Brooklyn architect Robert Scarano, whose name has become synonymous with the borough’s rapid development and what some characterize as an unregulated “Wild West” mentality surrounding it, was brought up on charges by the Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Investigations last week.
According to the charges, Scarano knowingly made false and misleading statements to the DOB while filing plans for two Greenpoint buildings in 2000 and 2002.
In 2000, while filing plans for a building at 1037 Manhattan Avenue, Scarano included an adjoined lot at 158 Freeman as if it were part of the lot at 1037 Manhattan Avenue.
Treating these two lots as one gave him a large enough footprint under zoning laws to construct a 7,000-square-foot building, 2,000 feet larger than would have been allowed if he had only included the lot at 1037 Manhattan Avenue.
But in 2002, Scarano filed plans with the DOB for another building at 158 Freeman Street, this time treating the two lots as separate. According to the DOB’s claim, this showed that the 2000 plans were filed under false pretenses.
Also, the 2002 filing for 158 Freeman Street did not take into account the adjacent building at 1037 Manhattan Avenue. If it had, DOB officials would have determined 158 Freeman could not accommodate a residential building.
The DOB claims this sleight of hand has resulted in two non-compliant buildings, both of which are now fully occupied.
“158 Freeman Street could not have been legally built as a residential building and 1037 Manhattan Avenue as designed would have been smaller by approximately 2,000 square feet,” a DOB press release announcing the charges read.
“We will not tolerate anyone who knowingly attempts to mislead the Department with false documents,” said acting Buildings Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri.
A representative from Scarano’s DUMBO office said the architect was not commenting to the press on the matter.
The case will next come before an administrative law judge, at which point Scaano may present a defense.
If found guilty, he faces a possible suspension or ban from filing documents with the DOB. Such a measure would essentially take him out of business in New York City.
The DOB press release states that the charges are a result of a partnership between the DOB and the DOI “to identify and build cases against repeat offenders who flout building and zoning regulations.”
Indeed, this is not the first time Scarano has been the focus of controversy.
In 2005 and 2006, three construction workers died on projects he designed.
One of those incidents – when a worker was killed when a wall collapsed on a Scarano-designed building on Ocean Parkway – resulted in the revocation of Scarano’s ability to “self-certify” his plans without oversight from the DOB.
In 2006 alone, the DOB brought charges alleging he violated zoning rules or building codes in more than twenty apartment buildings, most of them in Williamsburg.
Scarano’s history of violations, along with his association with unpopular high-rise construction – most notably the “Finger Building” on 144 North 8th Street – has earned the architect a measure on infamy in Northern Brooklyn.
“This clearly is not the first time Robert Scarano has run into problems, but hopefully it will be the last,” said Jake Maguire, spokesman for Councilmember David Yassky.
“Williamsburg and Greenpoint are rapidly growing neighborhoods – the temptation for developers to cut corners is there. But these laws are there for a reason. After the tragic accidents involving cranes, their importance is clearer than ever.”
Added ssemblymember Joseph Lentol: “We’re happy to finally see him be reviewed, investigated, and charged – many people have been calling for this for a long time.”
“Are we pleased that the real Scarano is finally being shown? Yes. But we think it took too long,” he continued, contending the six-year delay in charging Scarano points to the need for a separate agency overseeing Department of Buildings projects.
In May, Lentol called upon the city to create such a separate agency.
“The Buildings Department lacks the expertise, focus, staffing and the will to monitor and control development,” he said at the time.
“Because they approve the plan, the Buildings Department is invested in a good outcome. Should they monitor these buildings, or should there be a separate agency? It’s more than a lack of manpower: It’s a philosophical problem as well as a resource problem.”