Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now We Can Stop Wondering! Here Is the "Real Story" Behind 22 2nd Street, According To Its Owner



A few days ago, I posted about a Carroll Gardens owner who excavated in front of his green showroom house at 22 2nd Street, in order to add a room under his front yard. However, the neighborhood signature courtyards are not the property of the owner. The property line starts at the building and not at the sidewalk, making the courtyard public land. That fact must have eluded both the home owner and the the genius at the NYC Department of Buildings, who issued a permit for the illegal addition.
When D.O.B. realized its mistake, it issued a Stop Work Order and the Borough Commissioner is planning on revoking the permit.

Now, the owner, Gennaro Brooks-Church, of Eco Brooklyn has responded at length to the controversy on his own web site, blaming both the economy, the DoB and his neighbors for his recent woes.

Brooks-Church writes:

"A couple blogs (1 and 2) have picked up the goings on at 22 2nd street, the Eco Brooklyn green show house and my home. What sparked the interest is a recent screw up by the DOB where they gave me a permit to build a storage room in my front yard and then revoked it.
Before we delve into that lets give this a little perspective. To buy the house the bank wanted 30% down, an amazingly high percentage for the time, but we had our mortgage broker line up refinance papers to pull money out again, and we closed on the house.With plans to have the home equity line of credit we proceeded on our merry way to deconstruct the house which was in really bad shape. Some floors were completely rotted from termites.
And then the banks started to collapse. Our broker company went our of business and with it our hopes of refinancing. Nobody would give us a construction loan.We were sitting on a very expensive monthly mortgage with a gutted house and little money to rebuild it. Despite being in construction since I was twelve I hadn’t planned on doing the renovation myself. I figured I could make more money as a real estate broker and pay another contractor to do the renovation. But real estate was clearly on its way to more mellow territory. And besides I had no money to pay a contractor. But the main reason was I realized no contractor could do what I wanted. So I scraped some money together with my girlfriend and started out with a tool belt.At first I just wanted to build a green house for my family. I didn’t plan on having a company. But to do the renovation I needed insurance and a company to pull permits. So I formed a little company to deal with the legal requirements. I called it Eco Brooklyn."

He goes on to his neighbors for snitching on him and for calling 311. He writes:

"Looking back the biggest mistake I made was trusting people to be as good willed as I was. One day an inspector showed up. At first he was apologetic. He said he only had to do it because somebody on the block called 311 and filed a complaint. He didn’t go into details, just that somebody had called. Strange, I said, nobody has raised objections to me. He looked at our plans and our work quality and saw everything was ok. He admired our salvaged stone walls and leftWe continued on our merry way.Whoever called on the block kept calling, though.
And a week later we were shut down for building on city property. The letter stated the DOB made a mistake and that my front yard was not mine.One thing I have learned, if you make a mistake with the DOB you pay for it. If the DOB makes a mistake, you pay for it. So I was not happy to hear the news, especially since I was almost done!What irks me the most is that whoever kept calling really had it in for me. They even said I was building an illegal green roof, which is completely false – it is legal and I built it a year and a half ago.
Why somebody would spend so much time snitching on me and not speak to me directly is beyond me.It is very unsettling since everyone on the block is on good terms with me to my face. My neighbors to one side are vocally unhappy with my construction site but we say hello at least. They understand the situation and simply look forward to the work being done.Is it them who called? Is it the guy across the street who sits on his stoop all the time and waves?I’m embarrassed enough by the ugliness and long standing construction site.
Now every time I walk by a neighbor I wonder if it is them who sneakily is calling 311 and bad mouthing the job site behind my back. I don’t mind assholes because at least you know where you stand. But I hate cowards.The true irony of this is that I would have been done with the front yard in a week. I would have been able to clear the yard and plant it with beautiful native plants and trees. The storage room would not have been visible or a bother to anyone.But now the front yard is stalled with blue tarps and piles of stone for possibly months. The DOB has asked me to put up an ugly fence which is going to annoy neighbors even more.If I were to do it again I would not do a storage room. It is a stupid use of money. I would have dug out the lower duplex in the back yard. That way the dig out would be livable space instead of space for bicycles. I would be able to rent the lower duplex out for more and arguably the space would be better served.I did the front dig thinking it would be quick, painless and relatively inexpensive. The storage would have been great. It was my little extravagance. My man cave. Now of course my girlfriend who is not pleased has suggested not so nicely that I go live in that @$#!! man cave.I point out to her that it probably needs to be closed up never to be enjoyed again, which is a sick irony that just puts salt on a very expensive wound.
We await a hearing with the DOB. They have suggested I can approach the Department of Transportation and negotiate buying the land back. Maybe the DOT would allow me to build stairs to the cellar at the very least. But these are huge maybes and would take a long time, be costly and probably not work.As for you dear 311 caller, whoever you are, have the balls to come see me and introduce yourself. At least we can discuss things because your actions now are not doing anyone any good."
To read his entire post, click here.

What say you of this lengthy explanation, dear Reader?



Jeff said...

Sounds like a guy who can't admit his mistakes and wants to blame others. Sorry, there is really no need to talk a neighbor who is doing illegal work. Calling DOB is the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

What do I think? I think if this guy plays his cards right there is an episode on some reality TV show in his future.
The purpose of the room it seems wasn't storage he was building a "man cave", a den, his own provate Idaho.
If he thinks the neighbors should turn a blind eye to illegal construction then he moved to the wrong neighborhood. They absolutely did the right thing.

Jim said...

In some areas of Brooklyn, there is building under city property, that is called a vault and rent is paid on it. Does that still exist?

Anonymous said...

Any neighbor or taxpayer has the right to call 311 and complain anonymously rather than create a confrontation with a person they'll probably have to deal with day in day out (and btw, I do not live on that block nor was it me. I frankly don't care since it is your property).

Which brings up the second point of it being your property. I'm sure there's an assumption that the front yard is yours, but since this individual discusses his mortgage and the process of buying his property, his paperwork clearly indicates what he owns as well as the property lines, so there shouldn't have been any confusion.

Thirdly, I sympathize with the guy if he was really just a week away. That always sucks. Not to mention the amount of time and money he's lost on it.

Anonymous said...

"They have suggested I can approach the Department of Transportation and negotiate buying the land back. Maybe the DOT would allow me to build stairs to the cellar at the very least"

And so it begins

This guy may have just opened Pandora's box.

Should the DOT allow him to purchase the land that is currently a courtyard, that will set the precedent. Once you can own and build on the courtyard, the potential for development is huge, and we will have Place Block houses being bought by developers who will build out to the sidewalk.

We need landmarking NOW!

We as a neighborh

Anonymous said...

DOB will deflect responsibility for issuing the invalid permit onto the architect/engineer who filed the plans. Ain't their job to check every little detail including whether on city property. Sad, but true.

Dolores said...

He wants someone to talk to him to his face & not behind his back? This is the new brooklyn, people are too afraid of confrontation--instead they sit in their underwear in front of their computer making trouble.

Anonymous said...

I often walk by this site although I do not live on the block. There has been a lot of debris on the sidewalk and strangely boarded off spaces around containers near curbside parking. The car has often been parked halfway up the sidewalk, the dog has been left unattended in the front yard for hours. Doors and windows have been randomly boarded up off and on for extensive periods of time.

I feel sorry for the neighbors who abut this property and must worry that some retaining wall will give way because the owner of 22 Second Street is building yet another strange extension.

This has been an eyesore for 3 years. Maybe the project is simply too big for the homeowner (whose girlfriend, together with him, is the owner of multiple other properties, BTW).

The impression given by this eternal construction site is one of an owner who is not doing the job in a reasonable manner and who does not particularly care about the inconvenience caused to his neighbors.

Calling the DoB is the appropriate course of action.

Anonymous said...

I read his post. I don't see what he did wrong. He followed the rules to the letter. You apply for a permit and if you get it then you build.

I'd be pissed!

Chicken Underwear said...

If I lived on that block I would rather be a "coward" and call 311 then be an "asshole" and talk to him. That is why we have 311, to avoid being called an asshole.

loretta said...

DOB should not have issued permits. Bottom line is that. They are the DOB and they should be aware of what they are permitting.

Anonymous said...

I don't think he is passing the blame to anyone. His explanation describes pretty clearly his own mistakes and how he is learning from them.
I know that house and have seen it inside. Clearly Gennaro bit off more than he could chew like he admits but he also has done a great deal. There is a green roof, gray water, lots of beautiful salvaged materials and an eco garden. It is pretty impressive and I think every brownstone should have these elements. I don't know about the whole DOB permit hoopla and the delays but I do think if that is sorted out Eco Brooklyn is on the right track to how brownstones should be built. F.H.

Anonymous said...

He is blaming his neighbors? Wow that is a really dumb move. Didn't he himself place all the the pics of his construction on his ECO blog anyhow?
I live on "his" street too, and I did not report him. But now I would! And I want my 'batman cave' too!
Right now!! Whaaaaaaaaaa

fred said...

I agree with anonymous April 15, 2011 9:18 AM, the concept of the eco house is an example in combining recycling and good taste. The roof is fantastic compared to those who show AC units or sat dishes. Unfortunately, Gennaro made a mistake with the front yard cellar and I can't agree with him when blaming his neighbors. Hope that a solution will be found.

Anonymous said...

The explanation is BS. He was wrong for not doing the proper research and DOB was wrong for the same reason. If his neighbors would have spoken to him I'm sure he would have told them to mind their own business, because he had a DOB permit. As for trying to buy the land from NYC DOT someone should remind him that a local private school just tried the same thing a got nowhere. We will not stand by while the front gardens of Carroll Gardens are sold to people who do not care about our neighborhood

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone rat this guy out? He's not converting his front yard into a driveway as so many others have illegally done. He's just creating an underground space that will have no impact on his block or neighbors. The mean-spirited actions of people never ceases to amaze me.

Anonymous said...

I realize the article on this is a bit old, but the problem is as bad as ever. I've been living on the same street as this incredible site for a number of years now. He uses the front yard as a storage bin for junk he collects from bins all over the city. This is recycling? It's a total mess that frequently spills over onto the sidewalk. I pity the nice older couple next to him with their neat yard; these are people who've obviously lived in the neighborhood for their entire lives.

The noise from this site is also incredible. Today he's sawing up stone with a saw. It's been in this condition for over three years now, with no end in sight. This man masquerades as some kind of green warrior, but he's really a big bullying guy with disregard for normal etiquette. I'd never try to approach him about this. He's made his attitude perfectly clear; it's inherently aggressive. No one wants to get in a scrap with him. His girlfriend, meanwhile, owns multiple stores in the neighborhood, and is probably loaded.

Meanwhile, his naked children press their entire bodies against the windows at night with no shades or curtains. It's a really bizarre situation that would be fine deep in the country with no neighbors, but is ridiculous here.

I've never called the DOB on him, but may soon. He takes up space with dumpsters, messes up the sidewalk, disturbs people on weekends, and for some reason the DOB continues to give him the green light to go back to work. Who is he paying off? How can this be?

Meg said...

The owner is just plain wrong and was trying to take advantage. He sounds aggressive and self-righteous to boot. Glad I don't live next door.

Anonymous said...

OMG! What is or has gone on with the front door/entryway? What kind of hideous door is that, so inappropriate to the design of the house? And the triple-hung front windows look awful too.

And the front yard has been like that for ....YEARS?....I would have called 311 YEARS ago.

This is self-centered, discourteous behavior at it's finest. Nice neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that:

a) If he's into Real Estate, he'd know what was his & not his,
b) If he was a "Nice Guy" and open & honest with his neighbors to start with someone would have said, "Gee, I don't think you're allowed to do that."
c)It sounds like he's trying to run a commercial business from this ECO-Site. He wants to use this property as a 'showroom' to potential customers.
d) If he wanted my business I guess he should have gotten his own job done right, first.
e)If he had all this "Tool Belt" history he was either: 1- very, very, VERY lucky to have gotten the 'mistaken DOB Permit' or...
2- Paid a lot of $$$ to get that mistaken DOB permit.
Finally "F"
And "F" stands for him being an F'ing liar who got caught.
The city should seize this property and his & his G/F's other holdings until this property is restored. On their dime!!

Susan Crait said...

I walk by this house to work every day and just love it so I decided to google it. I'm not sure what the fuss is because clearly Eco Brooklyn is contributing positively to the community IMO. What he has done to his front yard is inspirational. It is so beautiful and relaxing. I choose to walk up 2nd st just to get a glimpse of the yard with a little river and pond. It has fish and turtles. I see it's become quite the attraction for kids. I think more people should build like this - if anything for the kids to be exposed to nature more.

Anonymous said...

The guy is a complete idiot and bad neighbor. Him and is wife own the Area Yoga "chain". Typical Brooklyn annoying hipsters who are laughing all the way to the bank. Morons.