Reps of hotel project by Merchant’s House have criminal past
BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Merchant’s House Muse-um advocates are redoubling their opposition to a proposed nine-story hotel next door to the E. Fourth St. landmark after learning that two representatives of the hotel project pleaded guilty and served time in separate federal criminal cases several years ago.
The two men, who represented the hotel development team at Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee hearings in May, are Edward Carroll and Constantine Fotos.
Carroll pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and misleading a grand jury in 2002 during a federal corruption case against a business associate involved in elevator contracts for the M.T.A. headquarters building at 2 Broadway.
Carroll served five months in prison, plus two years of supervised release and five months home confinement. As a result of the conviction, Carroll surrendered his architect’s license in 2010.
Fotos pleaded guilty in 2005 to illegally removing asbestos while managing a construction project for Phillips International at 13-25 Astor Place. He also pleaded guilty to misleading a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the incident and served one year in prison and two years supervised release.
Friends of the 1832 Merchant’s House say the four-story building at 29 E. Fourth St. is too fragile to stand a nine-story building being built adjacent to it and sharing a party wall.
“We’re making every effort to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider everything and disapprove the hotel,” said Pi Gardener, executive director of the museum. Gardener said she thought nothing should be built at the proposed hotel site at 27 E. Fourth St. that is taller than the landmark. A two-story garage is currently on the site.
Alexandr Neratoff, an architect who spoke for residents of the nine-story condo at 25 E. Fourth St., said last week, “Given their prior convictions, Fotos and Carroll do not inspire confidence in their ability to develop 27 E. Fourth St. in a safe and judicious way without harming the Merchant’s House Museum. A proposal managed by this duo should never be approved by Landmarks.”
This reporter contacted Gary Spindler, owner of the proposed hotel site and a development partner, who responded in a letter, “Mr. Carroll and Mr. Fotos are valued members of our team who have made some mistakes in the past.”
Spindler said the design team is headed by SRA Architects, in which Carroll is an associate principal, and in which Adrian R. Figueroa, a registered architect, is a principal and the applicant of record for the L.P.C. hotel filing. Fotos assembled the design team and “brings many years of experience to his work,” Spindler added.
“We have engaged additional members of our team, including Steven Lin, geotechnical engineer; Phillip Murray, historical structural engineer; and Gabe Richardson, of Safety Dynamics, a Department of Buildings-approved safety consultant,” Spindler said.
“We have engaged licensed professionals of the highest caliber to respect the integrity of the Merchant’s House Museum,” he continued. “Unfortunately, our neighbor to the west [25 E. Fourth St.], who will lose some lot-line windows, seems unwilling to accept the changing nature of New York streetscapes and has seen fit to taint our project through guilt by association. We welcome this opportunity to allay his fears and wonder whether it is newsworthy.”
A Landmarks hearing on the project, which had been scheduled for June 5, was laid over until Tues., June 19. The L.P.C. does not enquire into the criminal record of applicants. In addition to L.P.C. approval, the hotel project would also require a zoning variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals, a process that could take a year or longer.
The Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee held a hearing on the project on April 30 at which Fotos and Carroll made a presentation and nobody appeared in opposition. The committee voted approval, but a day or two later, preservation advocates, along with Gardener and Nick Nicholson, chairperson of The Merchant’s House Museum board of trustees, protested they hadn’t known about the meeting.
The committee held another meeting on May 14 at which Nicholson and representatives of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Historic Districts Council and the 25 E. Fourth St. co-op opposed the hotel.
Fotos told the committee that he had several conversations with Gardener about the hotel project. But Gardener, who was at the May 14 meeting, said she had only heard of the project about 10 days earlier, shortly after the April 30 committee meeting.
“It’s possible that he might have called me a few years ago but I don’t have any recollection of it,” Gardener said on June 6.
After the May 14 hearing, the Landmarks Committee reversed its previous vote and recommended that any new building at 27 E. Fourth St. be no taller than the Merchant’s House.
Sean Sweeney, co-chairperson of the committee, said on June 6 that he also had learned about the federal convictions of Fotos and Carroll.
“If they lied to a grand jury or to federal investigators, do you think they’d tell the truth to a Community Board 2 committee?” he asked.
The Merchant’s House, where three generations of the Seabury-Tredwell family lived, was originally among row houses on the north side of E. Fourth St. west of Bowery. But houses on both sides of 29 E. Fourth St. were demolished leaving the building extremely vulnerable.
The Historic House Trust, organized in 1989 to help the city Parks Department maintain historic buildings, most of which are within parks, owns the Merchant’s House, which has been designated an exterior and interior landmark.