Thursday, May 31, 2007

How did we miss this one.

Press Release

May 16, 2007

Buildings Department Accepts 2007 Sheldon Oliensis Ethics In City Government Award
Department Honored for Commitment to Ethics and Integrity

Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA today accepted the 2007 Sheldon Oliensis Ethics in City Government Award, an annual award given by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) to a New York City agency that demonstrates a commitment to the promotion of ethics and integrity. The COIB voted to present the award this year to the Buildings Department in recognition of the Department's dedicated and successful efforts to infuse integrity, accountability, and efficiency into the Agency's operations. Steven Rosenfeld, Chairman of the Conflicts of Interest Board, presented Commissioner Lancaster with the award at a ceremony kicking off the COIB's 13th Annual Seminar on Ethics in New York City Government at the Center for New York City Law in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delivered keynote addresses at the ceremony, which was also attended by Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn and COIB Executive Director Mark Davies.

“When I was appointed by the Mayor in 2002, Commissioner Gill Hearn and I ironed out a plan to institute anti-corruption measures and bring integrity back into operations at the Buildings Department. This award today acknowledges a significant step in the right direction toward restoring professionalism, impartiality, transparency, and accountability at the Buildings Department,” said Commissioner Lancaster. “I'd like to thank Commissioner Gill Hearn for her full commitment to this effort and my staff for all their hard work over the past five years. We must continue to build upon our integrity program and never believe our job is done.”

“At Mayor Bloomberg's request, the Buildings Department and DOI joined forces in 2002 to address the corruption issues that the Buildings Department had been chronically experiencing. With steps taken by both agencies we have now seen a sustained change in what was previously an accepted culture of corruption at the Buildings Department. This was not possible without Commissioner Lancaster's determination and cooperation. The relationship between DOI and the Buildings Department is a model of how it should work. While we will remain vigilant, Commissioner Lancaster and her staff have helped make the Buildings Department an agency with greater integrity and the City a safer place to live. Commissioner Lancaster and the Buildings Department truly deserve this year's Ethics Award from the Conflicts of Interest Board,” said Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn.

Since Commissioners Lancaster and Gill-Hearn began an integrity program for the Buildings Department in 2002, the Buildings Department has taken on numerous reforms aimed at eliminating corruption and increasing transparency and accountability. The Department's focus has been threefold: ethical standards in the Agency's Code of Conduct are strictly enforced; employees are provided with the tools, training, and support they need to develop a professional investment in the Department; and customers are made aware of the standards to which Buildings Department employees are held. Since 2002, the Agency, working with DOI has:

* Formed an ongoing partnership with the Department of Investigation to build a unique partnership and collaboration to eliminate instances of corruption within the industry and the Department.

* Created the Buildings Special Investigations Unit (BSIU) that works with both DOI and Buildings to investigate complaints and allegations of wrongdoing.

* Launched its first-ever Code of Conduct - the Agency's first-ever set of plain language guidelines for employee behavior - in 2004 to outline a zero-tolerance policy towards misconduct. Updated and publicly released in 2006, the Code of Conduct is strictly enforced at all levels of the Department.

* Increased the tools, training, and support that all employees need to do their jobs with professionalism and respect. Inspectors are being provided with handheld computers to yield fast results and digital cameras to document on-site conditions and increase transparency in the field. All employees also now have the opportunity to take continuing education classes at Buildings University, modeled after the NYPD's Police Academy, to learn more about the business and advance within the Department.

* Increased awarness among the industry to ensure customers and the public know and understand the ethical standards to which the Department's employees are held. After the most recent update in 2006, the Code of Conduct was distributed to not only the Agency's staff, but also to the people who do business with Department and made available to the public in the offices and online.

The Sheldon Oliensis Ethics in City Government Award is presented by New York City's Conflicts of Interest Board to honor an agency or individual for promoting ethics and integrity in city government. Its first recipient and namesake was the late former COIB Board Chair Sheldon Oliensis, who presided over the Board's transformation from an advisory body into one of the premier ethics agencies in the country. Past recipients have included the Departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Investigation.

To learn more about the Department's ongoing partnership with the Department of Investigation or its efforts to increase transparency, efficiency, and accountability, visit the Buildings Department website at or call 311.

Contact: Kate Lindquist (212) 566-3473

The New York City Department of Buildings ensures the safe and lawful use of buildings and properties by enforcing the Building Code and Zoning Resolution. We facilitate development with integrity, efficiency and professionalism.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The voice in the wilderness. A Daily News Editorial

Contractor crackdown

Wednesday, May 30th 2007

New York has enjoyed a historic building boom as a rising economy has sparked housing construction and renovations across the boroughs. Hammers and saws are at work even in neighborhoods that were once down at the heel.

City Hall has done an excellent job encouraging production of new housing and has committed to financing a record-breaking number of affordable units. But the Department of Buildings, it turns out, has done too little to discourage ripoffs, slipshod work and safety violations.

Construction workers have suffered fatalities and thousands have been paid substandard wages - while numerous New Yorkers have seen their homes damaged by contractors working on adjoining properties. Mayor Bloomberg is now promising big fixes - and well he should.

The parlous state to which building enforcement fell as construction rose has been made dramatically clear by Daily News reporter Brian Kates, whose four-part investigative series, "Building Boom-Doggle," concludes in today's paper. What he discovered in building records and by visiting the nabes should have been front and center on the desk of Commissioner Patricia Lancaster, and from there it should have been passed up the chain of command to Hizzoner. Plainly, too little of that happened, leaving the mayor in the uncharacteristic position of having to scramble for a remedial plan.

Most tragically, 31 construction workers were killed on the job in the city last year, and so far this year five have died. "Virtually all the deaths occurred in buildings where city building codes were violated or federal safety regulations ignored," Kates reported.

Bloomberg and Lancaster did mount an effort this year to reduce fatalities by cracking down on the lack of scaffold safety, scaffold accidents being a leading cause of construction deaths. But far more remains to be done - in particular to address the bureaucratic black hole created by the overlapping jurisdictions of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Buildings Department.

Neither agency has the proper staffing to apply real legal muscle, so hustling contractors often ignore fines and other penalties, or just treat them as business expenses. And they fatten their wallets even further by hiring off-the-books workers - nonunion immigrants preferred - who won't complain about lousy, unsafe working conditions and even lousier pay. The city says construction workers must be paid $30 an hour plus benefits. Laborers interviewed by The News reported getting about $8.50 an hour. They put in long, tough, backbreaking hours with no oversight, no protection, maybe not even adequate equipment, and the only time the city - and that includes the public - takes notice is when another one dies under a falling wall or a collapsing staircase.

Now, though, the Daily News series has gotten Bloomberg's attention. That's good. We expect action.

Daily News Editorial

Cracks in the foundation

Buildings Department fails as construction booms


Wednesday, May 30th 2007

The stories are gripping, and infuriating.

Tenants forced to evacuate their apartments because shoddy developers working next-door undermined the foundation of their homes.

Crooked architects and engineers falsely claiming they are following laws and getting away with peanut-sized fines when they are caught.

Scores of untrained workers, most immigrants, killed in preventable accidents and thousands of others paid substandard wages off-the-books to work in dangerous conditions.

The horror stories from reporter Brian Kates' investigative series in the Daily News sound like they're from a gold rush town in the Old West. That they are from the current case files of the city's Buildings Department is a major scandal. Overwhelmed, undermanned and uninspired, the agency responsible for making sure one man's dream isn't a nightmare for others is failing.

More shocking, the agency's near collapse apparently comes as a surprise to Mayor Bloomberg. He said Monday he had read Kates' articles and would meet with Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster to discuss the findings. Question, Mr. Mayor: How come you had to learn about this from the newspaper?

After all, it's not as though the articles reflect an aberration or isolated cases. What Kates discovered is a systemic breakdown of a vital service, including on projects the city itself funds. And it's not the first time. The News found similar problems last year, and Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) held hearings. So many residents and civic groups wanted to voice their frustrations that a second day of hearings was held to give them time to speak. A common point is that complaints to the city, including through the 311 line, often bring no response, or one so late that the damage was done.

Last December, when Bloomberg talked about managing growth, I wrote that the Buildings Department had become like an ambulance service - turning up at construction sites only when there had been serious accidents. As the mangled bodies of construction workers are carried away, you can count on the department to suddenly find violations. Some preventive medicine would help.

Bloomberg did make changes in scaffolding rules and wants an overhaul of the entire building code, including updating standards to reflect modern technology and techniques. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, in a phone interview, defended the agency, saying it had been "a roadblock to development" and had suffered from "decades of corruption and neglect."

"It has made enormous strides, but yes, there is still more to do. It cannot be turned around in a day," he said.

Sheer volume is one of the issues. The number of residential permits, for example, increased 110% in five years, while the inspector force has not kept pace.

And there are problems with the self-certification system. Created by Mayor Rudy Giuliani to combat rampant corruption and backlogs, the goal of creating an honor system among architects and engineers has been turned into a cheaters' paradise. Audits have found that up to two-thirds of the self-certified plans have errors, some so egregious, like extra floors on buildings, that they could only be intentional.

Brennan, whose Park Slope and Flatbush district has been swamped with construction problems, said yesterday he has proposed seven bills in Albany, including one to license general contractors and another to force the city to report all violations to community boards and do thousands of audits to make sure projects conform to plans. Yet he concedes "a lack of will power" is part of the problem.

"The people at the top, the mayor and Dan Doctoroff, are in ecstasy over all the construction," Brennan told me. "But they're not perceiving the dark side of what's going on."

If they don't see it now, it's only because they don't want to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rebar Installation

One step closer towards the completion of the bottom slab. Once finished, this reinforced concrete sub-cellar floor slab will tie together the piles. Looks like the ground water in this area is approximately 36 feet below the surface.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sitting helpless as damage continues

Monday, May 28, 2007, 4:00 AM
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Work next-door has heavily damaged his property, Anthony Ciccone says.Work next-door has heavily damaged his property, Anthony Ciccone says.
See also:
Anthony Ciccone's Ganmar Electronics has been at 224 16th St. in south Park Slope, Brooklyn, since 1972. With a condo going up next-door, his building shows cracks in the brickwork and stains from flooding in his basement.
"It was like a faucet coming through the wall," he said. "There was half a foot of water on the floor. I had to move all my equipment out."
Ciccone has sued the new condo's developer for $1 million, claiming sloppy work on that foundation "weakened and undermined" his property and allowed water to leak in.
Louis Tufino, who owns a house at 232 16th St., said his basement has "an inch gap in the floor and a big hole in the backyard where it's sunk." He also blames work at 226 16th St.
Back on Feb. 15, 2006, two construction workers at that address were rushed to New York Methodist Hospital when a 10-foot wall collapsed on them during demolition.
Last year, the city Buildings Department cited the developer, 16th St. Development Corp. LLC, for failure to comply with a stop-work order and for working without a permit. Twice, it issued violations for failure to safeguard public and property.
Department records also show $10,000 in unpaid fines at the site.
The agency concluded that the demolition work was being done in "an unsafe manner" by MMG Designs, a Staten Island-based company that has a record of violations in the neighborhood.
For example, at 166 16th St., MMG employee Alfonso Cruz fell from the roof and was injured. His employer was cited for "failure to carry out demolition in a safe and proper manner." The violation noted that there was "no fall restraint system."
The company also was cited for illegal demolition at 182 15th St., a condo that was cut to half its planned size after a massive neighborhood campaign.
MMG owner Maria Grasso did not return a call for comment.
Daily News Reporter Brian Kates has written extensively on Brooklyn's construction boondoggle.

South Slope Shake Down

"So many ways to beat the system"

And few places have witnessed it more often than south Park Slope


Mr. Kates and the Daily News have begun an in depth, 4 part series of reports entitled "Building Boom-Doggle" that look at how NYC's "biggest building boom in more than 30 years has spawned a cadre of scofflaw developers in every borough who routinely violate building codes, flout zoning regulations and ignore basic construction safety".

1504 8th Avenue v. scofflaw developer

Arnold Rosenshein, the owner of the severely damaged and now vacated 1504 8th Avenue building, has sued the LoCiceros' business, their architect Henry oh no c of o Radusky of Bricolage Designs, Inc. and construction companies working on the project. The LoCiceros have countersued, insisting that cracks in the building existed before work on Armory Plaza began. For a quick reminder of how the cracks first started just click on the picture below.

-Rev. Stephen Christopher on the recent damage to the Memorial Baptist Church.

"The pounding has undermined our property," he said. "They have ruined our fence. We have had several cave-ins in the yard. The stoop steps are beginning to crack. The driveway is cracked, and there is a crack in the wall of our auditorium."

What's shaking, and who's really doing it.

According to the Daily News, the LoCiceros' lawyer Mr. Ravi Batra, has called the complaints a "shakedown attempt".

A little reminder of the kind of "construction work" that went on and on for weeks less than 5 yards from both Mr. Rosenshein's property and that of the Memorial Baptist Church.

Inside the Mind of Mossad

Information Paradox

This past Saturday, The Armory Plaza Gang was able to bend the time space continuum by simultaneously securing an After Hours Work Variance Permit while still under a DoB sanctioned Partial Stop Work Order that was to prevent any work within 25 feet of the Eastern lot line. The spiralling Black Hole on 15th street threatens to suck the DoB along with all surrounding properties into its vortex of shame.

Balancing public safety against public sanity

Property owners on 16th Street can't understand why a scofflaw developer should be rewarded with extended working hours at the expense of the neighborhood's quality of life. We only get 8 days of mechanical excavation-free peace and quite per month over here. Was this some kind of emergency response that couldn't wait until Memorial Day? Are the pilings moving Mr. Mossad? Are the neighboring properties in danger? Because that would start to explain all the recent settlement damage to our properties. The damage that DoB inspectors can't, no won't, see.

The weekend variance issued to Immobliliara Builders Corp. specifically details cellar work to "prepare matte foundations in sub levels of job site to stabilize the foundation walls". The extra eight hours of backhoe noise accomplished little more than the spreading of a few inches of gravel over a plastic mat along one side of the pit. A few inches of gravel is not going to make those 36 foot deep walls any more secure. Some pictures of the recent remedial work.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Attacked From Below and Now From Above.

That's one dusty mother fucker...One of many fuckin' loads-o-gravel delivered into the 3 story deep pit as they get ready to "construct" the concrete base. What ever happened to that Partial Stop Work Order restricting all work within 25' of 1504's backyard?
"Twentyfive feet, I couldn't see twentyfive god damn inches!"

If you are a gluton for aural punishments, in the video below I left in the sound of the gravel hitting the metal I-Beams on the way down. Yikes!

City Planning Commission Supports Affordable 575 5th Ave. Housing Plan


City Planning Commission approves Fifth Avenue Committee’s plan for affordable, supportive housing at 575 5th Avenue.
New York, NY May 24, 2007 – The New York City Planning Commission voted in favor of Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC’s) plan to build 49 units of affordable, supportive housing for low-income community residents and formerly homeless individuals at 575 5th Avenue in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. The apartment building was designed to integrate into the neighborhood through a contextual and environmentally friendly design; it will contain studio-efficiency apartments with on-site social services, 24 hour front desk security and a garden. As a result of input from local elected officials and the community and in response to community concerns the project has evolved over the past several months - target populations were modified and the residential entrance was moved from 16th Street to 5th Avenue.

Twenty four (24) of the 49 units will be for formerly homeless individuals living with mental illness, five (5) units will be for formerly homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and the remaining twenty (20) units will be rented to low-income community residents. In order to qualify for tenancy, prospective tenants must earn at or under 60% of Area Median Income, currently $29,775. FAC has also committed to target senior citizens and youth aging out of foster care for opportunities to live in the building.

Today’s victory is an especially heart-felt one for FAC, its supporters, and the large majority of the project’s neighbors after the project faced opposition from some local residents and businesses. The City Planning Commission’s vote in favor of the project is an important step in preserving the diversity in our Park Slope community and ensuring that everyone – regardless of race, income or medical history – can live with dignity in the neighborhood. The vote in favor of the project advances the City’s commitment to build over 9,000 units of affordable, supportive housing over the next 12 years as part of the NY/NY III agreement between the City and the State to provide housing and support services in the community to individuals who are formerly homeless with special needs.

FAC’s Executive Director, Michelle de la Uz, thanked the Commission, stating “The City Planning Commission was diligent and thoughtful in its role. The Commissioners listened intently as an unprecedented number of supporters - numbering over 100 – waited over 5 hours to testify in favor of the project. FAC is certainly pleased that this project is advancing on its merit and we are confident it will not only provide much needed affordable, supportive housing to 49 future residents but will also be a true asset to the local community.”

The next step under the City’s Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure (ULURP) is a hearing before the New York City Council’s Land Use Committee. If you would like to voice your support or get more information on the project or other FAC services, please see our website: www.FifthAvenueComm, or contact us at 718 237 2017.

Michelle de la Uz
Executive Director

Fifth Avenue Committee, Inc.
621 DeGraw Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

(718) 237-2017 ext. 116 office
(718) 237-5366 fax
(646) 285-2978 cell


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Partial Partial Stop Work Order for Armory Heights, L.L.C.

Excavation work on the Armory Plaza has been restricted for the second time with a new and improved sloppy seconds Partial Stop Work Order imposed on May 22nd. This DoB order prevents any work within 25 feet of the backyard of 1504 8th Avenue. The previous Partial Stop Work Order was rescinded just 20 days ago on May 2nd after the building was stabilized with iron T-bracing. Despite these precautions new cracks have continued to form in the side wall. The next new engineering problem on the horizon- What to do about the ground water that's been seeping in through the piling walls?

Recent photos of the rear facade of the building show how extensive the damage is.

A quick check of the side stairwell leading to the basement of The Memorial Baptist Church reveals that very recent, significant ground movement has occurred there as well. The masonry has completely separated from the building's foundation by more than 4"in places. The Church falls within this 25' restraining order, yet I don't believe the DoB is watching the deterioration of this property closely enough. You can see clear through to the other side of the wall. A large section of the concrete driveway in this same corner has also been damaged. It's actually "floating" after the ground beneath it disappeared.

April 16th "It begins"

May 23rd.

The Church's next door neighbor, 399 16th Street is also reporting new movement in their patio. Cracks are beginning to form in their basement floor as well. Cracks are continuing to grow in severity 100' feet to the West at 389 16th Street.

I would say it's time for the DoB inspectors to include everyone else in their investigations, not just 1504. Simple questions. Is this new damage resulting from the previous boring work, or from the current excavation work? If they believe it's from the current work and the piles are "moving", then shouldn't the public be warned of the danger?
I also see that survey cross marks have been applied to the facade of 1502 8th Avenue. Checking for movement? It's important to keep a very close watch on this occupied apartment building. The last time I looked, there appeared to be new cracking over the masonry arch leading to the cellar. A nearby window shows the same kind of surface "popping" of the brick that predated the massive failure of 1504. We don't need another emergency vacate order.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

31 Brooklyn condo residents reach $235,000 settlement.

A group of owners in a Williamsburg condominium complex, The Williamsburg Mews, are to receive $235,000 after settling a lawsuit with its developer, architect and contractors.

Condo owners settle with developers. By Elizabeth Stull of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Friday, May 18, 2007

Crack on Crack Action

1504 8th Avenue has new cracks as of today. Some "before and after" shots for the folks at the Department of Buildings.

April 29th, 2007

May 18th, 2007

Detail of the parapet wall. Yep, that's new.