Friday, May 19, 2006

Wal-Mart Watch: Close the "Below Grade" Loophole

We have already discussed the ingenuity of Jesse James Masyr when it comes to exploiting loopholes in the NYC zoning laws. The major loophole we have highlighted is the one that allows a developer to avoid the need to obtain a "special permit" for a food or department store larger than 10,000 feet in an industrial zone by building the store a certain number of feet below the street level.

This is an exception that makes absolutely no sense since there is nothing about below grade that should allow for the obviation of an environmental review. Yet it exists and it is used. The Pathmark on Waters Place in the Bronx and the Stop-and-Shop on Grand Avenue in Maspeth are two of the most salient examples of the loophole in action.

Now we are hearing that Masyr and Related are thinking of using it to build a BJ's warehouse store that the City Council gave a thumbs down to in February of last year. Even more ominous, if the loophole is not closed we can expect that some crafty developer will use it to bring in Wal-Mart and avoid any ULURP death knell.