“All in favor, say aye,” chairman Donald Heller finally said. He heard four ayes, and added his. The only new condition the members mustered the nerve to ask of the Kogans was to keep the lights over the tennis court dimmed at night.
So what changed? Why did the plan for what still sounded like Playboy Mansion East, a proposal that seemed to incense anyone familiar with it, suddenly become acceptable? The first and most obvious suspicion was that the tables had turned, and Greenwich now needed the Kogans more than the other way around. “Naturally, the prospect of increased property taxes for the cash-strapped town had no influence in the decision whatsoever,” scoffed Cityfile at the news of the project’s greenlighting. Tax revenue isn’t enough of a prize, however. Greenwich property taxes are as notoriously low as its income taxes; a resident whose mansion is roughly a quarter the size of the Kogans’ estimates, by gamely quadrupling his own figures, that even a behemoth like Koganadu would fetch the town only $80,000 a year: hardly worth the fuss.
What other explanations were there for the palace’s newfound palatability? “At least three members, including the commissioner, hated it,” says Charles Lee, “but were told they couldn’t vote no.” By whom? A neighbor in the know fingers the likeliest culprit: Given the lack of specific codes that might have prohibited construction of the project, the Kogans’ army of lawyers must have made clear that their clients would sue the town if their second application was rejected. The “no” vote would result in more money drain through legal costs and more negative publicity. Considering that the builders had already made some concessions, at a certain point public sympathy would flip. The Kogans would stop looking like ruffian arrivistes and start looking like victims of Waspy snobbery. They would become, unbelievably, underdogs.
Simmons Lane may yet get to keep its serenity anyway. It’s still not known when, or if, the stately dome of Koganadu, with its retractable cover, will rise over the flagstone fence. The Lees have filed a suit against both the commission and Olga Kogan, seeking to stop the project.
Even if the suit doesn’t succeed, the project may yet stall for a very different reason. One of the strangest things the Kogans did with their purchase was leverage the living daylights out of it. In August 2005, they took a $10 million loan from Eastern Savings Bank against the house. Less than year after that, they used the same property as collateral in a $15 million loan from the same bank to Kogan’s Kvoda Group. The house cost $18.5 million in 2005; its price, considering it has been stripped, has at best stayed level or, much more likely, hovers around $10 million to $11 million. It’s hard to say whether Valery Kogan’s oft-changing fortunes are at fault, but the would-be oligarch pleasure pad is currently leveraged two to one. Both loans mature on June 1. Much like the bubble itself, the would-be bane of Simmons Lane is now a castle in the sky, in hock to a hope for a brighter tomorrow.