I’m not big on conspiracy theories, though you’ve got to wonder if the mere slap on the wrist architect Robert Scarano received had anything to do with politics. Was the City using Scarano to accomplish their notsohidden agenda to remake Brooklyn into high density, highrise neighborhoods? The best the City accomplished was to take away Scarano’s ability to professionally certify his filings with the Department of Buildings. The City did not go after his architect’s license, which is what was demanded by the public. So in essence, the bad get rewarded; his license (017739) to practice architecture is still active.
Scarano attempted to have the punishment lifted. The case was heard by the New York State Court of Appeals on October 25th and was not successful for him. But the punishment never did fit the crime.
Over the years, Scarano has consistently flouted building laws and zoning regulations, as well as caused the destruction of numerous adjacent properties and allegedly the death of at least one worker. Now that the Buildings Department is suddenly aware of this the department’s commissioner, Robert LiMandri, said in a statement, following the ruling: “Today’s decision sends a clear message that there are serious consequences for those who flout the law to make a profit. In his attempts to circumvent the City’s Building Code and Zoning Resolution, Mr. Scarano showed a disregard for the laws that ensure safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers.” They should have revoked his license and put him in jail if they were serious.
Until now, it’s been apparent that the City has allowed the construction of illegal buildings from North Brooklyn to Red Hook, including the original plans for the infamous “finger” building in Williamsburg, which was supposed to be the equivalent of a 22-story building and which has since been capped at 14 floors by a new owner. The name stuck because the building is so out of context with the three- and five-story buildings surrounding it. The building, located on the Northside, also caused a whole new generation of activists to protest.
I was part of a group of community organizations and residents who started a group called Stop Our Supersizing, to derail the project. Ground was broken on the building just before the City approved a zoning change prohibiting tall buildings from going up on Northside.
Prior to this, a builder in Manhattan was forced to take down two stories on a building that was too big. This hasn’t happened in Brooklyn. Nothing was done to Scarano or any of his over 100 illegal buildings. There are dozens and dozens of them that don’t meet either code or zoning requirements, many of them in Greenpoint-Williamsburg. During the last construction boom, Scarano and his clients had a field day on the backs of the communities where they were building. Now the City is actually asking the tenants and owners of condominiums that were Scarano designs to correct at their own expense those things that don’t meet the building code, such as replacing circular stairs that connect to mezzanines.
Scarano’s meteoric rise as an architect (referenced by his website which showed a 700 percent increase in businsss over a short period of time) was caused because “he could work the magic.” His most common trick was to put up buildings with double-height living rooms, and then put in a mezzanine that didn’t count as living space. This allowed the developer to build and to either rent or sell more square footage than they were entitled to. That was his big trick.
So you were getting much higher buildings, getting illegal stairs connecting the main floor, using ship ladders (steep and narrow) as a way of accessing the “storage area,” i.e. bedrooms. He professionally certified that the mezzanine was only for storage and not usable living space, so he was creating buildings with too much square footage. He was not playing by the rule book. Donald Trump did this also in buildings by the U.N.
Our own elected officials also supported Scarano’s arrogance. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz even presented a “Brooklyn Icon Award” to Scarano, saying he “truly represented faith in Brooklyn.” “And keep doing what you’ve been doing, creating a unique architectural statement for Brooklyn,” Markowitz said at the event, a gathering of developers, architects, and builders which took place at Scarano Architects’ dumbo offices. For me, the Brooklyn Icon Award was the hot knife in the back! Forget the buildings that collapsed, the workers that died, and the families he displaced, Scarano was brilliant that he got away with it for so long. This has fueled his arrogance.
Scarano signed a Buildings Department statement of responsibility for work at the 733 Ocean Parkway site where construction worker Anthony Duncan was killed by falling concrete blocks. Scarano was in charge of the underpinning shoring up a neighbor’s foundation during the excavation, which Duncan was working on when he was killed.
Though City regulations allow it, Scarano should never have signed off on the underpinning work because he is an architect and not a structural engineer. Scarano also failed to submit required plans detailing how the underpinning was to be safely done. Two other workers, Arturo Gonzalez and Heng Zheng, also were killed in accidents on Scarano projects. Yet Scarano kept getting the green light to keep going! There were even charges that the D.O.B. was helping Scarano cover up his mistakes.
In 2007, the top official responsible for enforcing building standards in the City signed secrecy agreements to hide a series of blunders that led to death and building evacuations. Patricia Lancaster, the former buildings commissioner, hid the mistakes made by Scarano.Lancaster signed a stipulation promising not to report the alleged misdeeds of Scarano to “any regulatory agency,” including one that could revoke his license.
Lancaster hid charges that Scarano signed off on unsafe conditions at the Brooklyn site where construction worker Anthony Duncan Sr. was crushed to death in a March 2006 building collapse. The victim’s family was outraged by Lancaster’s actions. Duncan’s son, Anthony Jr., said, “It’s like they’re laughing in my face. Scarano is still working, but my father is dead.”
The Department of Buildings hid problems in the self-certification program, a flawed Buildings Department honor code that allowed architects and engineers to sign off on their own work without independent review.
Countless homeowners suffered the consequences of this practice via code violations that undermined building walls and foundations, and even caused building collapses. Although Lancaster called Scarano “an egregious offender,” she repeatedly refused to explain why she struck the bargain.
So yes, Scarano can still work, but his reputation is so tarnished that most developers now avoid him because of the scrutiny he receives.
So in the end the arrogance that gave him his power was his downfall. What does it take for the City to recognize white-collar crime and do something about it to protect its citizens? This begs the question, how did the City protect Scarano—and not its own citizenry?
Still on Fire