Sunday, May 14, 2006


EN PAZ DESCANSE Rojas Bakery. No more cinnamon Sundays.

On October 17th, 2005 the Rojas Bakery specializing in traditional Mexican breads and pastries, was sold to the developer Jack Locicero (BERTHA REALTY, LLC) for the asking price of $900,000. For that price he got a single story 2200 SF cinderblock building, with awning, on a 25' x 100' lot. He also got the chance to revive his adjacent Armory Plaza development by refiling his old plans under the newly acquired 406 property address.

Previously the DoB had revoked all permits for the 408 Armory Plaza development back on May 24th, 2005, saying that they had been issued erroneously. There were many problems with the design, including the Floor Area Ratio ( FAR) calculations not being in compliance with the then R6 residential zoning laws. The building's plans should never have passed an audit by the DoB plan examiners. There were problems with the underground parking structure. Carbon monoxide was to be vented to the rear yard at ground level for one example. Also the "Community Facility" use was highly questionable and in fact the DoB had closed that FAR loop hole prior to issuing the permits. So how does one try to explain a non existing Yeshiva being granted a builders bonus of a FAR of 4.8 in a R6 residential zone, not once, but twice? Bricolage Designs, the architectural firm on record, to its credit, simply resubmitted the same plans, and sure enough, they received permits by the DoB for a "new" building at the "new" 406 15th Street address. This oversight after being reassured personally by Brooklyn Department of Buildings Commissioner Susan Hinkson that this architect, developer, and 408 15th building site would be in her words "red flagged” to prevent any future errors. Maybe that is why Com. Hinkson had asked for the community to help the DoB: To be its "eyes and ears" out in the field.

In the above Property Shark photo, the 406 building is seen on the left, 404 15th on the right, although the actual bakery occupied both buildings. The Rojas retained the three story building known as the "Belmont" with its two apartments.

One week after acquiring the property, tear down demolition permits were applied for by the Xingilan Construction Corporation. The Rojas Bakery had sprinkled its last shell shaped Conchitas.

October 28th the large excavator parked for weeks in the adjacent lot revved up its engine. The demo commenced at 8am as the giant orange Cat began using its boom arm and bucket to eat the building, awning and all.

Seeing that this past week was the the NYC Department of Buildings Construction Safety Week, I thought we could look back at how ineffective the DoB was in maintaining its own rules and regulations when it comes to safe-guarding the public. Let us look back at how the 311 complaints were handled by the DoB in the specific case of the demolition of 406 15th Street (The Rojas Mexican Bakery) by the Xingilan Construction Corporation.

The first thing that caused concern during the demolition was that there wasn't any construction fence or safety netting at the rear of the property. The bakery was built out so that it went all the way to the rear property line with no setback. Basically, an 18’ section of fence was missing. The entire deconstruction was performed mechanically using the boom arm of the excavator. The rear wall of the building was demolished using the bucket to grab it at its top and pull it over. At one point the teeth of the bucket actually bit a piece off a small wooden storage shed located at 387 16th Street. At 9:01am a complaint was made to 311 stating that there was no fence at the rear of the construction site.

How was complaint # 317-4405 addressed?

You can see in the photos that there was clearly no protective fence.

The complaint was “Resolved” that same day by an inspector Miguel Padin who sited a previous complaint number #317-3197 for his decision. That complaint, ”Working against a Stop Work Order” was made earlier in the day at 8am. Inspector Padin states “No action necessary based on physical observation” and “No Stop Work Order in effect”. What this has to do with the 18’ missing section of fence I do not know. It was enough to dismiss both the Stop Work Order and the missing fence complaints. Painting with a broad brush? Maybe a giant DoB issue Pink Pearl erasure.

Another concern was that there was never any DUST CONTROL implemented during the entire process. In the photos you can see the dust clouds blowing every which way as the tractor trailers were being filled with the debris. In the background you can see the arched windows in the 15th Street facade of the 8th Avenue Armory. These windows are to the dormitory space used for the sheltering of homeless women. There were no complaints made to 311 about the dust. Dust can be controlled by simply hooking up a hose and spraying the pile down with water.

The next group of complaints began shortly after 6pm as it became apparent that the demo team had no intention of stopping until the job was finished. Construction hours end at 6pm unless a special afterhours permit has been acquired.

Complaint number #317-4096 "After Hours Construction" was made at 6:34pm.

Complaint # 317-4098 "After Hours Construction" was made at 7:15pm.

Complaint #317- 4100 After Hours Construction was made at 7:26pm.

Complaint #317-4101 "After hours Construction"was made at 7:28pm.

The 311 operators have an unofficial policy of not taking duplicate complaints for the same issue. After awhile they refused to record any more complaints about after hours construction even though the demolition went on past 9 pm.

After the sun set the demo continued. You can see from these still photgraphs taken from a half hour digital video just how dark it was. The only light was from the headlight of the excavator. No additional lighting was provided for. The tractor trailers, one after another, would pull up past the site and then back into the lot. No traffic control measures were taken to protect the safety of pedestrians on 15th Street. There was no flag man. This headlight did, however, illuminate the dust clouds escaping each time the bucket dropped its load into the back of the truck.

Finally, the job was shut down by a patrol car from the 72nd precinct, responding no doubt, to quality of life/noise complaints made by several neighbors. But by that time they had already finished most of the job. Several phone calls were made to Com. Hinkson's personal answering machine filling her in on the progress of the late night work.

In the early part of November, I sent a letter and a DVD with a short movie providing photographic evidence for the complaints to Hinkson and Lancasters offices. A short time later I received a letter back from Com. Hinkson stating that the building in question was being investigated for un safe building demolition practices and that she was turning over all information to the B.E.S.T. Squad. So what happened to the "being the eyes and ears" thing?

The DoB's own Building Information Site (BIS) says it all. The four complaints posted above all resolved with no further action necessary based upon physical observation on the last inspection date...JANUARY 10th, 2006! More than two months after the fact, Inspector James Fleming Badge number 0529 made those final remarks.
DEMOLITION JOB NO. 302023138 SIGNED OFF 3/20/2006

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Today my good neighbors sent me over the following photo.

If you look closely at the base of the purple backhoe you will see a hole with water in it. My neighbor tells me that no mater how many times the contractors fill in the hole with dirt, everytime they return to dig it back up, it quickly fills with water.
There have always been rumors of underground streams in the area.
Another construction site a block and a half away at 1638 8th Avenue has been sarcastically named by area residents who live upon its shores, "Lake Windsor". Consider this notation from the Official Hunting and Fishing Guide to Brooklyn. "Nestled in a perfectly pristine part of the Southern Slope sleeps Lake Windsor, one of the lesser known Middle Finger Lakes of the Borough of Brooklyn. A wide array of paddling and rowing opportunities await for those who would like to take life a little slower. Now is a perfect time to purchase one of the many vacation homes and seasonal cottages that grace its shores... if you're gosh darn lucky enough! There is even the full service G&Y Marina/Bodega just a block away offering live bait, beer, and seasonal day trips by licensed professional guides."
Locals have been fighting the comercialization of the area for years sighting the recently opened WEEKI WACHEE WINDSOR LIVE MERMAID SHOW with its infamous "underwater topless tuba act" as proof that developers don't know what the area really needs. Been lots of crazy talk go'n round 'bout negotiating the Bottled Water Rights to the underground spring with Snapple, but I hear the water tastes a little bit like mermaid pee.

1638 Eighth Avenue between Windsor Place and Prospect Avenue.

This land had been empty for decades, appearently for a good reason. The current developers, and there have been several in the last years, seem to have more or less given up on trying to address the problems with the site. It has been stagnant for some time.

Closer to home, A similar building excavation just one house away at 400 15th Street had water sitting in it for weeks before they pumped it out. In that case it was really too late as the next door building, 396 15th Street, literally cracked in half and had to have emergency iron work performed to keep it from falling over. The folks at IMBY really need to have a talk with the owner of 396 15th as he has somehow secured an order of protection against the developer of 400 15th street forbidding him from working within 15 feet of his property. I understand that recent testimony at the NY Board of Standards and Appeals(B.S.A.) discussed the financial hardship to the developer that this groundwater is causing. We really need to take more blogging field trips.

As for the land at 406-408 15th Street, the truth of the matter is that if you only do a couple of engineering core/soil samples of what's under the pavement of the parking lot you will never really know what you will find. Samples taken to the full depth of the excavation and beyond, not just below the surface. Water? I am not sure what affect redirecting an undergroud stream will have on the watertable of the surrounding neighborhood. I am no geotechnical engineer, but I wonder who will manage/moniter possible surface subsidence once the three sub cellars have been dug out and lined with cement. What about damage to underground utilities if movement occurs? Shifting foundations? Raising the water table 12 inches in all likelihood will grant me 24 hour swimming privileges to my new basement wading pool. Does anyone at the DoB have any experience with STRIP MINING?

The contractors did however find and remove the large tank(s) located at the front of the lot. This past January they dug up some kind of burried tank, cut it in half, and had it trucked away. By the way, do you need a special demo permit for this kind of work? An environmental study of the surrounding soil, perhaps? Come to think of it, I did see some Giant Asian Long Horn Beetles crawl up out of the hole and scamper over to Prospect Park.