Friday, April 27, 2007

Details, comments, questions emerge about the falling parapet at the Ward Bakery

The city's Department of Buildings has issued a violation to Forest City Ratner for failing to maintain the exterior wall of the Ward Bakery, though no shed was required. Meanwhile, more than 300 people from the adjacent homeless shelter had to evacuate, and questions remain about how and why the 200-foot stretch of the parapet fell yesterday, and what oversight agencies will do.

According to NY1:
"Parapet walls exposed on both side over many years, and we had heavy rains, so it very well could be a residual effect of the heavy rains that we had,” said FDNY Assistant Chief James Nichols.
In response to the incident, Forest City Ratner vice president Bruce Bender said:
“At the time of the purchase, (in March 2006) the building was already in a state of disrepair. We will of course work very closely with the Buildings Department and other agencies to determine the cause of the collapse and to ensure public safety."


[Update: The purchase was in March 2005.]

There's a difference between disrepair and unsafe, and the developer last year got permission to demolish buildings deemed unsafe by its own inspectors.

FCR speaks... to some

While Forest City Ratner has not posted any statement nor responded to my inquiries, its spokesman did speak to others in the press.

The Times reported, in an article headlined Parapet Falls From Building to Be Demolished for Atlantic Yards that Forest City Ratner said its workers did not cause the incident:
Loren Riegelhaupt a spokesman for Forest City Ratner... said the workers on the roof were using “hand-held chippers” to remove asbestos, but were not working on the parapet.

As for the citation, the Times reported:
Such citations are not unusual, and property owners are often able to avoid fines or other penalties by demonstrating that repair work has been completed.

It will be interesting to see if such repair work obviates a fine for an incident that could have caused significant harm had anybody been walking nearby.

What about the shed?

And why was the shed gone?
[Riegelhaupt]said the removal of the shed was necessary to allow access to sewer lines under the sidewalk that the city will require to be blocked before demolition of the building is begun.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn took aim at Riegelhaupt's claim that "Our focus is on the safety of the community," suggesting that the sidewalk shed should have been replaced before asbestos abatement began.

Newsday and AM NY ran an article, headlined Building at Atlantic Yards site collapses that quoted Council Member Letitia James about the lack of oversight and a "developer running amok."

The article stated:
A sidewalk shed was removed from the sidewalk in front of the Ward Bakery in March. A new shed was being constructed yesterday, but a shed was not required for the asbestos abatement, [Department of Buildings spokeswoman Kate] Lindquist said.

Other coverage

The New York Post ran a short article, headlined ATLANTIC YARDS BLDG. COLLAPSE, that cited James's call for a halt to demolition. The New York Sun article, headlined Part of Roof Collapses At Atlantic Yards Site, didn't quote any individuals.

Metro's article, On the street: Collapse at Atlantic Yards site forces evacuation, quoted the Empire State Development Corporation's statement that it was on the job.

The Daily News ran a more substantial article, in its Brooklyn edition, headlined Homeless flee building collapse: Mishap comes weeks before Ratner wrecking ball. It cited the effort by preservationists to maintain the terra cotta-covered building and quoted opponent Patty (actually Patti) Hagan as saying, "That building was extremely sturdy. I'd call what happened an awfully odd coincidence."

A piquant detail:
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, whose name is scrawled on the building in graffiti form that reads "Hakeem [heart] Ratner," stopped short of calling for a demolition freeze or an independent monitor.
"This incident further highlights the need to proceed with extreme caution," said Jeffries (D-Fort Greene), who has been criticized for his support of the project.


The Daily News noted that the ESDC wouldn't say whether it would halt upcoming demolitions, as James has requested.

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