Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Ward Bakery and a tangled tale of blight

After 200 feet of parapet fell Thursday from the Ward Bakery, there are understandable suspicions about the condition of the building. Had it deteriorated rapidly because of weather, as a fire chief speculated? Had any work on the building affected its integrity, as some in the neighborhood wondered?
(Photo by Tracy Collins.)

But another curious tale regards the Empire State Development Corporation's Atlantic Yards Blight Study. While the bakery was deemed blighted in part because of an open building code violation, rendering the building hazardous, that violation actually had been resolved well before the Blight Study was concluded.

On p. 182 of the study, it states, regarding the Ward Bakery:
Building Code Violations
Lot 25 has 5 open building code violations on file with DOB (see Appendix B). The most recent violation was issued in January 2005 for failure to maintain the exterior building wall. The violation indicates that the current condition is hazardous.

(Emphasis added)

The blight study is dated July 2006. However, Appendix B catalogs open violations as of November 2005. In other words, it wasn't up-to-date. It was wrong in July 2006 to call the current condition hazardous based on the evidence cited.

Looking at the violation

Let's look at the page describing the violation:
Infraction Codes:
B6A 27-127 FAILURE TO MAINTAIN EXTERIOR BUILDING WALL (HAZARDOUS)

Description of Violation:
FAILURE TO MAINTAIN: DEFECT NOTED-AT FRONT OF BUILDING (PACIFIC ST. IDE) ARE LARGE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL STRESS CRACKS APPROX 1/2"WIDE AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS FROM GRADE TO PARAPET. REMEDY: MAKE ALL REPAIRS.


The page shows that a hearing was held 8/15/05 and an $800 fine paid. By 1/17/06, some two months after the mysterious November 2005 cutoff date to examine violations and more than four months before the July 2006 issuance of the Blight Study, the respondent was deemed in compliance.

The respondent was 800 Pacific LLC, with an address of 535 Dean Street--in other words, Shaya Boymelgreen, the developer who in April 2005 sold the building to Forest City Ratner.

Through the looking glass

Let's recap. According to the outdated blight report, the building's condition was hazardous.

According to the Department of Buildings' resolution of that January 2005 violation, the building's condition was not hazardous.

According to some projectiles coming off the roof on Thursday, the building's condition was quite hazardous. Exactly why that occurred remains to be discovered.

The DOB issued another violation for failing to maintain an exterior wall, which hints at another question: was that previous violation truly corrected?

Hard to check?

Why was the cutoff date to examine open violations pushed back more than six months? Presumably a more up to date review might have found certain open violations resolved, but new violations added--a bit of a wash. At the least, however, the use of the term "current conditions" would've been more credible.

How hard would it have been to go back and recheck open violations in Appendix B just before the Blight Study was completed? Not very. (Had the Blight Study been in the can for a while?)

In the space of 16 minutes, I checked on all the 2005 violations cited in the Blight Study:
--a 5/4/05 violation at 475 Dean Street remains open
--a 5/4/05 violation at 754 Pacific Street was dismissed 1/23/07, after the date of the Blight Study
--a 5/4/05 violation at 754 Pacific Street was dismissed 1/22/07, after the date of the Blight Study
--a 5/4/05 violation at 754 Pacific Street was dismissed 1/22/07, after the date of the Blight Study
--six 1/31/05 violations at 768 Pacific Street remain active, but a 5/4/05 violation was dismissed 12/29/05, well before the date of the Blight Study
--an 11/3/05 complaint about after-hours work at 523 Carlton Avenue was resolved 10/12/06, after the date of the Blight Study
--a 1/12/05 violation at 2 Fifth Avenue/620 Atlantic Avenue was listed as remaining open; however, the Underberg Building was demolished in March 2006.

If after-hours work counts as a contributor to blight, then a lot of New York City should be on notice. In fact, a complaint filed in June 2006 against Forest City Ratner's own contractor might count as well.

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