Aug. 3, 2019 By Christian Murray
The 5Pointz towers on Jackson Avenue are nearing completion, yet ironically their size is still being debated.
The discussion continues since owner Jerry Wolkoff, who received a special permit in 2013 to build 1,000 units spread across two towers, has built higher than what was initially approved and the development will now contain 1,122 units.
Wolkoff needs the City to approve his deviation before he can get a certificate of occupancy enabling him to start renting the units. He has filed an application with the City Planning Commission to approve the modifications, since they pertain to the special permit that was issued.
The special permit issued in 2013 allowed Wolkoff to build an extra 370 units—taking the total to about 1,000. It was estimated that he was only able to build 628 units as of right at the time.
The application to modify the special permit does have to undergo some community review, with the community board required to weigh in on it. However, unlike a standard rezoning, or ULURP, the city council and borough president do not get a say.
Community Board 2 rendered an advisory decision Monday panning the application. The board issued a letter accusing Wolkoff of manipulating the process to ensure that the board and the public had a limited opportunity to review the changes.
“The developer has sought every way to thwart Community Board review,” wrote Community Board 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith, in a strongly-worded letter addressed to the City Planning Commission announcing the board’s rejection of the plan.
The application for the modification was certified by City Planning on June 7 and reached the community board for review on June 12. The board, according to City Planning rules, had 45 days to cast an advisory opinion.
The essence of the application dealt with the location of the street walls, which were moved a few feet. It also dealt with the development being up to six feet taller, leading to an extra story on each tower—resulting in a 48 story and 42 story development. City Planning viewed the changes as “minor,” which meant the changes didn’t have to undergo ULURP.
The change to the building mix—in terms of the number of units and bedroom types—was not part of the application. For instance, despite the increased number of units, the floor area dedicated for residential is largely unchanged.
Wolkoff in an interview with the LICPost this week said that the 1,000 units presented in the 2013 application was merely an estimate. “I have a set area—a box—and I can put in it what I want.”
He said he reduced the number of three bedroom units initially planned and added more one bedroom apartments. “Younger people are looking for one bedrooms,” Wolkoff said. “That is where the demand is. Smaller units where the price is less… so I made changes.”
The application seeking the modifications came to Community Board 2 after its full 50-member board had adjourned for the summer on June 6. Therefore, the full board was unable to review the materials at a regularly scheduled meeting. Furthermore, with no monthly board meetings scheduled until September, the public did not have a forum to comment on it.
David Wolkoff, Jerry Wolkoff’s son who was managing the project, did attend a Land Use Committee Meeting on June 20 and was subject to many questions. The questions dealt largely with the number of units and their composition–despite that not being the essence of the application.
The committee was caught by surprise that the initial 1,000-unit plan–that included 100 units allocated for 3 bedrooms–had changed. The new plan presented at the meeting noted that there would 1,122 units–with no 3 bedrooms. A chart was displayed at the meeting (see photo).
A stunned board member looked up at a chart and wondered why there were no longer any 3 bedrooms and why it had changed.
“I’m reading the chart. It went from 10 percent 3 bedrooms [in 2013] to zero percent three bedrooms,” said one board member. “Look, it reads North Tower zero, South Tower zero—says zero 3 bedrooms”
David Wolkoff then told the committee that the chart was incorrect.
“I hadn’t seen the chart [before now]…. but we do have three bedrooms. I know that for a fact,” he said, adding that he would get back to the board with the numbers.
The committee insisted on knowing the number. They told Wolkoff that they wanted larger units, arguing that larger units attract families.
The committee also wanted to know how many of the units would be “affordable,” noting an agreement that Jerry Wolkoff reached with former Community Board 2 Chair Joe Conley for 75 units in June 2013.
David Wolkoff at the meeting said that the developer would provide the 75 units as per the Conley agreement. However, he said that they were likely to sign on to a 421-a affordable housing program that would bring additional units.
He said that he would get back to the board with a more definitive answer.
The committee already had a high level of distrust of Jerry Wolkoff. The developer, for instance, had promised while seeking the special permit in 2013 to use union labor to construct the towers, yet later reneged.
Some recalled the saga six years ago when the 5Pointz warehouse was whitewashed in the middle of the night destroying the artwork on the old building that many wanted to protect.
Keehan-Smith said that the Wolkoffs never got back to the board with the answers.
“The clock was ticking and we urged him to get it to us as soon as possible. We didn’t hear from him and then David requested a meeting,” Keehan-Smith said in an interview this week.
She said that they initially rejected his request for a meeting, but that he insisted he had questions he wanted to ask.
Keehan-Smith and Lisa Deller, head of CB2’s Land Use Committee, had a waterfront planning group meeting scheduled at 5:30 p.m. on July 16 at the restaurant Manducatis Rustica on Vernon Boulevard. They told David Wolkoff to meet them there at 5 p.m. before the planning group discussion began.
Keehan-Smith said that she was expecting David Wolkoff to bring building blueprints and other materials. Instead he came empty handed and still lacked clarity on the information. He also wanted to know why the board cared so much about the 3 bedroom units, she said.
“I told him that we are trying to build a family friendly community and it is an idciator that children will be in the neighborhood,” Keehan-Smith said. “I told him that we thought that there would be more 3 bedrooms and we were disappointed.”
By July 19, the information had still not been furnished and the July 29 deadline was approaching. She said the board sent him an e-mail asking for the information by July 22, which would provide them with a week to review.
Keehan-Smith said the information came in on Friday, July 26 at 3:45 p.m. via e-mail. The board, however, only had until Monday to make a recommendation.
The board was told in the e-mail that the development would consist of 255 studios; 594 1 bedrooms; 261 two bedrooms; and 12 3 bedrooms. Additionally, the e-mail noted that Wolkoff planned on filing for a 421 A tax exemption–which would likely result in more than 200 units being affordable.
The board was upset by the developer’s tardiness.
“This timing exhibits an artful manipulation of the rules to inhibit any further community review within the required timeframe,” the letter to the City Planning Commission read.
“Given that neither the Land Use Committee nor the full Community Board has had an opportunity to discuss the developer’s response, we hereby submit our response to deny approval of the Application,” Keehan-Smith wrote.
The letter of rejection has been sent to the City Planning Commission, which will review the application and make the ultimate determination. There is no deadline as to when the application will be heard by the commission and it has not yet been scheduled, according to a spokesperson for City Planning.
Jerry Wolkoff, however, said Friday that he couldn’t understand why the community board was so upset, saying they got the information they asked for.
“We never do anything underhanded,” Wolkoff said. “We don’t hide anthing. We do a lot for the community. No matter what we do we can’t make them happy.”