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In Chelsea, disgruntled neighbors sue to block church-topping condo

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They say the 11-story tower may have been improperly approved by the city

Rendering via Einhorn Development Group

Chelsea neighbors have long objected to plans for an 11-story condo set to rise above and around the French Evangelical Church on West 16th Street. Now, they’re taking their protest to court, saying that the DOB “may have improperly approved the developer’s plans” for the incongruent tower, DNAInfo reports.

To recap: Back in 2012, the Chelsea church sold a neighboring parcel for $4 million to the Einhorn Development Group, who, at the time, intended to erect a six-story building at the site. But in 2014, the church very quietly sold off its air rights to Einhorn, which in turn successfully filed a post-approval amendment with the Department of Buildings, adding another five floors.

Despite assurances from the architect that the new 11-story tower would totally fit in with the block, neighbors were not pleased. A group called Save 16th Street emerged to protest the “horrifying” glass tower. Development continued.

Which brings us, more or less, to today. Last week, the coalition filed a court petition asking that the DOB “hand over documents they believe could prove Einhorn’s plans violate city statutes and codes, or show that the department improperly approved the project,” DNAInfo says. And according to their petition, this is hardly the first attempt to get the documents: In 2015, the committee says, they asked the DOB for copies of the paperwork related to the post-approval amendment, but couldn’t get them then, or in several subsequent FOIL requests.

One question on neighbors’ minds: how, exactly, did the DOB approve this plan? Attorney Stuart Klein, who once worked for the DOB but is now representing the neighbors, at one point had a meeting with committee reps, during which they apparently voiced dozens of objections to the plan. Given DOB’s apparent change of heart, the committee wants to see the papers explaining the department’s logic.

“It’s just really incomprehensible why we can’t get answers from them,” Klein said. A DOB spokesman says the agency is still reviewing Klein’s November FOIL request.

Moreover, the spokesman said, none of what’s happened is all that out of the ordinary. “Building plans are often changed during construction due to the acquisition of additional development rights—and what’s more, it’s very common for the department to issue objections during the plan-review process that the applicant needs to address before the project can move forward,” the spokesman told DNAInfo.

Still, neighbors are hoping the documents will finally prove Einhorn shouldn’t be allowed to build something so tall. Einhorn itself did not respond to DNAInfo’s request for comment.