Sunday, November 26, 2006

"What we got here...failure to communicate"

229 vs. 231
Making it stick to "The Man, LLC"

Even when you are on good speaking terms with the builder/developer, living next door to a South Slope construction site can have its many trials and tribulations. Read for yourself just how bad it can get when the builder turns out to be less than impeccable with their word and, ouch!, you need to hire a lawyer to duke it out.

The new Robert Scarano & Associates creation (recognize those Mezzanines?) has turned out to be a nightmare for the resident homeowners of 229 Sixteenth Street.

So in order to have their side of the story available to the public, they have decided to launch their own website for some good ole internet justice.
229 -vs.- 231

To hear why click here.
Want to read the list of Department of Buildings Complaints and Violations? Click here.
For the Brief History of Everything, check out their Time line including what appears to be "misunderstandings" with Castle House Development, Inc., 231 16th Street Associates, LLC, and Brooklyn's 72nd police precinct.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dia: Brooklyn?

Whether it's the cool, geometric, Minimalism of Agnes Martin, the esoteric performance props of Joseph Beuys, the crushed metal assemblages of Richard Chamberlain, or the beefy, iron, masculinity of Richard Serra, the South Slopes got it.

"By initiating, supporting, presenting, and preserving art projects, and by serving as a locus for interdisciplinary art and criticism, local real estate developers, working closely with inexperienced foundation contractors have reinvigorated the visual culture of the South Slope."

Fluxus, damned near killed us!

Looking to cop a quick hit of Walter De Maria or Robert Smithson?

Check out Dia: Brooklyn's permanent collection at its latest site-specific, non-profit location...400 15th Street.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Has Brooklyn replaced Passaic as The Eternal City?

The first stop on Our Tour of the Monuments of South Slope, Brooklyn is 406 15th Street, future site of the Armory-Progress-is-a-Myth-Plaza.

If that rascal Robert Smithson was still alive and kicking, no doubt he would have declared many of Brooklyn's unfinished, entropic building sites, some of the greatest works of mankind. We might even ask ourselves, "Has Brooklyn replaced Smithson's old home town of Passaic, New Jersey as The New Eternal City."

"The Monument to Half Buried Buildings"

"The Great Pipes Monuments"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"My transparent, accessable, community"

New Architectural Voyeurism!

Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA, announced the launch of My Community, a new user-friendly website search feature. My Community is an easy-to-use extension of the Department's online Building Information System (BIS), a database of over 950,000 properties located throughout New York City's five boroughs. By searching by address or community board, My Community makes it easier to obtain lists of new building permits, major alterations and full demolitions in any given local community board

"As part of our ongoing efforts to increase transparency and accountability, My Community more easily allows members of the public to access online lists of construction activity specific to their neighborhood. Our hope is that My Community will be an invaluable tool for everyone, from concerned community members to elected officials who want to obtain information that affects their local neighborhoods."
Step 1: What's my Community Board number, anyway?

Step 2: Some people like to watch people build...some people like to see things crushed. Choose your fetish.

Click on "GO" to begin peeping, I mean browsing.

A regular cornucopia of places to choose from. Click on any address to open the Department of Buildings, (BIS) Buildings Information Site for everything you always wanted to know about your neighborhood, but were afraid to ask.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Our Daily News Reality

Construction Zone Nightmare

98 Dead Since '01 as Builders Shirk Code

Click on the photo above to see 1504 Crack Tour video.


Daniel Basilio (above) was killed Oct. 7 when the top floor of this Queens apartment house at 108th and Corona (below) collapsed during construction. Five others were hurt.
The death of Clever Jara, an immigrant worker killed in a fall from a scaffold last week, comes amid a massive construction boom marred by rising building code violations and flagrant disregard of zoning.

Jara was not hooked into a safety harness when he plunged 17 stories to his death while working on a building at 114 Fifth Ave., witnesses said.

The construction company he worked for, Town Restoration, did not have a licensed scaffold rigger or a required onsite foreman, the Buildings Department said.

Certificates showing that workers had been trained for the rigs also were not on the site, according to the department.

Such mishaps are increasingly common.

On Oct. 7, construction worker Daniel Basilio was killed and five others were injured when the ceiling of the Corona, Queens, building they were working on collapsed.

At least 98 construction workers in the city have been killed since October 2001, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said. Jara was the 10th construction-related fatality since Jan. 1, according to the Buildings Department.

Many more have been injured. Between 2001 and 2005, OSHA investigated 68 "catastrophic accidents" citywide, meaning at least one worker died or three were seriously injured.

Because the vast majority of mishaps occur on nonunion jobs involving immigrant laborers, numerous additional cases are believed to go unreported.

"When a union guy is injured, reports are filed," said David Perecman, a personal injury lawyer who represents many immigrant workers. "But when they are illegal aliens, the boss tells them if it still hurts in the morning go to the hospital and tell them you tripped and fell."

On Thursday, the city formed a Scaffold Safety Task Force to develop safety enforcement and oversight policy.

The deaths and injuries come amid the biggest building boom in recent history. Last year alone, the Buildings Department issued 111,283 permits for demolition or construction — up from 62,739 in 1996.

Construction permits for this year are on pace to exceed 130,000, according to the latest figures available.

The city has rezoned some neighborhoods to protect them from the onslaught. But the move has created an unexpected consequence.

"Unscrupulous businessmen, seeing the opportunity for high-density, high-profit development in these neighborhoods slip away, are rushing to launch out-of-scale, out-of-character projects before the rezoning takes effect," Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum testified at an Assembly hearing in September.

Last year, the city slapped vacate orders on 998 properties and issued 5,006 stop-work orders. This year, the figures may climb even higher. By August, the latest month for which statistics were available, the city had issued 4,391 stop-work orders and required 1,091 buildings to be vacated.

"There are contractors who ... are doing it on purpose because they want the adjacent building to fall down or be vacated," Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said of the shoddy excavations.

In an interview with the Daily News, Lancaster refused to name names. But this much is certain: At the heart of the problem is a cadre of well-known scofflaw developers and shady architects who abuse the Buildings Department's flawed honor system, which allows them to self-certify their work for zoning and building code compliance.

According to the Mayor's Management Report, 43% of all building plans in fiscal 2005 were self-certified. Of those, only 18.9% were audited. And of those audited, 16% had permits revoked.

Take developer Mendel Brach and his association with tainted architects Robert Scarano and Henry Radusky — poster boys for building boom boondoggles.

The Buildings Department has accused Scarano of ignoring zoning rules or building codes at no less than 26 Brooklyn apartment buildings, and three workers have been killed at buildings whose plans he vouched for.

Brach and fellow developer Moshe Oknin teamed up with him in the race to build an apartment tower at 144 N. Eighth St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, before the block was down-zoned.

Opponents of the project have dubbed it the "finger building," likening it to an obscene gesture in the low-rise neighborhood.

Scarano submitted plans for roof decks over two of businessman Scott Spector's adjacent properties to meet an "open space" requirement that would allow the building to rise above 10 stories.

Spector sued Scarano, Brach and Oknin, charging they had no right to build over his property and that they also tore down another of his buildings without permission.

In court papers, Brach denied the allegations and says they were made after the developers turned down Spector's demand that they buy the building in question for $17 million, "a price far in excess of the value."

The Buildings Department has ordered the developers to stop construction of the violation-riddled building at the 10th floor. But Brach hasn't given up. He has filed for summary judgment that would allow him to build to 16 stories. The case will be argued in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Nov. 13.

At 96 Diamond St., another Scarano building in Greenpoint, excavation caused the basement wall in a neighboring house to buckle and crack.

Forced to vacate, Alice Bajno — whose family had lived in the house for 40 years — sued Scarano and developer Christopher Cielepak for $1 million. "It was like an earthquake," Bajno said of the damage.

In an affidavit, Cielepak said the "crack developed apparently as a result of heavy rains which occurred around the time of excavating." The suit has not been resolved. Then there's Radusky.

He was the architect for five Brach buildings on a block of small homes on Spencer St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Brach took advantage of an academic-use zoning exemption — the buildings were to be used to house teachers for a yeshiva — that allowed the buildings to rise to nine stories. Radusky certified the plans.

Problem is, the apartments were not marketed to yeshiva faculty as promised. They sold on the open market for about $25 million. When city officials learned of the deception, they refused to grant certificates of occupancy, leaving residents unable to sell or refinance their apartments.

New plans have been drawn up and the tenants are seeking a new architect, said Brach's attorney, Franklyn Snitow.

Radusky tried to pull the academic-use ploy again for an 11-story building in the Armory Plaza development at 406-408 15th St. in Park Slope, Brooklyn — even though the exemption had been wiped from the books months before.

After heated community opposition, the Buildings Department revoked the permit and reduced the height to five stories.

Meanwhile, however, excavation caused cracks in the walls of an adjoining eight-family apartment building, forcing the residents to leave.

Both Scarano and Radusky have settled Buildings Department charges and have agreed to drop out of the self-certification program. But you'd never know that if you visit the department's Web site. Their names are not included on the list of disciplined architects.

Indeed, of the 34 architects and engineers who lost self-certification privileges this year and last, only four are named on the Web site. The rest have escaped public exposure in plea bargain-like deals, Lancaster admitted.

Moreover, none of them has been barred from practicing.

Few ever are.

Since 1995, the Buildings Department has asked the state Education Department, which licenses professionals, to discipline 132 architects and engineers. Only 31 have been fined or had their licenses suspended or revoked.

This year, the Buildings Department announced a pilot program to audit all self-certified plans. But it is limited to zoning conformity outside Manhattan.

Building code compliance will continue to be audited randomly.

Killed on the job

At least 98 construction workers in the city have been killed since October 2001, most of them in mishaps involving violations of safety regulations or building codes. Here are just a few:

Oct. 7, 2006: Daniel Basilio, 29, was killed and five other workers injured when the fourth floor of a building at 104-56 Roosevelt Ave. in Corona, Queens, pancaked under the weight of freshly poured concrete. The owners, Galindo and Ferreira Corp., were cited for three violations, including failing to protect the property during construction.

March 8, 2006: Anthony Duncan, 47, was killed when a garage wall collapsed at 733 Ocean Parkway in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Architect Robert Scarano, cited for violations throughout Brooklyn, had signed papers taking responsibility for the shoring-up. Owner Viera Novak and developer Ari Chitrik of O.P. Equities were cited for, among other things, failing to safeguard the public and the property.

Nov. 2, 2005: Heng Zheng, 50, fell to his death at 207 South First St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Leeco Construction Co. was issued two citations for not putting guardrails on the floors.

Aug. 29, 2005: Arturo Gonzales, 27, was struck and killed by an 800-pound steel girder at 187 20th St. in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The Buildings Department fined 187 20th St. Realty $400. The department also fined owner Fasten Luzer $1,000 for failing to protect an adjoining structure during excavation, which caused the foundation to crack. The plans were certified by Scarano.

June 1, 2005: Mohamadou Jabbie was killed in a 60-foot fall from a scaffold at 345 Eldert St. in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Federal prosecutors arrested contractors Nasir Bhatti and Tariq Alamgir of Metla Construction for failing to provide fall protection equipment. Additionally, they charged Alamgir with ordering a witness to lie to investigators. The case is pending.

June 7, 2004: Worker Jian Guo Shen, 43, was killed in the collapse of a foundation wall at 51-18 92nd St. in Elmhurst, Queens. Developer Chi Yong Fa was fined $1,000.

May 20, 2004: Angel Segovia, 37, fell 35 feet to his death and three other workers were seriously injured when the third floor balcony at 9718 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, collapsed. None of the workers had federally mandated safety gear. Contractor Kang Yeon Lee pleaded guilty to causing the death and was sentenced in Brooklyn Federal Court to 30 months in prison and two years of supervised release. He agreed to pay more than $2 million to compensate victims and satisfy penalties in that case and another stemming from his failure to pay workers the prevailing wage on a project at JFK Airport.

May 16, 2002: Antonio Romano was killed and three workers injured when the weight of cinder blocks cause a collapse at 33 E. 61st St. in Manhattan. The Manhattan district attorney's office indicted contractor Shukun Tam and foreman Cheung Keat Ai for second-degree manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. Tam was acquitted of all but second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Ai pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Oct. 24, 2001: Five workers were killed and four others seriously injured in the collapse of a scaffold 160 feet high at 215 Park Ave., Manhattan. Philip Minucci of TriState Scaffold pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. In sentencing him to 3½ to 10½ years, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller said the collapse "was not a tragic accident" but "a tragic certainty."

Hundreds forced to leave homes

Hundreds of New Yorkers have been forced to flee their homes because dangerous construction nearby damaged their foundations or raised fears their houses were unsafe.

Consider the case of Brooklynite Phyllis Mascia.

On June 16, 2005, work at 22 Havemeyer St. cracked the foundation of her home at 20 Havemeyer, forcing her and her two elderly sisters-in-law to vacate. They had lived in the building for 40 years.

"We were left homeless," said Mascia. "Three widows. We had a lovely life. It was our castle."

One of the Mascia widows, Filomenia, 92, went to a nursing home. Another, Antonetta, 87, moved in with relatives. Phyllis, 68, said she was temporarily housed by her insurance company in a hotel near LaGuardia Airport. "It was frightening," she said. "I don't think it was safe there for a woman alone."

She has since moved into an apartment at 45 Havemeyer "to keep an eye on" the empty house, which had been ransacked in her absence, Mascia said.

Mascia has sued Mike Choi, the owner of 22 Havemeyer. She was joined by Ana and Luis Jaramillo, who were forced to vacate 24 Havemeyer with their two children.

"I am not against development," Mascia said. "But when it is done dangerously, people can be killed or left homeless."

"We are sorry for what happened," said Choi's lawyer, Allen Schwartz. But, he added, "Whatever happened, happened beyond our control." He said Choi has sued the contractor and demolition company.

Meanwhile, Antonetta Mascia died Oct. 20. "I believe my sister-in-law would be alive today if she had not been forced to leave her home," Phyllis said.

Originally published on November 4, 2006


For a complete history of the on going construction boom and recent down zoning in the South Park Slope and Green Wood Heights Brooklyn neighborhoods, visit the South South Slope community web site at
Plan on spending a good amount of time there.

Monday, November 06, 2006

When it pours.

When I first learned how to throw pottery on the wheel, I had a teacher who would try and enforce a kind of ceramic birth control. He would, as we handed over our precious babies, ask us if we were sure they were worthy of immortality. After all, that five pound lopsided coffee cup, once fired in the kiln, could potentially survive for centuries. Early evidence of mans ability to produce fired clay pottery dates back anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years.

It was a kind way of telling his students that no one ever eats the first pancake. There's a learning curve. You have to go through it, not around it. Not everything you create needs to live on into eternity. Practically speaking, it was a way to encourage frugality, especially since anyone who voluntarily chooses to become a professional potter better start getting used to practicing a humble lifestyle.

As for self-censoring ones creative urges, all one has to do is stop at any roadside flea market or antique shop to see that ceramics, the world's most popular hobby, is in no danger of being forgotten by time. That big fat, green glazed, pipe smoking frog-cookie jar has life left in him still. So future generations, in remembering our individual acts and achievements, ensure that our legacy will live on, long after we have passed away.

One step closer to immortality.

This past Friday, contractors began to fill the pilings with reinforcement bars and cement. The re bar was simply lowered into the tubes in one continuous length, four pieces per tube, without any extra stucture to maintain a specified distance from the sides of the tube. The contiguous foundation pilings are more or less complete on three sides of the lot now, forming a horse shoe-shaped underground perimeter wall. Of course, I know nothing about pouring cement for foundation work, but I seem to recall reading something about pumping it into the tubes using a long hose from the bottom up to prevent any possible air pockets around the re bar. In this case they are just pouring it in slowly from the top. I don't beleive they pumped out any of the standing water before filling with cement, but maybe I missed that step. Do average citizens need to know everything there is to know about pouring foundation walls? I'm afraid to ask.

There remains a little more than 100 feet of pilings left to be installed along the rear property line. All of the previously installed pilings resulted in violations in what the DoB has described as "failures to safeguard public and property"
Strike one, Strike two, Strike three...
Today the drilling rig has returned to finish the rear property line. Drilling has started at the corner closest to the Memorial Baptist Church where previous drilling "disappeared" a large chunk of a back yards garden.

Last but not least-60 more steel casings need to be installed along rear lot line.

I am including the words to the short prayer "Hail Mary" just in case. Hail Mary's are both good to say before taking that last second, game winning free-throw shot, and after in penance for committing some sin. For example, "for swallowing up your neighbors tulip garden during foundation work", the priest may instruct the sinner to perform 25 Hail Mary's before forgiveness. If you have a rosary, whip it out now.

Hail Mary (Ave Maria)
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our death. Amen

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The "C" word-What a difference three months make.

Now with Imby Brands all natural "Memory Freshner".

One week before the wall at 1504 8th Avenue starts to crack, a large sink hole forms along the church yard fence. A backhoe is used to fill in the hole as the ground begins to disappear.

7/22/2006 Photo-The first signs of cracking. DoB has not been to the site at this point to do any inspections. First 311 calls are made by neighbors after excessive vibrations are felt.

11/05/2006 After Photo-Current state of affairs. Multiple "generations" of surveyor marks and crack monitors are visible.

7/25/2006 Before Photo Detail of surveyor marks before crack monitors are installed. Vacate Order Issued on this day after DoB decides building is "imminently perilous to life".

11/05/2006 After Photo-Detail of same surveyor marks. The orange chimney flue is now visible as sections of brick fall out from wall.

So what's new?

A GEOPHONE device has been placed at the base of the wall to measure seismic energy, recording any ground vibrations. Who's on the other end of the line collecting this data? The DoB or the contractors themselves?

Front facade shows movement in two places at cornice.

11/05/2006 Front facade detail of bricks shifting.

11/05/2006 Crack now extends all the way to the top at rear parapet wall.

Any Catholic stone masons out there able to identify "Lost Causes" when they see one?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


16th Street: Day Light Savings Time

Sometimes it takes a rear view perspective to truly understand the impact new, as of right, R6B compliant, development is having on the South Slope. Now with winter approaching and the sun riding lower on the horizon, everyone will be seeing a little less daylight.