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Scarano's fun with NY zoning

The purpose of zoning is to provide for restrained development. But in Scarano's view, New York City's code was a Talmudic document, open to endless avenues of interpretation. Through a variety of arcane strategies, he could literally pull additional real estate out of the air. In the high-ceilinged warehouses of SoHo and TriBeCa, for instance, an earlier generation of gentrifiers had increased their living space by constructing mezzanines, creating the loft look that so many buyers were now after. "The population of factory buildings was unfortunately being used up," Scarano said. "So what did we do? We created the factory aesthetic in new construction." And he didn't just take the aesthetic -- he also adapted the zoning rules that applied to warehouse conversions. Under certain circumstances, the code classified loft mezzanines as storage space, not floor area, and Scarano assured developers their new building plans could slip through this loophole. Effectively, he said, he could fashion double-decker apartments, in buildings that were four stories for legal purposes and eight stories for marketing.

Scarano scoffs at the notion that any developer, Fischman included, was duped into accepting his designs. Architecture "is not so dissimilar from the accounting profession," he said, dropping all Mondrianic pretense. "When someone goes to their tax accountant . . . they don't tell the fellow to figure out how to not have the most deductions." Everyone was happy until the auditors arrived, and then came recriminations. Over the past few years, numerous developers have sued Scarano, claiming he prepared faulty plans, while he has countersued to recover hundreds of thousands in unpaid fees.

The Supersizer of Brooklyn
Published: March 18, 2011
With a knack for gaming the zoning code, the architect Robert Scarano proudly scored extra square footage for developers -- until his influence became too obvious to ignore.


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