Meet Our Lawyer
Hiller, P.C. is one of New York’s best preservation law firms. Founding and managing principal Michael Hiller is a veteran land-use, zoning and preservation attorney who has a winning case record against developers and the LPC. Mr. Hiller is also the recipient of the Historic Districts Council’s Grassroots Preservation Award for 2017 in recognition of his achievements on behalf of community groups, neighborhoods, environmental organizations and preservationists.
The firm’s successes include:
- preventing construction of condominiums atop the historic Hopper-Gibson House, the last, intact shelter-point of the Underground Railroad in Manhattan (at proceedings before the Landmarks Preservation Commission);
- stopping the conversion of the landmark First Church of Christ, Scientist into luxury residences by defeating a group of developers at hearings before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA);
- blocking a plan to remove rare Carnegie-Steel book-stacks and millions of volumes of research materials from New York Public Library (through litigation);
- preserving the last-of-its-kind, landmark tower clock at 346 Broadway (through a successful Article 78 Proceeding) and obtaining the first ruling in New York that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is barred from permanently closing off interior landmarks from the public (by winning an Article 78 Proceeding);
- halting a $100M condominium project, set for construction in a manufacturing zone in Red Hook, Brooklyn through injunctive relief in litigation.
Defeating powerful real estate interests will be expensive work, so please take a moment please take a moment to help us pay our lawyers — these lawsuits don’t grow on trees.
Stopping Work at Hebron
In mid-July, the judge in our case denied our request for a preliminary injunction to stop work on the site until our petition could be heard in October. The standstill agreement that our lawyers negotiated with the developer to limit construction to below the street level was only in force until the judge issued this decision. Hope Street can now expand their work to above street level, and demolish the south wing of the building.
The community’s lawyers believe the court was wrong, and in many cases didn’t even acknowledge the arguments the community made. In order to proceed, we will have to ask the appellate court to intervene, either with a temporary retraining order or by overturning the judge’s ruling, or both. But we can only do that with your help. For several months now the community’s financial support hasn’t kept pace with the work our lawyers have done for us. If we are going to continue to fight this outrageous intrusion into our landmarked neighborhood, we need to fix that now. Please take a moment to contribute to our campaign, and ask your friends and neighbors to do the same.
On Thursday, April 28, attorneys from Hiller, P.C., asked the Kings County Supreme Court to halt construction at Hebron, at least until the court can consider the Article 78 petition to vacate the LPC’s approval of the Hebron project. The request, called an Order to Show Cause, seeks a temporary restraining order that would block the developer from continuing to build at Hebron in the short term, followed by a preliminary injunction that would last until the court makes a decision on the Petition.
A temporary restraining order is as much an essential part of the litigation process as it is a mechanism to shut down construction. When litigants don’t try to prevent a developer from building, courts often view it as unfair to the developer to halt construction later. Not asking for a TRO is akin to waiving the right to sue.
A court hearing was scheduled for April 29, but instead the community’s lawyers negotiated a “stand-still agreement” with the developer’s lawyers that would take the place of a short-term temporary restraining order. The agreement prohibits the developer from tearing down the southern extension of the Hebron school, which the developer planned to begin in the next few weeks. It also requires the developer to only work below street level, and all this below-grade construction — even a concrete foundation — can all be reversed if we’re ultimately successful in blocking the proposed buildings.
The agreement will remain in force until the court considers our request for a preliminary injunction. That hearing is now set for May 20. If the community prevails then, it could be the last we’ll see or hear of the excavators — let alone the wrecking crew or the cement mixers — at least until the judge reaches a decision. Of course, the developer will still need to take all steps necessary to ensure safe conditions at the site in the interim.
And we have the law on our side. As the lawyers explain in their filings, the community is likely to win the case in the end, and meanwhile we’d suffer lasting, irreparable harm if the developer tears down part of the historic building and builds out his immense and invasive apartment building at street level while the case proceeds.
You can read the document the lawyers have filed:
•The lawyer’s emergency affirmation, which explains why the community needs the court to stop work at the site.
•The Memorandum in Support of the order, which explains why the law entitles the community to the restraining order and injunction.
Article 78 Petition
On Friday, April 8, attorneys from Hiller, P.C., filed a petition in Kings County Supreme Court under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules to overturn the Commission’s approval of the Hebron project on Sterling Place.
If the petition succeeds, the developer will have to stop the existing project and start all over again to seek a new approval if he wants to continue building.
The petition claims that the Commission violated the law in several ways when it approved the development. Most crucially, it pushed for major changes to the design — for example, the developer split what was originally a long single building into two buildings with a common entry between them — and ultimately approved a project that the commissioners and the developer’s architect all said was drastically different from what the developer originally proposed. (“Like night and day!” was how one commissioner put it.) But when a project changes that much, the Commission must hold more hearings where the public can weigh in. And in this case, the Commission refused to hold those hearing.
The petitioners include Sterling Place BK-NY Block Association, whose members reside on the block of the proposed building, as well as members of our community who live near the Church and School.
The petitioners are backed by nearly all of the neighborhood’s elected officials. Council Members Chi Ossé and Crystal Hudson, Assembly Members Brian Cunningham and Stefani L. Zinerman, and State Senator Zellnor Myrie have all offered statements of support.
As Hiller makes clear in the press release announcing the petition, this lawsuit is part of a much larger fight against “systemic, institutional bias at the Commission” that favors developers like Hope Street. So the fight has only just begun. In fact, Hiller will likely seek a temporary restraining order to stop the development. Stay tuned! And please contribute to the legal defense fund that pays for this work.