Southern Brooklyn

Locals Outraged At Surprise Lundy's Landmark Hearing

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Cherry Hill Gourmet Market at Lundys in Sheepshead Bay
Photo by Ray Johnson

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Committee announced late last week that they’re going forward with a public hearing tomorrow, August 2, regarding violations at the landmarked Lundy’s building by Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, outraging local activists who say they’re being left out of the process.

The hearing will review Cherry Hill Gourmet Market’s (1901 Emmons Avenue) move to legalize alterations to the building currently in violation of the property’s landmark status. The alterations include several changes made during the property’s renovation two years ago to convert it from a restaurant space to a market, including signs in the windows, a large external air conditioning unit adjacent to the back wall, changes to the sidewalk and parts of the building removed for the installation of awnings. If the move fails to garner approval from the LPC, the business owner – David Isaev – could be required to pay to undo the changes and restore it to compliance.

But after waiting nearly two years to challenge the legalization attempt, at least one local group is saying the LPC’s short notice cuts out the community.

“This is an outrage. This is the first we hear of a hearing,” said Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison, whose civic group helped fight for Lundy’s landmark status in 1989 and has helped take care of the property during its neglected years. “Our members have called 311 to complain [about the violations] for over a year. I have called to LPC and never received a call back. I have emailed LPC and never received a response.”

Barrison received notification from LPC officials on Thursday that the hearing was going forward the following Tuesday, and that a time was yet to be announced. That gave the lawyer and activist just two work days to prepare – but he had already scheduled a vacation. He’s requesting the LPC reschedule the hearing to September, giving time for the community to prepare. Without feedback from the community, Barrison fears LPC officials may side with the business owners and set a precedent that weakens preservation efforts citywide.

“This hearing should have had reasonable notice to the community, including us as the largest community coalition in the Sheepshead Bay area and we also worked for many years on landmarking that property,” he said. “Construction done in violation of the landmark designation must not be swept under the rug and must never be allowed. Otherwise, what is the point of landmark status to protect the facade we worked for so many years to protect? They should be fined and ordered to do a full restoration to it’s prior condition.”

Community Board 15 Chairperson agrees about the timing, but added that the board and others have filed numerous complaints with the agency, and that’ll weigh into the commission’s ruling.

“This is the city agency’s way of keeping everyone out of the situation. Landmarks figures they’re in charge, they’re the one to make the decision,” Scavo said. “As far as it goes, I do not think they’re going to look lightly on the situation. They’re going to review it and hopefully come up with the right decision.”

LPC’s press officer did not answer the phone when we called for comment.

Scavo added that Cherry Hill’s attorney has said his client will remedy several of the problems, including the signage and awning. The sticking point at tomorrow’s meeting will be to determine the future of the air-conditioning unit and the sidewalk. She said they will bring samples of the tiles used in the new sidewalk for the LPC to review. If the LPC says so, Cherry Hill will have to tear up the sidewalk and replace it with plain concrete. The air conditioning unit will also need to be moved and possibly covered by a facade in order to help it blend in with the building. David Isaev, the market’s owner, was not available for comment as this story went to publication.

Regardless of promises from Cherry Hill’s owners to comply with LPC rulings, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz wrote the commission to request they withhold judgement until Cherry Hill settle other matters with the city. He said Cherry Hill Gourmet Market’s operators have shown a flagrant disregard for city building laws and the community’s wishes.

“While this business has been operating for only a few years it has accumulated an inaudient and inexcusable number of building and zoning violations,” Cymbrowitz said. “Despite New York City’s attempts to bring this building into compliance, most of the violations remain uncorrected.”

Cherry Hill Gourmet Market has been a lightning rod for controversy since it began renovating the space in 2008. Local leaders pleaded with the city to keep a closer eye on the property when contractors removed the historic Lundy’s signs on the building’s exterior, which were ultimately restored and reinstalled.

Scavo joined Councilman Michael Nelson and State Senator Carl Kruger to fight the gourmet market’s operator, claiming they misled the community into thinking the space would primarily be a restaurant with a market as an accessory use. But as renovation played out, it became clear that the majority of the floor space was given over to the market, a use in violation of the Sheepshead Bay Special Zoning District that dictates the types of businesses that may operate along the waterfront. The trio took up arms, conducting a press conference in April 2009 that brought criticism for coinciding with Good Friday, but also came in tandem with a Department of Buildings partial Stop Work Order for the violation.

The market’s operators plowed forward, though, opening its doors to the public in May 2009. The DOB responded swiftly, issuing a full Stop Work Order on the property and levying a $5,000 fine. That SWO stands to this day, hindering the business owners’ plans to complete construction on the second floor and open a full-fledged restaurant in the space.

Just this past May, the business was also cited for operating a sidewalk cafe without permits, having more than 30 tables on a city sidewalk. A request for permit was reviewed and denied, Scavo said.

Going forward, the local leaders are urging the city to do what it can to protect the building’s historical importance and its role as Sheepshead Bay’s crown jewel.

“The Lundy’s building is an icon for Sheepshead Bay and its historic look must be preserved and protected. Any changes to this property erase a history of this community that is not only meaningful to many of our older residents, but an important link to what this community was in a prior century,” Cymbrowitz wrote the LPC. “I am requesting that the LPC do what is necessary to assure compliance and withhold its final determination until it has verified that the property has completed all LPC required restorations.”

That’s the kind of response BIG’s Barrison is looking for, too.

“There is no other way to treat this kind of total disregard for our landmark laws,” he said. “Any other outcome is establishing a precedent that hurts the entire commission and city landmarks everywhere!”

The LPC public hearing on legalizing alterations to the landmarked Lundy’s building will take place tomorrow, August 2, at approximately 4:00 p.m. in the Public Meeting Room of the Municipal Building (1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North, Manhattan). Click here for additional details.

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