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The South Park Slope Community Group, an organization formed to fight high-rise developments in the neighborhood, surprised developer Isaac Katan last month with video footage of his demolition crews working with illegal equipment, often past work hours. The group contends the developer was rushing to begin laying a foundation for an eleven-story residential building at 182 15th Street before new zoning took effect.

The community group presented a DVD of highlights from the footage, shot last summer, to the New York Board of Standards and Appeals at a June hearing on whether Katan’s property would be “vested” — that is, whether he could build under the old zoning, which would require substantial progress on the foundation. Jeff Mulligan, executive director of the BSA, said that to the best of his knowledge it was the first time such video evidence had been used in this way.

“The burden of proof is so high when you’re fighting these guys that it tends to never be quite enough,” said Joe Levine, architectural consultant for the community group, adding that BSA hearings are often “rubber stamps.” But according to Levine, video might be a valuable tool against developers. “I think it gave us the best shot we have,” he said.

Several neighbors decided independently to record activity that looked suspicious. “I was vibrated out of my bed and onto the floor,” said Raymond Zielinski, who woke up one night to the sound of heavy machinery. Zielinski went to his yard and began filming.

Mark King, another resident, shot video of his own and compiled the final video, which included his footage, Zielinski’s, and that of two other residents. King also began filming when he became suspicious of the work he saw at the development site. “There were clouds of dust around it,” he said.

The developer maintains that the video footage is not relevant to whether it can be vested. “Our position is that we got no appreciable gain from using mechanical equipment,” said Howard Hornstein, the lawyer, of Cozen & O’Connor, who represents Katan. The hearing is now closed, and both parties await a decision. If the community group wins, Katan will still be allowed to develop under the new zoning. [07/03/06]

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