Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unbuilding the South Slope: 359 15th Street get's a DoB "Beat Down".

Brooklyn Department of Un-Building's
It used to be that when you heard officials from the Buildings Department say "take some off the top" they couldn't possibly be talking to anyone other than their barbers. How risky a business to throw those words around? Remember being considered "difficult and overbearing" by builders can end up costing you your job. That's why it's so surprising to see the D o B playing it tough.

Self inflicted wounds?
On our little 15th Street it appears they are doing just that, taking some off the top. The builders are busy removing a significant portion of the upper floors, brick by brick, from what had been in all appearances, a completely finished building. Is this another case of not building according to the official filed and approved plans on record or, is this just one more South Slope top heavy condo, its mezzanines busting at the seams with way too much extra floor area?
It would be interesting to calculate how much F.A.R the 60 cubic foot dumpster out front contains. Floor area is in square feet of coarse, while a container dumpster holds cubic feet so someone will definitely need to do the conversion. Math is not one of my strong suits. I suspect that 's a pretty expansive dumpster though. Last week they even disposed of two iron spiral staircases. Oooouch!

So what does the recent disaster at 300 20th Street in Greenwood Heights have to do with the recent unbuilding of 359 15th Street?

In both cases the "Current Applicant of Record" is Sandor Weiss, RA. license # 14318

300 20th Street

359 15th Street

The NYC Department of Buildings-IAD Disciplinary Actions for Architects and Engineers listed a Sandor Weiss, R.A., as one of only five professionals penalized in 2006. He was fined and surrendered his "D-14" or Directive 14 of 1975- a Department granted privilege of limited plan review by examiners. D-14 covers such things as zoning use and egress issues.

In 2002 Sandor was disciplined for misconduct by the New York State Education Department- Office of the Professions.

Sandor Weiss, Brooklyn, NY
Profession: Architect; Lic. No. 014318; Cal. No. 19641
Regents Action Date: February 12, 2002
Action: Application for consent order granted; Penalty agreed upon: 1 year suspension, execution of suspension stayed, probation 1 year, $5,000 fine.
Summary: Licensee admitted to charge of failing, on three separate occasions, to prepare a thorough written evaluation of architectural plans to which he affixed his signature and professional seal but which were neither prepared by him nor by an employee under his supervision.
Of coarse no one ever sees an architect operating a back hoe.

There's incompetence and then there's incompetence!

"Good Neighbors"

I have seen some disorganized, dangerous work sites before but this one may be one of the worst. There's a big pile of tires and concrete still on the site. It appears they just started digging without first clearing the lot of debris and some small trees. The hole itself is filled with standing water. No protective shoring is evident anywhere despite considerable excavation. The construction fence is leaning way out over the sidewalk.
In Brooklyn one day you're working as a (fill in the blank) the next day you're in the foundation/excavation business. The Buildings Department special teams deserves credit for stepping in and taking control away from these guys before they hurt themselves or someone passing by.

Unfortunately it looks like another financial hardship for the owners of 472 6th Avenue and the proprietors of the K&H Deli. There appears to be a fresh crack in the 20th Street side wall indicating that the rear extension of the grocery store is starting to pull away from the main building, after having been sucked into the neighboring hole. Damage may be much more extensive than a collapsing rear wall. They will need to hire an engineer, and an architect, and a builder, and a lawyer, and a therapist. It's time for the City to "disrupt the business models" of all the companies irresponsbly involved in any way with 300 20th Street. We have the laws, now lets see how well we can enforce them.

The Special Enforcement Plan operationally complements a recent legislative initiative that will enable the Buildings Department to further deter abuses of the professional certification privilege and hold repeat offenders accountable for their actions. Bolstering the Department’s enforcement abilities, the New York State Assembly signed Assembly Bill 7746 into law on August 17, 2007, enabling the Buildings Department to refuse applications filed by professionals who, after due process, are found to have filed false or fraudulent documents.

Under Phase I of the Enforcement Plan, $6 million was allocated to the Buildings Department to create 67 new staff lines to support the Department’s new multidisciplinary enforcement model. The new staff lines are distributed among three new units: the Special Enforcement Team; the Excavations Inspections & Audits Team; and the Professional Certification Review & Audits Team. Of the 67 enforcement positions, the Buildings Department is still accepting applications for 19 positions as it continues its recruitment drive.

Here is some more information on 300 20th street for your consideration. Click to view.




Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dropped Decking

This is how the new rear yard is shaping up after the non compliant building conditions were found. The builder dropped the underlying steel structure a few feet so as to comply with the rear yard setbacks. The built out section (100' commercial zoning overlay) along 8th Avenue looks like it will remain.

From time to time we get these DoB press releases in the Imby@nyc.rr.com mailbox. Here is the latest one cut and pasted for your viewing pleasure. For some reason the Blogger spellchecker insists on changing the Mayor's name to "Bumbag".


Newly-Operational Units Demanding Excavation Site Safety, Building Cases Against Repeat Offenders and Cracking Down on Noncompliant, Professionally-Certified Plans

Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, FAIA, today provided a progress report on implementation of the Special Enforcement Plan to raise the bar for construction standards citywide. Announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in July, Phase I of the Enforcement Plan outlines measures to form new multidisciplinary enforcement units, focuses resources on identifying and holding repeat offenders accountable and increases oversight over the professional certification program. The progress report was delivered today, 115 days after funding for the Enforcement Plan was announced.

“Our Special Enforcement Plan is designed to disrupt the business models of those who intentionally or carelessly put the public and workers at risk by defying the Building Code or Zoning Resolution. We’ve formed three new enforcement units and empowered them to take action on critical construction issues affecting New Yorkers: repeat offenders; unsafe excavation work; and abuses of the professional certification privilege,” said Commissioner Lancaster. “While our work has just begun, this is a substantial step toward reaching our ultimate goal of ensuring safe and compliant development by making it cost effective to play by the rules.”
Since July, the Buildings Department has laid the foundation upon which the Special Enforcement Plan is built. Achievements include:

• $6 million dedicated by Mayor Bloomberg for the new Special Enforcement Plan
• Three new enforcement units created to implement the Special Enforcement Plan
• Special Enforcement Plan recruitment underway, with four recruitment fairs held already
• Excavation Violation Guide created for new Excavation Unit
• New Excavation Unit inspected 767 excavation sites, stopping work at 167 sites
• New Special Enforcement Team building cases against 50 individuals or companies
• Professional Certification Review & Audits inspected 285 sites and audited 155 plans
• Stop Work Order Patrol expanded to the Bronx and Staten Island

The Special Enforcement Plan operationally complements a recent legislative initiative that will enable the Buildings Department to further deter abuses of the professional certification privilege and hold repeat offenders accountable for their actions. Bolstering the Department’s enforcement abilities, the New York State Assembly signed Assembly Bill 7746 into law on August 17, 2007, enabling the Buildings Department to refuse applications filed by professionals who, after due process, are found to have filed false or fraudulent documents.

Under Phase I of the Enforcement Plan, $6 million was allocated to the Buildings Department to create 67 new staff lines to support the Department’s new multidisciplinary enforcement model. The new staff lines are distributed among three new units: the Special Enforcement Team; the Excavations Inspections & Audits Team; and the Professional Certification Review & Audits Team. Of the 67 enforcement positions, the Buildings Department is still accepting applications for 19 positions as it continues its recruitment drive.

The Special Enforcement Plan is the result of a collaborative effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Housing and Buildings Chair Erik Martin Dilan, City Councilman James Oddo, and Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster to support the continual transformation of the Buildings Department. The Special Enforcement Plan will be implemented in three phases.

Since 2002, the Buildings Department has worked aggressively to streamline its processes, improve transparency, and infuse integrity and accountability into its daily operations. From putting its Buildings Information System on the Internet for public consumption to making most contents of job folders available on its website, the Buildings Department has committed itself to improving the access to services it provides the public. Building on these accomplishments, the Special Enforcement Plan will further the Department’s mission of ensuring the safe and lawful use of all of New York City’s 950,000 buildings and properties.

New Yorkers are encouraged to call 3-1-1 to report noncompliant conditions or 9-1-1 to report emergencies at construction sites or buildings. New Yorkers who suspect a building or property has been structurally compromised should call 9-1-1.


Contact: Kate Lindquist/Carly Sullivan (212) 566-3473

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unbuilding in the South Slope

Ten Yard Penalty for Encroachment

Hey look, construction workers are cutting and removing the re-bar, prying off the metal decking, and unbolting the steel I-beams from the rear yard of 406 15th Street. All this in order to lower the rear yard. making it more in line with the curb level grade. One step forward, two steps back.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Open "letter" to all those who care about this sort of thing...

Sins of omission and commission
These are strange days indeed when a neighborhood can "celebrate" the simple enforcement and compliance of the law. This week another small, lets say, "victory". Armory Plaza workers have been out in the rain removing all the recently installed re-bar and metal decking from the offending section of their building's rear yard that is not part of the commercial zoning overlay. It looks like they are also dismantling the steel I-beam support structure as well. Approximately 1800 square feet worth. A pretty sizable chunk. It amazes me how such a blunder could possible have occurred. The owner/developer/builder has been on the site every day supervising the construction. Surely they must be working from a set of approved plans and not just making it up as they go along. Maybe they were ill advised, or maybe they were hoping that no one would notice until it was too late.

To Protect and Serve

Yet again, it looks like the local South Slope citizens must bear the burden of responsibility for policing NYC's building codes, zoning rules and regulations. No easy feat even for those who can afford to pay attention.

What exactly does it take to make this happen? Calling 311 with a well targeted complaint doesn't always start the ball rolling, but it begins the official documentation trail of tears. You will need to make the trip downtown to 210 Joralemon Street, 8th floor and, if the gods aren't too constipated that day, you may miraculously find and then purchase a copy of the drawings on file for as little as $150. Next, locate a sympathetic architect familiar with City Planning's zoning rules willing to go over those said plans looking for anything out of the ordinary that may help your cause. In this case it didn't take very long to uncover the error. All one had to do was look out their rear window to see that what was being built didn't match up with what was on paper.
Heavy Lifting
If your lucky enough to have someone like Assemblymember Jim Brennan fighting on your behalf, your concerns will eventually be seen by someone who actually has the power to pull the plug on the builder. Someone like Mr.Magdi Mossad R.E., the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner at the Department of Buildings. Here is the letter Jim sent at our request from September 28th, 2007 to Commissioner Mossad.

The Commissioner's response, in part, to this letter came on October 2nd.
"The site at 406 15th Street is not overbuilt in terms of zoning floor area. It is to be noted that sub-cellars and cellars are not counted as floor area as per ZR 12-10. Please be advised that the plans approved on 12/29/05 show sub-cellar #1 and #2 are erected up to the rear lot line for the full length of the lot line. The cellar plans were approved showing the required 30ft rear yard. The Department through a recent inspection to the site (conducted on 9/24/07) have observed steel framing of the cellar floor projected into the required 30ft. rear yard. In normal circumstances, a stop work order should have been issued until the approved plans are amended or the site construction changed to conform with the approved plans.

In your letter of September 28th, 2007, you are concerned that the inspector is overlooking obvious evidence of non-compliance. As you are aware, our first goal at the present time is to stabilize the surrounding soil adjacent to the site. To issue a stop work order for plan contradictions may cause delay of the stabilization process and for sure shall not be for the benefits of the surrounding properties.

The applicant was immediately notified with the changes required. Amended plans were reviewed for the changes and will be approved when all objections raised are being answered. The required rear yard shall remain and site shall be in full compliance with zoning requirements."

If it's any consolation, one might be able to squeeze a few bitter drops of joy from this debacle thinking that someone has spent their weekend camping out on the front steps of Joralemon Street waiting to file their Post Approval Amendments.


Here is what the structure looked like at the end of last week. Ready for concrete.

Along the rear lot line in question.

Building according to those pesky plans! Sub-cellar #1 and #2 plans showing no set back. None is required because sub-cellars are apparently exempt. In this drawing as is in life, the foundation pilings extend out to the rear property line.

Cellar level plan (below) showing 30' set back as required by God.

Haunted by Past Performance. What might have been.

What ever happened to our "evil twin" 266 22nd Street? Recent DoB and ECB activity shows that even two years later, the building's Certificate of Occupancy problems still remain unresolved. Here's a copy of the Temporary C of O from 2004.

Description of use

It reads in part, Note: Faculty dwelling units as designed above shall be maintained as a group 3, community facility use dormitory for "faculty housing in a class A multiple dwelling" dedicated to the exclusive use of Yeshiva Gendolah Bais Yisroel, a registered educational institution by the NYS Board of Education...."
The first floor shows a 19 person "Day Care Center for ages 2-6"

The problem? So of course nine towering stories later when the building gets built, there's no sign of any yeshiva faculty or children ages 2-6. I can't imagine that cellar level "recreation room" is getting much use either. Art therapy classes anyone...anyone?

If there is bright side for the builder in all of this, by removing the offending section of the Armory Plaza now, maybe he will be spared future penalties (not that he's paying any of them anyway) and actually be able to receive his C of O when the building is finally correctly built and occupied, how ever many decades from now that may be. Maybe we deserve a thank you.

Memorial Baptist Church Old Fashioned Crack Tent Revival

Its simply carved cornerstone reads "M. B. C. 1891".

Been a while since I've seen the inside of the Memorial Baptist Church. Has it been over seven months already? I probably had good reason. It's always been a very real possibility that if I should ever enter any house of worship, I'd be struck down by a bolt of lightening, smitten with a burning ague, or even dashed to shards, like a potter's vessel, with rods of iron no less. Best case scenario would have me escape with my skin, but somehow I'd be left in charge of the church's coffee hour, for ever and ever and ever slicing bagels and pouring O.J. into little Dixie cups on into everlasting eternity.

It was heart stopping to say the least, my most recent visitation. Judging by the progress being made by the cracks in the Church's auditorium, I might also add "being overtaken by tumbling walls" to my fears list.
Last January the newly acquired 20' long vertical cracks could be described as "hairline". In these new photos from early August, the same set of cracks has opened considerably. Additional cracks have recently been discovered along the western wall as well now. Just when you think the worst is over, additional cracks show up.

On the outside of the building a set of basement stairs is literally crumbling to pieces as it pulls away from the foundation. A single cock-eyed crack monitor stands watch, its bulls eye, strained off center, testifies to the fact that the Earth has indeed moved away in an opposing direction. Is there any danger of the whole place returning to dust in one mighty end-times cataclysmic rush? The foundation has stood the test of time. up until now.

Your Mortar Salvation Awaits

More than once I have seen in our neighborhood, the redemptive talents of brick masons save a wretch of a building from almost certain damnation. Three Hundred Ninety Six 15th Street comes to mind. Maybe even 1504 8th Avenue... or maybe not, it's too soon to tell if that one can be saved.

Who, what, where, and ... when!?

Back on the 5th of June, owners from some of the adjoining properties, including the Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church for the last 18 years, Stephen Christopher, met with Brooklyn's Department of Buildings Commissioner Mr. Magdi Mossad to discuss the recent 406 15th Street Armory Plaza developments. In the company of Com. Mossad was Assistant Chief Inspector Bernard Ross, Inspectors D'Alessio and Ronshle, (or is it Ronshle and D'Alessio?), Forensic Engineer Tim Lynch, and the DoB Community Liaison Ken Lazar. Also in attendance Jeremy Laufer and Aaron Brashear from Community Board 7, Anne Schaetzel from Assemblymember Jim Brennan's office, and last but not least, playing host to the meeting, Community Liaison Tom Gray from City Council member Bill DeBlasio's office.

How this meeting actually came to be is kind of a mystery. Out of the blue, a call came from Councilmember DeBlasio's office asking residents if they were planning to attend an informational sit-down with members of the Buildings Department. "What meeting?", was their reply.
Previously Jim Brennan had been helping locals navigate through the DoB's bureaucracy from the project's start. He arranged for their first audience with then Brooklyn Buildings Commissioner Susan Hinkson after residents discovered that the DoB had "erroneously" issued new building permits for Mr. LoCicero to build his 9 story "Armory Plaza Yeshiva Faculty Housing Dormitory".

Crazy as this sounds, apparently not one of the 16th St. homeowners ever got an invitation. Although this special event had been scheduled for some time in advance, ultimately for the benefit of adjoining property owners, they found out it was "happening" with less that 24 hours notice. No one thought to include them. Maybe the invitations... fell through their cracks?
A little side note: When it looked like none of the 16th Streeters would be able to attend at so short a notice they tried to reschedule. The residents were told no, that the meeting would go on as scheduled, with or without their presence. Tough love, to say the least. One neighbor, unable to take off from work, arranged for a conference call so she could at least listen in to the proceedings.

The exact agenda for this meeting was unspecified. It wasn't made clear whether the DoB would even be open to answering questions posed by property owners.

Information replaces fear?

So the meeting was held exactly at 12 noon in a small conference room at the back of DeBlasio's Windsor Terrace office. Com. Massad began speaking by providing a brief description of what steps the Department is/was/had implemented in order to protect the public during the ongoing construction of the Armory Plaza's foundation. He chose to begin the official script starting in July of 2006 with the damage to the foundation and facade of 1504 8th Avenue and the subsequent Orders to Vacate. We at IMBY seem to recall that the story should have begun, "Once upon a time, way back in April 2005,"

(Selective memory loss always helps when one attempts to rewrite history.
Check out the
Buildings Information System. That's where anyone off the street can find the real time line.)

Before 1504 8th Avenue fell to pieces in July of 2006 there were already Buildings violations and Environmental Control Board Violations on the books from previously damaged properties dating back to April of 2006.

The Commissioner detailed the remedial steps taken by his office since July. Steps which included installing crack monitors and the scheduling of numerous (dozens?) controlled inspections of the excavation site by the Department's Special Forensic Engineering Unit. He also mentioned that a new engineering firm, Demerara Engineering, PLLC, was enlisted in March of 2007 to take over the controlled inspections at the site. It never was clear if this was at the DoB's suggestion. I wonder what happened to the first engineering company who designed and oversaw the project?

As for the meeting, I must say there were several times early on when the thing teetered on the brink of disaster. Decorum broke down, giving way to angry confrontations as property owners and DoB representatives threatened to walk out on each other. There seemed to be conflicting opinions on just how successful the new safety measures had been at turning things around. In more ways than one, there was very little available wiggle room . Maybe holding the meeting in such a small, enclosed office space, excited peoples natural fight or flight response. If it wasn't for Anne Schaetzel banging her shoe on the table top, finally restoring order, I'm certain the meeting would have ended with some sort of honor killing . In the end both sides agreed on at least one thing. The contractors are not very nice guys.

Reading the warning signs.

For one example brought up during the meeting , NYC Forensic Engineer Timothy Lynch, answering criticism that the DoB had not listened to the homeowners previous (before July of 2006) complaints about large sink holes forming, and that they feared their homes were in danger of being knocked off their foundations by the boring and pile driving, responded by saying that after the July Stop Work Order, a kinder, gentler, less invasive, duplex-boring technique had been specifically required, and that this in its self should have taken care of any future "damage to adjoining property" problems. Home owners in attendance disagreed. "Yes, we noticed a slight change for awhile... but only for a few days... that is until the contractors reverted back to their old style of boring with a vengence and then the situation actually got far worse with cracks forming overnight".
The DoB seemed both surprised and frustrated at hearing this new report about the contractors' lack of compliance. "What about all those controlled inspections?", the homeowners asked. Everyone within several blocks could testify to the banging and shaking. Surely it's not something done easily on the sly.

I told you so...it's for your own good.

In the end, listening to the DoB's side of the story only reinforced home owners worst fears. That despite constant monitoring, and plenty of 311 calls, DoB officials were still unable to control the contractors and the deteriorating conditions at the job site. That they had mistakenly placed their trust, and property, in the hands of government employees in the hope everything would somehow end happily ever after. What's even worse is that it seems DoB officials are allowing the contractors to continue working out of fear that if they stopped and did not finish their foundation, even more damage could result to the homeowners property.

They need to abandon their denial mode tactics. Hiding in the in the subcellar until the storm blows over isn't working. The shame is, and we at IMBY believe in the power of shame, have said this many, many times before, the damage was entirely preventable. There was plenty of prior warning. As what would become the afternoons mantra, to be repeated many times during the meeting, "Why are we here. This meeting is a year too late."
But now what to do that the damage is done, the boring and pile driving is over, and the surrounding soil is still unsettled? Conflict resolution time. Bring on the engineers and the lawyers.

"But wait, all is not yet lost. Fear not, and have ye faith, for your walls are held fast. There is a crack monitor on thee." So saith The Department of Buildings.

One good thing that came out of this meeting was that inspectors finally went out that same afternoon and inspected the damage to surrounding properties. That's how crack monitors got placed on the Church's interior wall and outside steps. Seen as a good faith gesture that the Department would take future complaints more seriously. The DoB inspection reports must have had some impact on the developer's new engineer as a few weeks later some home owners received letters from Demerara Engineering requesting that they be allowed to inspect the damage for themselves and, like "good neighbors", perform all necessary engineering tests of faith and measures, including soil borings, to insure the future safety of surrounding properties.

The Temple walls are crackin', now what?
For some the damage to the Memorial Baptist Church may be read as a sign. A geo technical test of faith. A belief is held amongst some Christians that the future of worship will not take place within a traditional brick and mortar church building at all. Ordinary faithful folk will come together to hear the Gospel where ever there is a place and a need, not unlike the first wandering Christians. Maybe the congregation of Memorial Baptist Church is being tested by this siege upon their walls. What will they do if their temple walls come tumbling down? I have no doubt that they will pitch a tent, after acquiring the proper permits of course, and begin anew the very next Sunday or, as soon as the dust settles, which ever comes first. For now there are engineering and legal bills to pay. Repairs have been put on hold until the extent of the damage and the means to fix it can be arrived at.

396 Resurrection

Some before and after shots of 396 15th Street. I would like to see them replace the cornice, if it's possible.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Water Table

An interesting phenomenon is occurring at 400 15th Street. Water seems to be seeping into the recently finished basement. Could the source of this water originate from the mythical underground stream that all the "old timers" keep warning us about? Is this finally proof of its existence, or could this just be a localized welling of the neighborhood's tears.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

See Sixteenth Street Sidewalk Shed

Pedestrian protection positively in place. A prompt response by China Perfect. Score one for the Department of Buildings. Past prose.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Geotechnical Studies

Two additional boring samples taken yesterday and today along the 15th St. side of 1502 8th Avenue. This is the corner building attached to the vacated 1504 8th Avenue. Most likely these boring tests have been ordered for remedial purposes related to adjacent excavation work. Subsurface voids perhaps drawing the soil away from the foundation?