Brooklyn Boro

Developer of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse fined for illegal de Blasio contribution

September 23, 2019 Mary Frost
The Pierhouse condo, as seen from the rooftop of the 1 Hotel. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Mega-developer Toll Brothers admitted to the state’s ethical oversight commission in July that the company had illegally donated $25,000 to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s not-for-profit “Campaign for One New York” at a time when the developer was working to develop a hotel and condo in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics fined Toll Brothers $15,000 for the donation at the time the city was overseeing approvals for the 1 Hotel and Pierhouse complex. Toll Brothers has agreed to the fine and has waived its right to appeal.

The settlement agreement was signed on July 8 but was just released by the city on Thursday. It was first reported in the news outlet THE CITY.

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“The company made a contribution to a charity that supports affordable housing and universal pre-K. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics subsequently determined that our contribution did not comply with its regulations and, as the Commission recognized, we fully cooperated with its review. We have settled this claim with a payment of $15,000 to the Commission,” Kira Sterling, a Toll Brothers spokesperson, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. “We take our obligations to comply with laws and regulations surrounding charitable contributions seriously.”

Other developers also fined

The donation was just one of what appears to be a pattern of solicitations by de Blasio from real estate developers seeking to do business in the city.

Another developer, an affiliate of Park Tower Group Ltd. also agreed in July to pay penalties for illegal donations to the mayor’s Campaign for One New York, as did Brookfield Properties.

According to its settlement agreement, Park Tower Group was seeking to develop Greenpoint Landing in 2015 when a senior executive of the company was asked to meet de Blasio and one of his campaign officials, Russ Offinger.

At the meeting, according to the agreement, “The mayor’s priorities for affordable housing and universal pre-K were discussed with the executive,” and he was told that the not-for-profit was raising money to support these priorities. On another date, Offinger discussed with the executive details on how to donate to the not-for-profit. In March 2015, Park Tower group cut a check for $50,000 as a donation. The company was fined $20,000.

Brookfield Properties, which has developed many Brooklyn sites including MetroTech Center, was found to have donated $50,000 to the mayor’s not-for-profit, at a time when it needed city permits to develop Manhattan West in the Hudson Yards. The company was fined $30,000.

Under the Article 1-A of the NYS Lobbying Act, “No individual or entity … shall offer or give a gift to any public official … unless under the circumstances it is not reasonable to infer that the gift was intended to influence such public official.” Nor can donations be made to an official’s spouse, child or favorite charity.

De Blasio used Campaign for One New York funds to pay consultants, for public relations campaigns and for expenses related to forwarding his personal priorities, especially Universal Pre-K.

Federal and state investigations cleared the mayor of criminal charges in these donations, but questions about his fundraising ethics and connections to developers have been repeatedly raised.

“Fundraising for the now-defunct Campaign for One New York has been thoroughly investigated by JCOPE. JCOPE has never found that Mayor violated the law,” said Freddi Goldstein, a de Blasio spokesperson.

Local suspicion of the mayor’s arrangements with developers goes back to the beginning of his first term, when he dropped his campaign promise to preserve Long Island College Hospital as an operating hospital.

In April, Heights resident Roberto Gautier told the Eagle, “Mayor de Blasio’s deals with Toll Brothers and other developers unveil his allegiance once again with forces that stripped our neighborhood of LICH and the Cadman Plaza [Brooklyn Heights] library.”

Pierhouse litigation

The Pierhouse complex was facing hurdles during the times that donations were being discussed. One was a controversy over its excessive height, which broke an agreement Brooklyn Bridge Park had previously made with the community.

In August 2016, state Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel threw out a lawsuit brought by the Brooklyn Heights Association and advocate group Save The View Now attempting to block construction of the overly tall part of the complex.

“My first thought was corruption pays: Toll Brothers make an illegal contribution, gets fined $15k and is allowed to double the size of the building,” Save the View President Steven Guterman told the Eagle on Monday.

“They likely made an addition $300 million in profits while stealing the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the tourists and residents who walk along the promenade. The fine is a joke relative to the benefit they received. Furthermore, why wasn’t our mayor charged with anything? He was on the receiving side.”

Guterman added, “We have some of the most expensive buildings in the country and some of the weakest anti-corruption legislation.”

The 10-story 1 Hotel and five-story Pierhouse condo opened at 130 Furman St. in 2017.

High-priced condos have been snapped up at Pierhouse, which in 2017 ranged in price from $1.2 million to almost $8 million. The units are currently sold out.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is funded by the developments built within its boundaries. According to Toll Brothers, Pierhouse homeowners will contribute, on average, $30,000 a year to the park in the form of PILOTS, which stands for “payment in lieu of taxes,” and ground-lease fees.

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