Eichner sues to force sale of Crown Heights project land


960 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights and Continuum Company founder Ian Bruce Eichner (Hill West Architects, Getty)

First, Ian Bruce Eichner was unable to pass the public exam. Then a judge slapped him. Now he’s back in court, pursuing a Crown Heights project that may never happen.

For the past four years, Eichner’s Continuum Company and Lincoln Equities Group have attempted to build a large residential development near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Even the ground beneath the project is slipping, as the spice merchant who agreed to sell them to the site wants to withdraw from the business.

The developers took legal action to save the deal, but a judge dismissed the case last week. Yet they sue again, hoping to close the sale and bring back their white whale.

In 2017, Eichner’s partnership entered into an agreement with Zev Golombeck to purchase two plots at 960 Franklin Avenue, the site of the former Golombeck spice factory. The planned development depended on a zoning change, so the closure was suspended. If all went according to plan, Continuum and Lincoln would pay $ 42 million for the property.

But things turned out badly.

Continuum planned to develop two 34-story residential towers on the site. Half of the tower units would be affordable, and the entire project would be built and managed with unionized workers.

Despite these selling points, the project aroused immediate opposition. The botanical garden has said the shadows from the towers will kill its rare plants, and locals have warned of overdevelopment and gentrification. Continuum’s problems worsened in March 2020, when the pandemic froze rezoning reviews, stalling the project for six months. Then the mayor spoke out against the plan midway through the review, a rarity in city politics.

Even without a zoning change, Eichner could still build a profitable project. He just needed Golembeck’s land, which was adjacent to an already controlled Continuum plot.

Like the development itself, the agreement between Continuum and Golombeck changed shape several times as delays and opposition persisted. In February 2020, just weeks before the first wave of the pandemic rocked New York City, Continuum and Golombeck postponed the shutdown until December 31, 2020. In return, the developers would put $ 100,000 on deposit each month until then. . The monthly payments would be factored into the purchase price.

The developers missed the March payment, and Golombeck’s attorney declared the sales contract in default. However, he never canceled it. Instead, according to the development team’s lawsuit, he assured them that he would not end the sale.

The developers continued to ignore their monthly deposits of $ 100,000, and both sides began to try to put a deferment policy on paper.

According to court documents, Golombeck’s attorney forwarded an amended agreement to Continuum’s attorney on December 23. He never had the opportunity to sign it. The next day, Golombeck’s lawyer declared the sales contract terminated, citing the missed payments.

It is not known what caused the change of mind.

“We terminated because they were in default,” Golombeck said when reached by phone, although he did not give details. In his lawsuit, Continuum alleges he was lured into a trap, with the Christmas Eve termination making it impossible to match funds in time for the year-end deadline.

Golombeck asked the escrow agent to release the deposited funds to him, including the initial $ 2.5 million down payment, as damages. Continuum, whose attorney did not respond to a request for comment, filed a lawsuit to stop the termination and escrow payment in January. A judge dismissed the lawsuit on December 9, but Continuum filed a largely identical lawsuit on Monday.

In it, Continuum says it has spent “well over” $ 5.7 million on anti-zoning – on consultants, engineers, and lobbyists – since its first missed monthly payment. He wants the court to force Golombeck to cover these costs and honor the sales agreement.

While Continuum has increased the amount it is asking for, its new lawsuit is largely the same as the one just dismissed. “It’s just a matter of repeating the same causes of action again. They just tried to dress her up a bit, ”said Mitchell Haddad, lawyer at Sills Cummis & Gross representing Golombeck.

Continuum is also suing the city for refusing to consider a scaled-down version of the development that would have reduced each tower to 17 stories and reduced affordability to 25% of units.

Eichner promises to develop something on the land, even if it is just an apartment building at the market price allowed by the current zoning. But to do so, he will have to win messy court battles with Golombeck and the city, which he is suing for rejection of ULURP.