agitate to shave enrollment from 866 to 733, especially as that reduction will ‘benefit’ only a small fraction of the 198 shareholders in the coop, and that I would hope that other residents of that Council District will remember the Council Member’s efforts to reduce school enrollment before she gets term-limited out.

meanwhile, west of Fifth Avenue …
The other 15th Street story involved a bit more diligence. VToy’s account focuses on an agent trying to sell lofts at 30 West 15 Street:

Late last year, [the agent] sold a two-bedroom apartment at 30 West 15th Street that had views of the Empire State Building, but also looked across to a planned 25-story condo that will be much taller than any of its neighbors. [My bold; I will come back to that.]

She searched real estate Web sites and public records to find out everything she could about the development. Sites like PropertyShark and the city’s finance department can reveal who owns a building, while the building department site can provide building permits — even ones that have not yet been approved. Online, Curbed and Streeteasy provide running commentary from local residents.

In the case of 31 West 15th Street, other nearby buildings had tried to block the construction, so the co-op board at 30 West 15th was well versed on its progress. [Agent] said she disclosed what she knew to potential buyers and eventually found one who did not mind the fact that the living room view “was going to be compromised, because the bedroom view was going to remain open.”

Unfortunately, VToy did not address how those “other nearby buildings [that] had tried to block the construction” found out about that project, which is a shame, because that would have given one example of a proactive approach. And the limits thereof (“had tried to block the construction…”).

Attentive readers of Manhattan Loft Guy will remember this project. I wondered in my January 9, loft that missed The Peak at 30 West 15 Street comes back to sell, modestly but successfully, whether a buyer across the street knew that the view was about to be lost. That buyer was probably the one who was “eventually found … who did not mind the fact that the living room view ‘was going to be compromised, because the bedroom view was going to remain open’.”

Back in my May 29, watching the new construction at 31 West 15 Street, I linked to the bird’s eye view of that construction (d’oh! Bird’s Eye View NYC) from a building across the street. That building across the street is the Grosvenor House, 22 West 125 Street, which was built much taller than any nearby buildings, at 22 stories. Now look again at the VToy description of the new building at 31 West 15 Street, bolded above: “a planned 25-story condo that will be much taller than any of its neighbors”. Actually, not so much taller than any neighbors, but I blame VToy’s sources for that, not VToy.

the general problem is a problem, generally
I did a fairly long and comprehensive review of what it can mean to live near a new construction project, before, during, and after. That was my March 16, 2010, what about that (not yet) New Construction across the street?, which concluded:

It is THE BIG CITY. Nothing stays the same. Deal with it.

Or not. As you prefer. It is your choice.

But I also offered a framework for thinking about the issues involved, which I still think is a useful addition to the literature.

This very topic came up on Manhattan Loft Guy as recently as August 18, in my much diligence due over planned hotel in West 37 Street. That concerned plans to build a hotel on a parking lot that (used to!) protect views from some classic loft buildings. I started that one this way:

Part of the charm of living in loft neighborhoods (in Manhattan and elsewhere), for me and I suspect for many people, is that they may be ‘developing’ neighborhoods, with a certain vitality missing from more staid (mature) residential areas and (often, at least early) a discount from the overall market because the ‘developing’ neighborhood may be a little more gritty than mature residential areas.

Part of the risk of living in loft neighborhoods (in Manhattan and elsewhere) that are ‘developing’ neighborhoods is that they … uhhh … will continue to develop.

stop me before I link again!
I will add just one more Manhattan Loft Guy link, one that shows that this issue of development in developing areas has been a concern of mine since … (well) … forever. My July 11, 2006, Now you see it (and pay for it), now you don’t / what are views worth?, was occasioned by an article in The Real Deal that directly bears on this risky-views-in-developing-nabes issue (hint: “development … can both destroy views and increase real estate values”).

That is life in the Big City. Especially life in the kinds of ‘developing areas’ that residential loft conversion tend to occur in. If you are concerned about potential development near you, do as VToy implies you should:

  • get on your Community Board’s email list (go to meetings!)
  • read the notices on lampposts in your neighborhood
  • ask your coop board what they are doing to stay current on these issues

You might even want to read Manhattan Loft Guy.

© Sandy Mattingly 2011


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