Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Anger Management

I have this unwritten rule not to look out my rear window until I have made breakfast, eaten breakfast, cleaned up after breakfast. The reason? You never know what you will see out there that could potentially fuck the living shit out of your day. Today I broke that rule and looked. Big mistake. No Lucky Charms today.

What did I observe? There was a man standing in my back yard randomly pulling the branches off my weeping juniper with what appeared to be a pair of pliers. This tree has special importance to me that I will not bother you with at this time. Needless to say I was not a happy WEBLOW.

Besides pruning our tree, the man seemed to be messing around with the cable lines. The entire block's phone/cable lines have been in a continuous mess ever since construction began 18 months ago. We lose service on a regular basis. Every time the foundation contractors reach over the fence with the extended arm of their backhoe to unload a bucket of dirt, they risk snagging the now sagging lines. Sometimes they wait till after the sun sets to unload, being the drama queens that they are.
They have even knocked down the pole once before. Verizon owns these poles. They lease them to Time Warner. Verizon's engineering department has told me that they will eventually redo the entire block when all construction is finished. Verizon's experience with contractors is not good. Contractors bad. Contractors break things Verizon just got done fixin'.

So what I first assumed to be another trespass by the Armory Plaza Gang, turned out to be subcontractors working for Time Warner Cable. They were not wearing uniforms. If they had been wearing hard hats, I would have know right away that they were not affiliated with the construction site. No one in the Armory Plaza Gang ever wears a hard hat.

I called Time Warner to vent. The Time Warner operator asked if they had gotten permission to work in my yard. I tell her it's not the fact that they are working in my yard with out permission so much as the unathorized tree pruning. The Time Warner operator tells me to CALL THE POLICE-CALL 911 AND HAVE THEM ARRESTED FOR TRESPASSING. Wow, operator, how stone cold you are.

According to psychologists, there are something like ten kinds of anger. Nine are bad. The good one, the constructive kind, is the one that makes you donate 10% of your earnings to save endangered amphibian species and adopt orphans from war torn countries. I was feeling the kind of primal anger that needs to be "shared". The kind one feels right before one smashes a windshield out with a golf club. The kind that Mother Nature uses to thin the herd- To "off" people with unknown congenital malformations of certain thin walled arteries located deep in the brain.

Being Tubed. A few days later someone sends me a link to You Tube. Someone named Blasfinny. In the first video, two guys are struggling with a ladder, trying to get over the plywood construction fence. It looks life threatening.
The next video the same thing, except the next thing you hear, but do not see right away, is someone screaming at the top of their lungs to "get the fuck off my property". My silly neighbors!
Video #3

Video #1

In catechism class, the nuns would tell you that Jesus sees everything you do and hears everything you say... Maybe You Tube is god. Will this go on the permanent record?

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has decided to make the city of New York the first in the nation to allow the transmission of digital photographic evidence directly to our trusty 311 and 911 operators. It will happen in the next 2 years. The revolution starts here, rest of the world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Great Abyss. A Glimpse Into 2007

The back yard garden of 391 16th Street. Reminder: It's still not too late to plant your spring flowering bulbs.

ere's a suggestion. When the Department of Buildings starts receiving multiple 311 "failure to protect property" complaints concerning a particular construction site, a flashing red light would go off in Commissioner Mossad's office and he would alert a specific crack team of inspectors who would rush out to investigate. They would be assigned to that job until everyone involved is reasonably satisfied, and/or locked behind bars. That way there would be some continuity, some ability to chart adverse structural changes to the property over time, some way to prevent the shameful things that are happening to all the properties with-in spitting distance of the notorious 406-408 15th Street Armory Plaza destruction site.

Let's face it, the DoB is failing miserably in regards to protecting the surrounding properties... maybe as a morale booster if the DoB required its inspectors to wear one piece spandex blue and gold unitards, capes with the NYC BUILDINGS logo, and shiny black patent leather utility belts with matching boots... at the least they would still have some self esteem left to lose.
I know what you are thinking. We need to rotate inspectors to prevent the possibility of malfeasance and bribery. Hell, the way things are leaning in the contractors favor at 406, I would be truly disappointed if we find out no one has been receiving gratuities. Wow, free favors, that would really mean they don't know their underpinnings from a hole in the ground.

We must remain relentless.
So we had a steady tsunami of DoB inspectors out to look at the new damage. Are two inspectors in one week considered a tsunami? Two different inspectors among a half dozen who have made visits this far. One who admitted this isn't his "area" and another who mysteriously disappeared after 5 minutes.

Unfortunately they had to be dragged kicking and screaming before they would come out to take a peek. Special thanks to Sergeant Ward at the 72nd police precinct for your help. Sergeant Ward had been out to the site to assess the damage months ago after a 5 foot deep sink hole formed taking out a utility pole and a tree. In his most recent visit, he immediately saw how bad the situation had deteriorated since his last visit and immediately made a call to the DoB.

That's right... The police are now calling the DoB telling them they better get their asses over to the building site or else. Maybe the police just know where to look for them, or maybe DoB inspectors are supplementing their income by providing warm bodies for criminal line ups. But for what ever reason they showed up, you could tell their hearts weren't in to it. "Did see cracks, no action necessary based upon physical observation." Complaints resolved. Maybe if the same inspector came twice, he could see the difference a day makes, crack wise.

So through the magic of solid state digital technology, the folks at Imby Labs bring you this weeks Crack-Up Date.

The before, before photo.
This is the retaining wall between 393 and 391. Pay attention to the metal fence pole at the far right. The 2 pictures below show the progression.

A crack starts to open during the installation of the pilings. This is about 10 feet away from the pilings. The damage zone: as the sink holes form along the boring line they start to pull on surface structures, in this case the chain link fence.

This is a recent photo. The end of the fence has been pulled underground and is now burried. Notice the black crack in the dirt next to the red bricks. This crack continues parallel to the pilings for 60 to 80 feet. There are two more of these crack lines that run like dotted lines the entire width of 4 neighboring properties, all parallel to the pilings. When a rod is placed in these cracks, it sinks to a depth of 2 feet without any pressure what so ever. The crack lines are 18' and 30' feet from the 406 fence line, just a few feet from the foundations of our homes. So more or less it appears that there are three great massive sections of earth moving in the direction of the 60' deep foundation holes. Without any shoring, the first section has been drawn down to fill the voids left after the borings. The other sections following the first, moving in the same path.

A gap opens twenty feet from the construction fence.

In this photo see how the fence has now been ripped from the rear wall of 393 16th Street.

These pictures really don't convey the serious nature of the damage. You have to see it to believe it. Most of this movement happened during the recent rains.
In the 18 months since they started this project, the Armory Plaza Gang has not made a single repair to any ones property. What they have done, and very well I might add, is to maintain a duplicitous facade. In the name of "Making Repairs" they have dumped load after load of fill, without the permission of some of the owners, on top of our backyards in an effort to conceal the damage; covering up the sinking without ever addressing the reason for the ground to start sinking in the first place. Is this criminal activity? The Locicero's and the DoB seem to think that this is all just superficial pre-existing cracks. Remember 1504 took 5 months to condemn, and it had no visible cracks in the beginning.

In a recent conversation with the developers son, who is also the contractor doing the foundation work, he assured us, "don't worry, I'm going to take care of everything."

"When might those repairs be made?", we inquired.

"As soon as the ground finishes settling", he said.

Finally we agree on one thing. The ground is settling! Now what are we going to do to stop this before it's too late. If Commissioner Mossad had a red light in his office, it would be flashing right now. To think this disaster was entirely preventable... the forced evacuation of 1504... the damage to the historic Memorial Baptist Church... and now the damage to six other properties. What a shame. What a crime. And you know the sadest joke, the Lociceros are now crying about being constantly harassed by the neighboring homeowners. "Mind your own fucking business" is the best they can hurl over the fence when they "catch" us taking pictures of the damage to our properties.

Detail of "pre-existing" patio crack. One of many forming as the undermined slab shifts. It moves apart about a half inch per day when it rains.

The sink hole acts up again after being "top filled" a few days before. You can see the brick edging is pulling away at this point. These bricks have been mortored in place for the last 12 years without so much as a hairline crack forming in that entire time. Completly destroyed in three days.

The patios current condition. It is slowly moving away from the house and towards the sink hole in two great sections.

quick reminder to all my angry pitch fork wielding neighbors, as part of the NYC DoB 2006-2009 Strategic Plan, Commissioner Lancaster has stated that,
"Customer service is a top priority at the Department of Buildings. From providing our customers with plain language documents to utilizing cutting-edge technology, we're always looking for new ways to improve our services. This year a number of initiatives will be implemented to ensure the safe and lawful use of all of New York City’s 950,000 buildings." (949,999 not counting 1504 8th Avenue)

Keep a look out for the following: Homeowners Night - Expanding to All Five Borough
Beginning January 17, 2007, all five borough offices located in the protected "Green Zone" will open their doors every Tuesday evening from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. exclusively to homeowners. During this time, staff will be available to provide homeowners with one-on-one assistance and answer any other questions they may have even if it has to be done through 6 inch thick bullet-proof plexi glass.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

When it rains, it pours.

1504 8th Avenue-Discarded crack monitors left behind at the base of the damaged side wall.
Since July these plastic two piece monitors have been removed and replaced countless times as the wall continued to deteriorate and the cracks multiplied and got wider. Now that the building has been evacuated, most likely permanently, I wonder if the monitoring will continue. No demolition or side walk shed permits have been applied for by the buildings owner, yet. If the building must come down, it will be interesting to see how the corner building, 1502 8th Avenue, will be protected.

Yesterdays rain storm transformed the construction site, both geologically and bureaucratically speaking, into a quagmire. The sandy clay soil tried to absorb as much water as possible and then when it became over saturated, rivers formed that sought out the lowest lying areas, finally pooling at the lots southwest corner.

The construction crew took the day off. Of coarse, a Department of Buildings inspector finally showed up, (with helpful prodding by Community Board 7) in response to the multiple 311 complaints concerning unsafe conditions and damage to neighboring properties; What is known as a "failure to protect adjoining properties" complaint. Although the inspector found the fence line in terrible condition and evidence of the ground sinking, cracking, and shifting, he said he was not able to write any violations. According to him, it seems that someone needs to be actually doing construction work on the site during the inspection for a violation to be issued. The inspector listened carefully and seemed genuinely concerned, empathizing on what life must be like being surrounded by multiple knuckleheads- referring to the other construction sites at 400 15th St. and 1638 8th Avenue (aka Lake Windsor). Yet a quick look at the DoB Buiding Information System web site will show all complaints to be "resolved". Disappointing to say the least. Everyday old cracks get wider and new cracks form. At this point in the game, we are seeking an official time-out, so that foundation work already performed can be examined by engineers to see that it has been built "as per plans" and, exisiting damages can be inventoried and documented before the big dig begins.
Then there is still the matter with Memorial Baptist Church to investigate... the list gets longer everyday.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

No really, really, imminently perilous to life... again!

Deja Vu weekend.

Without the usual bells and whistles, the DoB quietly pasted Vacate Orders on the front door of 1504 8th Avenue this past weekend. Remember the infamous Vacate Order of July 2006 had women and children, with all their belongings in tow, thrown out onto the sidewalk, scrambling to find new places to live. Unlike the first time, there was no Red Cross van parked out front, and no Department of Buildings representatives to answer questions and promissing, well just promissing.

So time has run out for the sole surviving holdout tenant, who remained in the building despite a previous vacate order, a homeless crackhead invasion, and even a life threatening basement gas leak. Everyone else decided it was too dangerous to remain in their apartments, even after the DoB reversed its decision about whether the building was safe to inhabit, by removing the Order to Vacate and installing crack monitors on the damaged walls. (We at IMBY question the timing of this most recent Vacate Order. With the highly anticipated multimillion dollar production of "Cracked, the Musical" staring Britney Spears and Johnny Knoxville scheduled to open on Broadway next week, it appears to be no more than a blatant publicity stunt.)

Plywood now covers all the windows except for this third floor tenant's apartment. Up until recently, festive Christmas lights were visible in these windows.

The owner of 1504 8th Avenue, Arnold Rosenshein, received a second violation from the Brooklyn Buildings Department on December 27th, 2006 for "FAILURE TO MAINTAIN CRACKS THROW OUT FACADE" the inspector specifically concerned about "VERTICAL, DIAGONAL, AND STEP CRACKS ON LEFT AND REAR FACADE"

On January 8th, 2007 the most recent violation was issued: RE: CRACKS AT SIDE OF BLDG STRUCTURAL STABILITY CHECK REQUIRED......

Dominoes begin to fall?
The Pastor of the Memorial Baptist Church, Mr. Steven Christopher, is concerned about the sudden overnight formation of a large, vertical crack running the entire length of the northwestern most corner of his building. He recalls the fact that during the recent pile driving work, not more than 10 feet from this corner, vibrations could be felt throughout the entire church.

Located in this same area, an exterior set of concrete stairs has begun to pull away from the main building by as much as several inches. Another stairwell leading to the basement shows signs of recent damage to the stone foundation. If you were to draw a line parallel to the construction fence beginning with the large crack on the sidewall of 1504, and then moving out and along 8th Avenue towards the church (1506 8th Avenue), it ends up almost exactly where the new cracks in the wall of Memorial Baptist have occured. (Large sink holes continue to form along this fence line.)

An engineer has looked at the damage and he believes it to be active, recent movement. Further examination will be necessary to determine the extent and depth of these new cracks. It took only 5 short month for the cracks in 1504's walls to go from hairline to "imminently perilous to life". We can only pray, that the Building's Department gets proactive and starts spending its time and limited manpower monitoring the contractors work practices in the future, and less time spent checking crack monitors after the damage occurs.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mission accomplished.

The last of the pilings along the rear property line were installed this week. This just about completes the entire perimeter wall. About half way through this rear line, the Armory Plaza Gang switched methods again, returning to their original two step process of first boring down to a 6o foot depth and then, lowering the entire piling down into the hole. This requires using the larger auger bit, and as the ground subsided, the sink holes began to return in full force. The disappearing ground was 'remedied' by adding the necessary amount of soil to the surface on top of the settled area.

In truth, these sink holes never really stopped forming even while they were using the 'drilling inside the pipe' technique. Maybe that's why they gave up so quickly on using the newer, labor/time intensive 'porn star' approach- drill, weld, pound, drill, weld, pound, drill, weld, pound, , which required two auger changes, a crew of fluffers, and multiple camera angles.

The learning curve.

So now after many months and several different attempts at damage-free drilling, what conclusions can be made? For one, it turns out that all the methods employed require at least 10 feet to absorb the 'disturbance' resulting from the removal of the soil during the boring. Any structure located with in that ten foot damage zone was adversely affected. If we factor in the parking lots existing 4' deep concrete foundation which acted as a kind of buffer/retaining wall during the drilling, my calculations of a 10 foot damage zone may actually be way off. The distance may be much larger still. Anything in this zone, above and below ground, including adjacent building foundations (1504 8th Avenue), trees, telephone/utility poles, fences and surface level structures like brick patios, garden gnomes, lawns and shrubs had a hard time remaining , plumb, true and sober looking.

The second thing we figured out is that dumping soil on top of an active sink hole is basically a cosmetic correction. It may take years before the ground beneath our feet stays put. In the future, when say building a fence, finding undisturbed soil to set support poles will be hard to find.

391 and 393 16th Street

Typical sink hole. 408 15th St. parking lot's existing foundation revealed.

Looking back one and a half years ago, when the contractors attempted to install a new construction fence on all of the adjoining properties, they said at the time they would "only need 10 feet" in order to maintain a proper level of protection to the public. At the time this seemed to be an over exaggeration, but now with hindsight, it appears to have been right on the money. Lucky guess, or knowledge gained from years of experience?

The final push to complete this part of the job resulted in the 25' flowering pear behind 391 16th Street to fall over and rest on the plywood fence. No attemp was made to straighten the tree. Big cracks opened up in the ground prior to its fall. Most if not all of the chain link fences running perpendicular to the site's fence have been damaged, their upper rails noticably bent down. Only time will tell if the very large Mulberry tree will last through the next big Nor'easter. It seems intent on falling. History recalls how these disturbed areas have a nasty tendency to continue sinking weeks, and months after being filled.

The men operating the equipment have assured everyone concerned, that all repairs will be made to the property owners specifications when the building is finally finished, however many years from now that may maybe in 2009, when who's to say "what was what" before this epic construction project began. In the end It will be interesting to see who settles first, the ground, or the developer's contractor.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

396: The Rebuilding

When the sidewalk shed went up in front of 396 15th Street recently I thought for sure it was a sign that the two story loft like manufacturing building was about to be taken down. Badly damaged, visibly leaning, cracks running every which way through front, rear, and side facades, it seemed there would be no reasonable way to save her from complete demolition. Plywood fences and scaffolding in front of an existing South Slope building is more often than not, an omen of a forth coming demolition these days. Anyway, back in July of 2005 a violation was issued to 400 15th St. L.L.C. for "failure to protect adjoining structures during ecavation" specifically noting the lack of underpinning at the time of the inspection.

Surprisingly, this week workers started on what can be described as major surgery to remove and replace the Eastern most brick wall that runs the full depth of the lot.

Robert J Palermo of CORPORATE DESIGN OF AMERICA, P.C, is filing for this job. Corporate Designs of America is the same firm who designed the neighboring 400 15th Street development.

Prior to this weeks demo, it looks like the entire building has been temporarily re-engineered to pick up and transfer the roof loads and maintain stability through an internal system of criss-crossing steel beams.
Well, let's hope that as soon as repairs are completed, then maybe the Stop Work Order on 400 will be lifted allowing work to resume. Even after winning it's plea before the Board O' Standards and Appeals, for months now, the development at 400 15th St. has languished in despair and neglect. The half completed basement foundation/bathtub maintained a consistant foot or more of standing water througout this past summer and fall.

Something of a rarity in these parts, contractors wearing safety harnesses and hard hats while performing demolition work.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

White Squirrel: Looking ahead to 2007

'07 Year of the Squirrel "I'm living every day like it's my last."

"Well it's that time of year again and frankly speaking I'm not the type of rodent who makes resolutions... Yes I have my goals... Dude, did you know I just got my real estate license and I plan on opening up my own office? It's going to be called Acorncoran, after my favorite nut. Yeah I'm working on my web site, foraging for office space, interviewing folks right now..."

Asked about his recent run in with the hawk, White Squirrel seemed visibly agitated, "That hawk? Yeah my broker never mentioned anything about hawks when I bought my place. ... You just gotta live in the present, know what I mean."