CIVIC CENTER — Elected officials and SoHo residents rallied outside Department of Buildings headquarters last Thursday to protest a new Nike store in SoHo that was set to open over the weekend.
The protesters slammed the city agency for approving permits that allowed developers to build a 55,000-square-foot store for Nike at 529 Broadway, despite neighborhood zoning rules that prohibit retail over 10,000 square feet.
"I don't like holding press conferences like this," said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. "I like when when work together. But it is the only way to call attention to a scofflaw company and a government agency that's sleeping on its responsibilities."
Brewer, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Community Board 2 Chair Tobi Bergman and Broadway Residents Coalition leader Pete Davies said that the DOB unevenly enforces the law, favoring big developers, and ignores concerns raised by community members and elected officials.
"You can write them a letter, even if you’re an elected official, you write them a letter, they don't respond. The community board calls them up, they don’t return the call. It’s an impenetrable organization and that doesn’t just affect neighborhoods like SoHo," Bergman continued.
"The same impenetrable quality that allows them to grease the wheel for a building like this, also creates a situation where many small property owners are trying to make perfectly reasonable renovations to their building and they get stopped by DOB for actually inexplicable reasons," he continued. "When they try to reach out, they get no action, there’s nobody to talk to, they get delays, it costs them money."
The developers behind 529 Broadway got an alteration permit instead of a new building permit because they claimed that the walls of the two buildings north and west of them were "party walls," meaning they were part of the original building they demolished at 529 Broadway.
They claimed, therefore, that their building was a renovation, not a demolition and reconstruction.
But Bergman and others insist that even if the DOB buys the party wall argument, the developers did not meet the requirement for an alteration that states that at least 50 percent of the building must be remaining.
"The problem with that argument is that the buildings to the north and the west only include about 35 percent of the wall surrounding their building," Bergman said. "Even with that ridiculous rule, they only get up to 35 percent, not 50 percent, and DOB knows this. They’ve known it for two years."
Bergman and the others want Nike's certificate of occupancy revoked until they and the developer apply for the special permit required for retail larger than 10,000 square feet, which would entail public review and oversight.
According to Department of Buildings spokesman Alex Schnell, however, the store still has not been issued a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, so it legally can't open.
Schnell said DOB inspectors would take action if the building was occupied without the necessary documentation, but did not respond when informed of a party held there last week.
Schnell previously said the project was audited in April 2015 and was determined to be in compliance with building codes.
NYPD officers responded to the party after noise complaints close to 1 a.m., neighbors said.