Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato is representing a group of Long Beach residents who filed a lawsuit against the city last week in an attempt to overturn a variance and permits that were issued to the developer seeking to build luxury apartment towers on the Superblock.
Residents James Kirklin, Michael and Rianna Goldshall, Boguslaw Pawlowicz, Republican former City Councilwoman Mona Goodman and the Republican slate of candidates for City Council this year — Leah Tozer, Christopher Jones and William Haas — filed the lawsuit on Aug. 3 in Nassau County State Supreme Court against the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, its building commissioner, Scott Kemins, and Shore Road Long Beach Superblock LLC, a subsidiary of the developer, iStar Financial.
In February 2014, the zoning board voted 5 to 1 to grant iStar a height and density variance to develop a new mixed residential and commercial development on the six-acre parcel between Riverside and Long Beach boulevards, East Broadway and the boardwalk, saying that it would revitalize property that has remained vacant for 30 years.
The proposed project includes two 15-story buildings — roughly 50 feet taller than the city’s current height limit of 110 feet — with 522 one- and two-bedroom luxury rental apartments and 11,000 square feet of retail space for a handful of shops along the boardwalk.
The lawsuit seeks to revoke building permits that were issued to the developer beginning in May 2015, which the suit claims are invalid because the variance had expired.
“We are asking a judge now to do the job that the zoning board seems unable to do,” D’Amato’s co-counsel, attorney Christian Browne, said at a news conference on Aug. 3. “And that is declare these variances — and any building permit issued in connection with the variances — void based upon the fact that iStar has failed to meet the conditions set by the zoning board.”
According to the suit, iStar was required to obtain the necessary permits within nine months of the zoning board’s approval and commence construction within a year, or the variance would be revoked. In November 2014, the zoning board granted iStar an extension until the following May.
The developer filed an application for a building permit that spring, and on May 28, 2015, it received approval from Kemins to start work. According to the complaint, the Building Department granted iStar at least two extensions for the building permit, though the lawsuit claims that no construction plans were submitted for the towers and the developer did not receive another extension from the zoning board.
In June, Kirklin, who lives on Riverside Boulevard, appealed the Building Department’s most recent year-long extension, issued in March, arguing that iStar was no longer entitled to the building permits and would have to go before the zoning board to obtain a new variance. The lawsuit is also seeking to force the zoning board to hold a public hearing to render a decision on the appeal.
“We’d like iStar to go back to the drawing board and recommence this process,” Browne said, “if in fact they still intend to build these two apartment towers on Riverside Boulevard.”
In a statement, the zoning board stated, “In June 2017, a resident submitted an application asking the ZBA to rescind iStar’s zoning variance, which was originally issued in February 2014. This triggered a due diligence review, which is still underway. All calendaring determinations will be announced shortly thereafter.”
Karl Frey, iStar’s executive vice president, did not return a call requesting comment.
The developer sought approval for the variance after the City Council voted to settle a city’s lawsuit against the developer for $5.25 million in 2014, the terms of which included the city’s support for a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, program for an unspecified term. The city had filed the suit in 2011, claiming that millions of dollars in condemnation costs and legal fees needed to be paid as part of a development agreement with the former owner of the property.
Representatives of iStar said in 2014 that the project would generate $4.8 million per year in property tax revenue for the city and its school district, and told trustees and residents that it had the financial wherewithal to fund the project. The developer later claimed that it needed tax breaks to develop the property.
At the news conference, D’Amato criticized City Manager Jack Schnirman, City Councilman Scott Mandel and other officials for entering into what he called a “secret agreement” with the developer, claims that city officials have called a baseless political attack.
“You’re endorsing constructing a building taller than any building that’s ever been built, which would set a precedent,” D’Amato said. “Interesting — when [iStar appeared] before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the zoning board isn’t told that there’s going to be … an application for money.”
The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency rejected two requests by iStar for tax abatements, including a $109 million proposal last year, amid an outcry from D’Amato and residents who maintained that the city would lose out on the full tax benefits of the development.
“The building commissioner issued permits that he had no right to issue, because the zoning board didn’t authorize it,” D’Amato told reporters. “Put a little strip of cement — that’s all [iStar] did. There are no real foundation plans because that costs a lot of money, and iStar didn’t want to invest that money … they wanted to first go to the IDA and get the people’s money. [The IDA] shouldn’t be providing tax relief to multi-story luxury apartments on the ocean.”
The city maintains that iStar submitted plans for the foundation in 2015.
Last week’s lawsuit comes on the heels of iStar’s recent threat to sue the city for $105 million if the city does not show its support in a letter to the IDA on behalf of iStar, which is expected to make a third request for a tax break — this time in the form of a 20-year, $82 million PILOT.
Anthony Rifilato contributed to this story.