The owner of The Lofts – the now-sinking signature building of Stamford’s Harbor Point development of luxury high-rises – wants a jury to decide how much money it’s owed for the disaster facing the historic structure.
Gaia Real Estate of New York has filed a 75-page, 15-count lawsuit against developer Building & Land Technology, along with its affiliates and contractors, and the city, alleging they are responsible for the ongoing collapse of the Henry Street building, six stories tall and two football fields long.
Tenants have not lived in The Lofts for nearly a year. Gaia’s property management company had them leave because walls, ceilings and beams were cracking, floors were buckling, and doors and windows were popping out of their crooked frames as the building shifted on its failing foundation.
BLT completed construction of The Lofts in 2010 and sold it to Gaia in 2016.
Gaia – referenced in the lawsuit as Lofts Owner LLC, its affiliate – charges that the problems began when BLT and its engineering consultants installed an impermeable liner to contain contaminated soil at the 20-acre site, where they were converting the former Yale & Towne lock factory into 225 apartments.
The factory was built on 100-year-old wood pilings, which BLT used as the foundation for The Lofts, but according to the lawsuit the liner had a side effect – it stopped rain from soaking into the earth, which lowered the level of groundwater, exposing the pilings to air and causing the wood to rot.
With diminishing groundwater, the soil is shifting, further destabilizing the rotting pilings, according to the lawsuit.
“As a result of those damages, The Lofts has been rendered unsafe and uninhabitable, and is facing inevitable demolition or destruction,” the lawsuit states.
The city contributed to the damage, the suit alleges.
City crews that handle stormwater management failed to clean and repair underground drainage pipes, creating a situation in which water flowed away from the site, further diminishing groundwater levels under The Lofts, the suit states.
It also alleges that the city building department failed to inspect or require testing of the condition of the foundation.
According to the lawsuit, groundwater levels have dropped 5 feet since 2014. The building has settled more than 8 inches at the ground-floor concrete slab, and about 14 inches at the exterior building columns since 2010, it states.
Before purchasing The Lofts, Gaia Real Estate hired a consultant to survey it, according to the lawsuit, but representatives of BLT determined what the consultant could see. The consultant was allowed to view only areas that were “readily observable, easily accessible or made accessible” by the BLT representative, the suit states. “The majority of the substructures of The Lofts building were not visible,” it states.
Further, BLT did not disclose that its engineering firm, Weidlinger Associates, “had either not tested the capacity of the timber pile foundations or did not record in writing any results of any such testing,” according to the lawsuit.
It alleges that BLT took soil tests in 2010, when it was renovating The Lofts, but “records of those tests have been withheld from or not provided to” Gaia Real Estate.
Gaia did not discover the foundation problems until early 2022, after cracks and shifting in the building worsened. Gaia then obtained its own groundwater monitoring reports, according to the lawsuit.
Gaia had sought a city permit in 2020 to repair the foundation, according to the lawsuit. At that time the city failed to inspect, or inadequately inspected, the building in violation of its own rules and policies, the suit states.
It alleges that the city also failed to inspect potential safety concerns at The Lofts when it issued Gaia a permit in December 2021 for rehabilitation of the concrete slab. The company ultimately found that the slab “cannot safely be rehabilitated,” the suit states.
Lauren Meyer, special assistant to Mayor Caroline Simmons, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Asked to comment Wednesday, a spokesperson for BLT emailed a statement saying, “We cannot comment on pending litigation.”
Allen Wolff of Anderson Kill, the firm representing Gaia Real Estate, declined to comment at this time.
According to the lawsuit, Gaia Real Estate “reasonably relied on” BLT and its agents and representatives “because it believed BLT to be a well-known, trustworthy owner and developer of property in the Stamford area.”
The lawsuit names 29 defendants, including BLT and its multiple affiliates and subsidiaries. It also names Antares, the original developer of Harbor Point. Antares started work at The Lofts before BLT purchased all the vacant land in the development from Antares in 2008.
The lawsuit names two Plainville companies contracted by BLT – Loureiro Engineering Associates and New England Liner Systems; engineering consultant Fuss & O’Neill of Manchester; and Weidlinger Associates Consulting Engineers of New York, now merged with Thornton Tomasetti.
Ten of the 15 counts allege some form of negligence. For BLT, the lawsuit alleges negligence related to faulty development, failure to disclose, and misrepresentation. For the city, it alleges negligence related to failure to inspect and failure to maintain or repair. Other counts against BLT are for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing.
According to the lawsuit, the site of The Lofts at 200 Henry St. in the once-industrial South End was a marsh that was filled sometime in the 19th century. A canal once ran across part of the area occupied by the building. The Lofts building consists of five abutting structures constructed between 1910 and 1920, according to the suit.
Gaia filed an amended complaint last week in state Superior Court in Stamford. The first version was filed in November. The company is seeking compensatory damages “in an amount to be proven at trial,” the lawsuit states.
A trial has been scheduled for Feb. 24, 2025.