Back in August 2016, a consortium of developers known as the Columbia Heights Associates purchased the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower building complex in Brooklyn Heights for $340 million, with plans to convert it into offices, retail, and public space. The group was hoping to replace the iconic Watchtower sign that was removed in December 2017 from 30 Columbia Heights with a new sign, however the city isn’t allowing it because apparently the sign was illegal all along.
The Department of Buildings has denied the Columbia Heights Associates permission to replace the sign atop 30 Columbia Heights, stating that there is no evidence that the rooftop Watchtower sign—installed in 1970—or the Squibb sign that came before it, was given a permit to be installed, reports the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Lawyers for the development group challenged the decision at a Board of Standards and Appeals hearing held on Tuesday in Lower Manhattan.
Representing the developers, attorney David Karnovsky and his associates noted that the Department of Buildings has admitted to having limited availability of old agency records. Despite this, his team was able to dig up a DOB document from 1961 that contained an annotation about an application to place a rooftop sign on top of the building at 30 Columbia Heights. There was also a signature of approval in the ledger notation. Presenting more evidence, Karnovsky also found other documentation that suggests pharmaceutical company E.R. Squibb & Sons may also have obtained a permit for the sign they installed in 1961.
Nevertheless, the DOB’s assistant general counsel, Timothy McKernan maintained that placing new letters on the framework that was left on top of the building would classify as a structural alteration, which is not allowed. Karnvosky argued that sign letters are not structural elements and presented an engineer’s study that found that the framework to be a “complete and viable structure.”
- Watchtower sign was illegal, Buildings Department says [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]