Brooklyn Tabernacle demands Dallas BBQ fix clogged plumbing

Real Estate

Sep. 19, 2023, 3:22 p.m. ET

In a new court filing, a Brooklyn church demands that a restaurant located above fix its drain clogs for leaks inside its space to stop.
Stefano Giovannini

Playtime’s over, kids. There’s an unholy mess to clean up.

A faulty plumbing system in a Dallas BBQ located above a Brooklyn Tabernacle church recreation space near the Fulton Mall is leaking water filled with bacteria from heavily clogged plumbing fixtures below the restaurant’s kitchen, according to a motion filed in the Kings County Supreme Court on Tuesday. The fluids frequently drip into large puddles in a gathering room designed to hold 50 people and a gym — both of which are used primarily for children’s programs, Pastor Brian Pettrey says.

The request for an injunction calls for a court order to require Dallas BBQ, along with the LLC that owns the space where it operates, to clean or replace the grease-filled cleanouts, traps and pipes.

On many recent Sundays, the space is filled not with giggling kids, “but with vile liquid containing grease, chunks of what appeared to be human waste, and with bacterial counts consistent with sewage,” according to the motion.

Pettrey adds that the organization hires hazardous waste specialists to clean it up for thousands of dollars per job — and the room still stinks for days afterward.

The aftermath isn’t just wet, it’s also allegedly smelly.Handout

The court documents charge the overhead pipes with being badly clogged.Handout

The church has had to take its own measures of keeping its property free of damage.Handout

“Fortunately no one’s gotten this stuff dumped on their head, but it’s certainly affected our services,” he said.

Tuesday’s filing is the latest update in a lawsuit first filed four years ago, when similar leaks occurred while the church’s rec center at 180 Livingston St. was being constructed. The suit pertains to additional issues related to construction in the building and seeks more than $10 million in damages, says Leah Vickers, an attorney with Mandel Bhandari LLP, which represents the Tabernacle in the lawsuit.

(Attorneys for Dallas BBQ and Thor 180 Livingston LLC didn’t respond for comment as of press time.)

The massive church is known for its six-time Grammy Award-winning choir and boasts more than 10,000 congregants. Its adult worship services are held at 17 Smith St., but additional space was needed for activities, events and performances. Its Livingston Street location has a gym, plus a stage with lighting and sound.

Pastor Brian Pettrey alleges the ongoing situation impacts church services.Stefano Giovannini

Kids inside the church for Sunday services while leaks allegedly continue.Stefano Giovannini

A view of leak damage on the ceiling.Stefano Giovannini

In 2019, the church purchased a former condo beneath the restaurant, which rents part of the first floor in the building above from Thor 180 Livingston LLC, an entity of the real estate development firm Thor Equities.

The problem was fixed for a while — but bubbled up again in the last year with increased frequency and severity, according to the latest motion. There were at least 12 leaks in recent months, causing the church to shutter the center for up to three weeks at a time.

During each closure, the organization scurries to relocate its programs, also geared toward teenagers and the elderly, to other spaces scattered around the neighborhood, Pettrey says.

In one instance, the church nervously invited 300 children to enjoy a free day and check it out.

“People from the community come in and at first glance are like, ‘Why does it smell in here?’” he said. “It’s not a good look.”

A close-up of the ceiling.Stefano Giovannini

An image of waste water on the church floor.Stefano Giovannini

The exterior of the building.Stefano Giovannini

To inspect the situation, the organization hired Howard L. Zimmerman Architects & Engineers, DPC (HLZAE) in June.

“The levels of grease observed in these locations are some of the worst conditions of grease build-up I have seen,” HLZAE engineer Jon Colatrella said after sending a camera patrolling around the sludge, according to his affidavit in Tuesday’s filing.

Even more alarming, the water flows into floor drains in the restaurant, from which it trickles into the city sewer system, a violation of environmental code, according to the documents.

The city Department of Environmental Protection is aware of the issue and ordered the Dallas BBQ location to update its grease interceptors, which prevent the waste from going down the pipes, in March 2020, a spokesperson says.

The restaurant failed to comply, which led to seven subsequent summonses. A cease and desist hearing for the most recent summons was scheduled for April but adjourned until Tuesday, the spokesperson adds. The results of it were not released as of press time.

Congregant Daniel Arbeeny calls the ongoing ordeal “a horror show.”Stefano Giovannini

Pettrey sent the engineer’s findings to Dallas BBQ and Thor 180 Livingston LLC on July 6. The church’s attorneys forwarded it to their legal counsels a few days later in hopes the entities would immediately rectify the situation, Vickers adds.

“To date we have not received any response from Thor or Dallas BBQ,” she said. “At this point there’s no indication that they have any intention of doing what [needs] to be done to stop these leaks.”

In the interim, Pettrey says the church is trying not to lose members.

Daniel Arbeeny, a 30-year congregant, says the relocations of events send parents scrambling in confusion about where to drop off and pick up their kids, some of whom have special needs.

But it beats the alternative.

“It’s a horror show,” Abeerny said. His four kids participated in the church’s programs from toddlerhood into their teen years. “We have sewer water mixed with food wastewater. Not only is it disgusting, how dangerous is that?”

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