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Hearing Held on Trump Lawsuit
BY BRUCE SILBERBLATT

On October 25, 1999, the Coalition for Responsible Development, co-founded by the Turtle Bay Association (TBA), petitioned the New York State Supreme Court to revoke the 90-story Trump World Tower building permit and issue a stop-work order. Closing arguments were held before Nicholas Figueroa, a former criminal-law judge from the Bronx now assigned civil cases, on November 19, 1999.

The petition holds that both the New York City Department of Buildings and the Board of Standards and Appeals violated the city zoning resolution and were "in error of law" in granting and upholding the Trump World Tower building permit.

Coalition counsel Donald H. Elliot took Judge Figueroa step-by-step through the zoning, carefully detailing that changes enacted in 1994 clearly required the project to be tower-on-base, not the set-back sheer tower now rising. Tower-on-base requires residential buildings on wide streets (like First Avenue) to be built out to the property line and contain at least 55% of the floor area below a 150-foot height.

Further, transfer of floor area across zoning district lines is not allowed; Trump World Tower derives over two thirds of its floor area from a different zoning district to the west of the site. The city ignored this prohibition, which is detailed in not one but at least two provisions of the zoning code.

In contrast to Elliot's legalistic approach, a battery of opposing attorneys (Trump, New York City, the developer) proffered a case relying less on what the zoning said and more on how it was produced. They alleged that the resolution was so arcane a document that only a few gifted zoning lawyers (themselves included, of course), planners, and New York City Department of Building officials (who approved the Trump building permit) could understand it. Given this, they urged that Judge Figueroa should, in lieu of reaching his own independent conclusion, accept the opinions of these so-called "experts."

As to which of the two presentations will prevail is up to Judge Figueroa himself. Ideally he is required to decide the case on the law - i.e., what the zoning actually requires - and not what others, no matter how "expert," think it says. His decision is not expected until the beginning of January, 2000.

The current legal action in the State Supreme Court is being taken against the city, but it is likely that the Trump organization will become involved as a third-party defendant. The Supreme Court is, in fact, not supreme; it is the lowest tier of the State Court system. Above it are the appellate courts and, at the highest level, the Court of Appeals. In all likelihood this litigation will go all the way.

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