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Senior Partner Chris McGrath Obtains Massive $131 Million Verdict For Plaintiff Illegally Denied Zoning and Development Rights

January 13, 2021 in

In the matter of Sinclair Haberman and Belair Building LLC  v. Zoning Board of Appeals, firm Senior Partner and distinguished trial lawyer Chris McGrath obtained an incredible verdict on behalf on his client, with damages totaling $131,292,386.

 

Belair Building, LLC Wins $ 131 Million Dollar Award Against City of Long Beach–City Illegally Schemed For 30+ Years to Sabotage Owner’s Right to Develop Its Property

 

Supreme Court Justice Jack Libert, following a damages trial, determined that the City of Long Beach must compensate Belair Building, LLC $131,292,386, for the substantial damages it suffered by reason of the City’s illegal conduct in blocking Belair’s right to develop its oceanfront property for more than three decades. Belair supported its damage claim with expert testimony as to the return on the market value of its vested property rights for which it was denied use, plus increased costs based on changes in building codes and coastal flood maps, property taxes and other carrying costs, other increased construction costs, and attorneys’ fees. 

 

When Sinclair Haberman, Belair’s Managing Member, decided to develop the property in the 1980’s, the City of Long Beach was a very different city. It was suffering from economic stress, and the then-City Council President admitted that “no one wanted to invest a nickel in the place.” Haberman’s development was then welcomed as a bellwether and approved because it would bring hundreds of local jobs and significant tax revenues, which would support schools, police, fire fighting and other municipal services. 

 

Haberman received a variance to build four 10-story residential buildings back in 1985. Haberman commenced work on the first building, Sea Pointe Towers, a 126 co-op unit building operated by Xander Corp. As soon as the economy improved during the construction of the first building, Long Beach politicians chose to pander for votes by initiating an unlawful campaign to “kill” Haberman’s development. Haberman had already committed more than $20 million to purchase of land, and demolished an existing 58-unit garden apartment complex. Nonetheless, Long Beach refused to process his building permits on the remaining 3 buildings, changed the zoning and revoked the variance. Haberman, in the spirit of good faith and compromise, agreed to reduce the 4th building from 10 to 7 stories and to add a 2nd level of parking by the 4th building. This agreement with Long Beach was embodied in a Court Order.

 

In 2003, Belair received a piling permit to begin the 2nd building. Xander petitioned the City to revoke Belair’s building permit. Belair asserted that the Xander homeowners were acting in bad faith and trying to get more than they bargained for by stopping construction to not have to share parking, the swimming pool complex, and views. In 2003, the permit was revoked on the grounds that an extension of the variances was unenforceable because the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had not ratified an extension of the variance, even though the City Corporation Counsel and ZBA’s counsel, had agreed to the extension in writing. The N.Y. Court of Appeals unanimously found that the City’s position was baseless. 

 

During three decades of litigation, Haberman repeatedly prevailed against the City before N.Y.S. Supreme Court Justices, the Appellate Division, Second Department and New York’s highest court, the N.Y. Court of Appeals. 

 

Superstorm Sandy severely damaged Long Beach, and the City was seeking ways to rebuild. Haberman, recognizing that Long Beach politicians’ illegal conduct caused economic liability in excess of $50 million, and that a damage award would be stressful financially to the City, agreed to a cashless settlement that would help spur redevelopment. If the City permitted Belair to build higher than the original variance permitted, then Belair would release the City from all monetary damage claims. The City initially embraced the opportunity to save the taxpayers from having to pay a significant judgment and negotiated and signed a written settlement agreement. That agreement was negotiated with the assistance of a highly respected former appellate judge who had conducted a mediation with the parties. Moreover, the settlement agreement was then embodied in a court order. 

 

In an incredible act of governmental malpractice and reckless disregard for the interests of the taxpayers, Long Beach politicians disavowed the written agreement and asserted that its own Corporation Counsel lacked authority to enter into the settlement, even though the ZBA Chairperson and City Council President had each participated in the mediation on behalf of their respective bodies. Belair sued the City for breach of contract and violation of U.S.C. § 1983 (unlawful conduct under color of law). Belair previously sued Xander Corp., the owner of Sea Pointe Towers, for its role in wrongfully interfering with Belair’s project with respect to one of the three remaining buildings, and Xander agreed to pay $23 million dollars to Belair in settlement of Belair’s claims. 

 

Haberman stated that it was outrageous, that in America, a few irresponsible politicians could destroy a property owner’s right to develop its property in conformance with all laws by breaching three written contracts, two of which were court orders, and ultimately inflict significant costs on the taxpayers. No amount of money can compensate for more than three decades of torment, and the fact that his father did not live to see the property developed as planned, or see that the City would be held accountable to provide compensation for the damage it caused. 

 

Learn More About Firm Senior Partner and Trial Attorney Chris McGrath

 

Chris McGrath is a renowned attorney who has won several multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, earning him a stellar reputation as a top trial attorney. McGrath has been with the firm since 1983 and his phenomenal work has been described as making him a magnet for clients in injury matters, product liability, premises liability, medical malpractice, construction accidents and more. To learn more about Chris McGrath and other notable cases he has litigated, click here.

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