Wednesday, May 10, 2006

BJ's Dishes Dirt?

What's this we're hearing? It appears that our friends at BJ's, aided and abetted by the sly one himself, Mr. Jesse James Masyr, are contemplating making an end run around the city's zoning laws. The focus is once again Brush Avenue in the Bronx, where last year the City Council, in a unanimous vote at the Land Use Committee, the body turned down a zoning request to build a 150,000 sq. ft box store for the chain.

Since then a number of events have transpired. In the first place some Bronx council members have had second thought$ about the wisdom of bringing the non-union store to the borough. At the same time the election of Jimmy Vacca, an opponent of BJ's, to represent the area where the site is located has complicated the chain's desire to locate at the Brush Avenue site.

Enter the always scheming Mr. Masyr. Jesse is the master of the "below grade" ploy, the exploitation of a loophole in the city's zoning text that allows a builder to avoid the need for a special permit if the building in question is built at a certain number of feet below grade. He accomplished this for a supermarket in the Bronx as well as one for Queens.

Of course the loophole makes no sense since the environmental impacts of the project are not altered if the elevation of the building is lowered. Yet the loophole exists and now we have heard that BJ's has been investigating the removal of millions of pounds of dirt from the Brush Avenue site in order to avoid ULURP for the box store.

Now iot's one thing if you find a below grade area and can utilize this existing anomoly to avoid the zoning laws. It is, at least it appears to us, that it is quite a different order of things entirely when you excavate a site in order to become below grade. This is literally driving a bulldozer through the zoning loophole.

It does, however, throw down a challenge to Councilman Vacca and the leadership of the City Council. The Related Company is in constant need of good will from the council in its myriad development projects. The council leadership should not let this situation fester for a moment longer than is necessary.

It should be made chrystal clear to Jesse James Masyr and his Related cohorts that this ploy will not be tolerated. The Brush Avenue site was deemed inappropriate once before and no amount of dirt digging should be allowed to alter the facts already on the ground.