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Dangerous Buildings Plague Up-and-Coming Gowanus Block

By Leslie Albrecht | September 5, 2012 6:47am

GOWANUS — The owners of two vacant buildings on a Gowanus block that has seen an influx of trendy businesses — and is the future site for the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club — are in hot water with the city over unsafe conditions at the derelict properties.

The city recently filed paperwork in Brooklyn Supreme Court ordering the owner of 557 Union St. to improve safety conditions at the vacant building, or face the possibility that it could be demolished, according to court documents.

The legal move, in late August, is the latest in a series of actions the city has taken against the owners of both 557 Union St. and the building next door, 555 Union St., between Nevins Street and Third Avenue.

Since 2008, the Department of Buildings has fined the building owners a total of $50,000 for six serious safety violations such as a staircase that was detached from a wall and a structurally unstable floor.

The owners were also fined for doing construction work without permits, but the fines haven't been paid, according to DOB records. In 2008, the city declared 555 Union St. unsafe and filed court papers ordering improvements.

The eyesore buildings, which are covered in graffiti and plywood, are on a block that has been changing rapidly.

Directly across the street from the blighted structures is the future home of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club at 541 Union St., which local residents have battled over fears that future crowds will ruin their block's peace and quiet.

Down the street, a new doggie daycare called the Yuppy Puppy is opening soon — another sign of the neighborhood's softening industrial edge.

Long before the shuffleboard club became a neighborhood lightning rod, neighbors were concerned about the abandoned Union Street buildings. The rickety-looking structures have been vacant for years, though neighbors have sometimes chased squatters away, locals explained.

Court records say that the buildings are owned by 47-78 Douglass Street LLC and Cherry Tree Corporation. James McGown, a real estate developer and restaurateur, is listed as the chairman of the LLC that owns 555 Union St., according to the New York Department of State's most recent records. There's no name on file with the Department of State for the LLC behind 557 Union St.

McGown made headlines in 2010 when he was sued for allegedly running a "an extreme party" palace out of a TriBeCa loft and bothering neighbors. It's not clear how the case was resolved.

Court records show McGown is involved in several ongoing lawsuits related to foreclosed properties, and a company under his name recently filed for bankruptcy, Crain's New York reported on Aug. 10. It's not clear whether the Union Street properties are in foreclosure.

Attempts to reach McGown through his lawyer and at South Brooklyn Pizza, a restaurant he owns, were unsuccessful.

Neighbors said they'd love to fix up the long-neglected structures, but they haven't been able to get in touch with anyone to negotiate buying them.

Mikael Levin, who lives next door to 557 Union St., said visitors knock on his door once or twice a month to ask about buying the property.

"If there was a way to buy it, it would have been bought," Levin said. "People are waiting to snap it up."