Tag Archives: Department of Buildings

City temporarily closes Long Island City rock climbing facility


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of Mike Wolfert

One Long Island City business is hanging on a cliff, waiting to get the thumbs up to open shop again.

The rock climbing facility, called The Cliffs, was temporarily closed after receiving a vacate order on October 25. The building did not have a valid certificate of occupancy, according to the Department of Buildings (DOB).

The 30,000-square-foot climbing arena at 11-11 44th Drive held its grand opening on October 5, just a few weeks before.

According to a DOB complaint, a vacate order was also served because the rock climbing apparatuses and walls were considered a “hazard and dangerous” to users.

Mike Wolfert, owner of The Cliffs, could not be reached for comment. According to the business’ Facebook page, members and pass holders will be credited for the time lost during the temporary closing, and additional guest passes will also be offered.

“We are excited to open our doors again as soon as we are able,” Wolfert posted.

Earlier this year, Wolfert faced charges of bribery after he paid a total of $1,094 to a Department of

Investigation undercover investigator posing as a DOB inspector.

According to the Facebook page, an anonymous tip, which led to the inspection and vacate order, said the facility was operating without a special permit.

The most recent post, dated November 15, said all required revisions have been made and submitted to the Department of Buildings.

 

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Despite setbacks, Maspeth Knockdown Center determined to host events


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Knockdown Center/Ariana Page Russell

The Knockdown Center is not backing down.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) recently reviewed and disapproved the center’s plan for a Place of Assembly Certificate of Operation (PA) on October 24, but Knockdown’s manager said they will tweak their proposal until it meets regulations.

The PA is required for a site that seeks to have 75 or more people gathered indoors or more than 200 outside.

“We are committed to ensuring we have the optimal building plan from the DOB perspective, and have found the plan reviews very helpful, and believe that our plans will be approved soon,” said Tyler Myers, the center’s manager.

The Knockdown Center, a former glass and door factory turned arts hall, has hosted everything from weddings, Tiki Disco parties and even a mini-golf art exhibition, since last year.

The center became a hot controversial community issue after a representative announced they were considering applying for a license from the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to serve alcohol at future events at the 52-19 Flushing Avenue site.

At the Community Board 5 October meeting, the Land Use Committee rejected granting a liquor license for the center, although Knockdown could still make a case to the SLA for the license.

Residents and politicians in the community are split on the center, some feeling that it could bring jobs and is a good use of the more than century-year old building. Others believe it will create a club environment in a neighborhood where many residents live.

“There is some evidence of people being carried out, a lot of evidence of people partying and loud music, and there is evidence of love making right in the open,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

“We’re concerned that it will lower the quality of life.”

 

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Department of Buildings reviewing Flushing Commons permit


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corporation

Developers of the long-stalled $850 million Flushing Commons project have filed their first permit with the city’s Department of Buildings, according to Crain’s and city officials.

A DOB spokesperson said the department received and will review an application from TDC Development International and The Rockefeller Group.

The near decade-old project will bring housing and retail to downtown Flushing but, according to Crain’s, construction has to begin by October 31, under a contract between the city and developers.

The two-phase project, when complete, will include a total of more than 600 residential units, 500,000- square-feet of retail or commercial space and a new YMCA, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) said.

It was broken into two phases as to not disturb nearby businesses and ease parking problems.

A 62,000-square-foot YMCA, with two pools, a full-size gym and an indoor running track, will headline the first phase of the project, along with a 1.5-acre space with a fountain plaza and amphitheater, officials said. The second phase includes more housing, commercial and community space.

Developers want to modify a portion of Municipal Lot 1 in downtown Flushing, though NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky said existing parking spaces would be maintained during construction.

There will be a total of 1,600 parking spaces — an increase of 500 — at the project’s completion, according to officials.

The development is expected to create more than 2,600 construction jobs and 1,900 permanent jobs, the NYCEDC said.

With additional reporting by Terence M. Cullen

 

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Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center finds temporary location after building damage


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center has found a temporary location after the building was damaged, but leaders still say there’s no place like home.

The center, which is operated by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, recently moved to the American Legion Post 118 at 89-02 91st Street after a building adjacent to the center’s location on Jamaica Avenue collapsed, damaging the roof and kitchen.

“We were concerned about the winter months with the snow and rain,” said Judith Kleve, vice president of Older Adult Services at Catholic Charities. “We are very relieved that the American Legion opened their doors to us.”

The center, which is funded by the city’s Department for the Aging, has more than 200 seniors enrolled and about 70 visit daily.

The staff prepares free meals every day and organizes exercise programs, including yoga and dancing, and educational lectures on topics such as arthritis and diabetes. During the temporary move the center is providing shuttles from the original location.

Despite joy for the temporary site, seniors want to return to the old building soon, because the American Legion building is too small, according to Kleve. But first, owners of the collapsed building, 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC, must fix it or the seniors can’t return.

“The situation is only going to get worst with the rain and snow coming,” State Senator Joe Addabbo said. “We need to get the owner to start fixing it now.”

The politician is working with other leaders to put pressure on the owners to repair the property. Addabbo met with officials from the Department of Buildings (DOB) this week to discuss the collapsed building, which has about a dozen violations and $11,000 in fines, according to the DOB.

The members of the center are hoping they can move back by next year.

“The seniors were very happy to know that the senior center was still open and that they had a safe site,” Kleve said. “But they still want to go home.”

The owners of 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC could not be reached for comment.

 

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Willets Point business owners expect to reopen


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Nearly one dozen Willets Point business owners who had their auto shops abruptly shut down by the city two weeks ago said they expect to reopen in a few days.

“We all have families,” said Wais Mohibi, owner of Discount Muffler in the Iron Triangle. “Don’t just come in without warning, without anything, and just shut us down.”

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) issued partial vacate orders two weeks ago to five businesses at 38-01 126th Street for “illegal, unsafe construction,” according to a department spokesperson.

About five other shops at 37-11 126th Street were also shut down. Vacate orders had been in effect at those locations since 2009, the DOB said.

The businesses were hit with violations for working without permits and for having improper lightweight steel, called C-joist, installed at their sites, according to the department.

The DOB said C-joist construction without proper shoring affects the structural stability of buildings and can cause collapse. Such conditions led to the death of one Brooklyn construction workers last year, the department said.

Most of the business owners dealing with vacate orders are working out deals with the city to sell their property. However, they said they did not expect to be forced out of their jobs so quickly. They added that the vacates left them with nothing.

“All our equipment is inside. We can’t do anything,” Mohibi said. “That’s not fair at all. We’re basically going to be in the street.”

Marco Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, said business owners expect their stores will temporarily reopen by Monday, June 3.

He said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras’s office has been in touch with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which will handle repairs to the stores.

According to an HPD spokesperson, the repairs will be funded by the city and will begin in the next few days. The spokesperson added that there is no timeline yet for the project’s completion.

Ferreras said those owners should be able to return next week at the very latest.

“The city has to treat us as human beings,” Neira said. “I know they want this land. They can have this land, but not in this way.”

According to the DOB, business owners have to submit new design drawings, obtain permits and install proper shoring before their shops can reopen.

The establishments are located at the heart a $3 billion city project to transform the area into a major commercial hub.

“This is obviously harassment by the city of New York because this area is slated for redevelopment,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

 

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Pol helps bust LIC rock gym owner for alleged bribery attempt


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of Mike Wolfert

In the midst of ongoing turmoil in city politics, one politician has helped bring a Long Island City business owner to justice for an alleged bribery attempt.

According to the Department of Investigation, Mike Wolfert, owner of a rock climbing facility called The Cliffs, received a Stop Work Order for failing to obtain the correct permit to convert a large warehouse into a 30,000-square-foot climbing arena. An unannounced inspection by the City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) reportedly prompted the order.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said on April 10, he received a “disturbing” and “inappropriate” message from Wolfert allegedly asking for help with the violations. The message allegedly offered to provide assistance promoting Van Bramer’s campaign in return for the favor.

After reading the email several times, Van Bramer believed the only appropriate response was to tell the City Council’s General Counsel, who then notified the Department of Investigation (DOI). The tip led to a four-week undercover investigation of Wolfert.

“I don’t believe there was an option here, I had an obligation to report it,” said Van Bramer. “I’m not a hero. Every elected official, if presented with something like this, should always respond like this.”

According to a criminal complaint issued by the district attorney, on two occasions Wolfert allegedly paid a total of $1,094 to a DOI undercover investigator posing as a DOB inspector offering help getting the Stop Work Order withdrawn.

Wolfert is charged with bribery in the third degree and unlawful continuance. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison for the bribery charge and fines up to $25,000 as well as up to a year in prison for the unlawful continuance.

“We’re grateful that at a time when some people are succumbing to corruption, this was reported to DOI,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. “Cutting corners illegally and paying off city employees is not acceptable.”

Michael Lambert, Wolfert’s lawyer, declined to comment at this point in the investigation. Wolfert also declined to comment.

The Cliffs was expected to open this month, but is now looking to open its doors in July.

 

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Residents want landlord held responsible for Woodhaven building collapse


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Twitter / @FDNY

BY LUKE TABET

Concerned Woodhaven residents want to know what repercussions, if any, a local landowner will face after his building collapsed last month, damaging the adjacent Volunteer Ambulance Corps and forcing residents to leave the Woodhaven Senior Center.

An abandoned furniture store at 78-19 Jamaica Avenue crumbled onto the street on April 12, crushing a minivan parked out front and shutting down a section of the road while debris was removed.

The 78-19 Jamaica Avenue LLC owns the building, according to the Department of Finance.

At a May 18 meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA), many voiced their desire to see the landlord held responsible for alleged negligence that led to the vacant building’s collapse.

According to the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) website, the structure had 35 violations and a partial vacate order before the collapse.

An impending Environmental Control Board hearing will determine if the owner — who could not be reached — is at fault for the violations.

The Woodhaven Senior Center is currently covered by a tarp, which must be proven watertight before seniors will be allowed back into the building.

 

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Vacant Rego Park building becomes eyesore


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Terence M. Cullen

A vacant building in Rego Park has some complaining that the structure is a major eyesore.

The commercial strip on Woodhaven Boulevard, between 63rd Road and Dana Court, has rental signs along its windows.

Until recently, scaffolding covered almost the entire block.

“Of course there’s a problem,” a source said. “There’s been problems for years.”

The source, granted anonymity, who identified himself as a former employee of Bridie’s, a bar and grill on the boulevard, said scaffolding had covered the entire block for more than a year-and-a-half. He said the structure was intended for work on nearby apartment buildings, but repairs were ever conducted.

A business last called the building home about four or five years ago, the source said. Bridie’s, the only establishment on the block, has suffered, the former employee added.

The For Rent signs that cover the windows advertise “restaurant, medical, retail, or office space.” Calls to the phone number on the signs reach an automated message system.

Keystone Management, a California-based real estate company, controls the building under High Point Associates LLC, according to a Department of Buildings (DOB) spokesperson. Representatives for Keystone, owned by developer Daniel

Shalom, had not returned calls for comment by The Courier as of press time.

The vacant building has received a number of violations from the DOB and the Environmental Control Board (ECB), in recent years.

It has four unresolved ECB violations, according to the DOB spokesperson. These deal with plumbing work without a permit, failure to maintain a boiler, maintaining building walls and miscellaneous boiler problems.

 

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Couple will not demolish historic Douglaston home


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Courtesy photo

The newlywed owners of a historic Douglaston house say they have no plans to harm the 19th century remnant after neighbors rallied outside their home last week, The Courier has learned.

Property owner Xiu Jun Zhai and his wife received a partial job permit by the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) on March 4 to change the number of stories in their 38-60 Douglaston Parkway house, according to an application.

The proposal angered neighboring residents, who said construction would destroy the character of the community and ruin a relic.

Plans were not specific but called for “vertical and horizontal enlargement” of the 1,800-square-foot structure and partial demolition that “affects the exterior building envelope,” the application said.

The house dates back to the 1860s, according to preservationists. It is located within the proposed Douglaston Historic District Extension, which was calendared for landmark designation in 2008.

But the couple, who tied the knot last April and purchased the home in September, said they only plan on demolishing two structures in the backyard that were built without permits after 1952. They include a wood deck with a roof and a separate smaller residence to the rear left of the house.

According to a close friend to the property owners, Zhai does not plan on altering the exterior of the main house on the 9,000-square-feet of land.

“The owner is not taking down the house,” the source said. “They want to start family there.”

The DOB did not confirm the plans in time for press.

Zhai bought the property for $660,000, according to State Senator Tony Avella. The building has been vacant for five years.

 

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Neighbors rally against changes to historic Douglaston home


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Neighboring residents of a historic Douglaston house rallied last Friday to save the 19th century remnant from proposed changes.

The new owner of the 38-60 Douglaston Parkway site has submitted plans to the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) to significantly alter the house. The department issued a “partial job” permit to property owner Xiu Jun Zhai on March 4 to change the number of stories in the building, according to an application the DOB approved in February.

The plans were not specific but called for “vertical and horizontal enlargement” of the 1,800-square-foot structure and partial demolition that “affects the exterior building envelope,” the application said.

“We’re talking about saving a tiny bit of history,” said Paul Di Benedetto, president of the Bayside Historical Society. “Once it’s gone, it never ever will be replaced. If you erase the history of an area, then you take away its character and its soul.”

The house, which sits on about 9,000-square-feet of land, dates back to the 1860s. It is located within the proposed Douglaston Historic District Extension, which was calendared for landmark designation in 2008. The approximate 20 homes in the extension mark the area’s transition from its rural origins to smaller farms and suburban estates, preservationists said.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, spokesperson for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), said the agency is still “actively considering” giving landmark designation to the extension.

Zhai bought the property last October for $660,000, according to State Senator Tony Avella. The building has been vacant for five years.

According to a source who did not want to be named, the property owner plans on making changes only to the inside of the home to make it “livable.” He does not want to alter the building’s exterior, the source said.

But the city allowing the new homeowner to alter the historic home sets a precedent, Avella said.

“It’s like a domino effect,” the legislator said. Before you know it, you’ve lost the character and the historic nature of this very wonderful neighborhood.”

 

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Audit finds Department of Buildings is ‘incapable of improving itself’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is falling down on the job.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said Comptroller John Liu. “Its inability to perform basic tasks … bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”

A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found the DOB is slow in responding to complaints, and has not improved or resolved problems found in earlier audits.

A 2009 audit found DOB inspectors failed to gain access to nearly 40 percent of properties they received complaints about in 2008. The department also sought warrants for less than one percent of inaccessible properties and did not follow up on vacate orders.

Since then, the rate of failed inspection attempts has more than doubled, according to a new audit. The department also only partially implemented a handful of 14 recommendations made in the last audit, Liu said.

But a DOB spokesperson said many recommendations in the report have already been implemented. The department has also launched citywide safety campaigns, a task force to inspect illegal dwellings and “undercover investigations” to target illegal apartments for rent.

“The department is doing more than ever to combat the dangers of illegal conversions,” the spokesperson said. “The department has aggressively targeted illegal apartments most at-risk for fire — with a vacate rate nearly five times greater than before.”

Roughly 20,000 complaints, mostly from Queens, regarding illegal conversions get fielded through the department annually, the DOB said.

But grievances about illegal conversions garner a B rating on the DOB’s priority-arranged scale of complaints — the same level earned by improper fencing, exposed elevator shafts and malfunctioning boilers.

Illegal conversions have been the root of many fire-related deaths at home, including a 2011 blaze that killed one and injured five in Woodside.

 

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Operator, contractor cited in Long Island City crane collapse


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The Department of Buildings (DOB) has issued 12 violations to several parties involved in the Long Island City crane collapse that injured seven workers earlier this month.

According to the DOB, combined, these violations have a minimum penalty of $132,800, and $64,000 of that amount was issued to the crane’s operator, Paul Geer.

“Cranes are complex pieces of equipment that serve as the driving force of any major construction project. They must be properly operated and maintained, and when that fails to occur, there can be serious consequences. In this case, neither the crane operator nor his supervisors made sure the operation was being performed according to approved plans,” said DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

A preliminary investigation by the DOB found that Geer tried to lift 23,900 pounds of lumber at the 46-10 Center Boulevard site, more than double the crane’s weight capacity. The DOB also said that that Geer couldn’t see what he was picking up and was lifting the materials outside the approved loading zone.

Geer and the contractor, Cross Country Construction, LLC, received five violations for operating a crane in an unsafe manner, failure to inspect equipment prior to operation, work that does not conform to approved construction documents, failure to safeguard all persons and property affected by construction operations, and failure to post proper load chart for crane.

The site safety manager, Arthur Covelli, and the property owner, TF Cornerstone, were also each issued a violation for failure to safeguard all persons and property affected by construction operations.

 

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License of operator in Long Island City crane collapse suspended


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The man operating the crane that collapsed at a Long Island City construction site Wednesday, injuring seven, has had his license suspended by the city, said the Department of Buildings (DOB).

A preliminary investigation by the DOB found that operator Paul Geer tried to lift 23,900 pounds of lumber at the 46-10 Center Boulevard site, more than double the crane’s weight capacity.

The DOB also said that that Geer couldn’t see what he was picking up and was lifting the materials outside the approved loading zone. A Stop Work Order for crane operations remains in effect while the DOB’s investigation continues.

The crane’s owner, New York Crane, was also involved in a deadly collapse on the Upper East Side. James Lomma, who owns the company, was tried for manslaughter, but acquitted last April.

During the trial, prosecutors claimed that the crane’s operator tried to lift too much weight and that Lomma used a cheap, unqualified Chinese company to do repairs.

A representative from New York Crane declined to answer questions, stating that they “had been advised not to speak at this time.”

The building where the accident took place is being developed by TF Cornerstone, the same company that has overseen several towers built as part of the revitalization of the Long Island City waterfront.

“Site safety is always our first priority as it relates to construction, and we are cooperating fully with all relevant authorities to try and determine what caused this occurrence,” read a statement from the developer.
Work at the site was subcontracted to Cross Country Construction, according to a TF Cornerstone spokesperson.

According to a spokesperson for Elmhurst Hospital, the seven injured workers, most of whom were in their 40s and 50s, were all treated and released by the end of last week.


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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

TODAY’S FORECAST

Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 48. Winds from the NW at 10 to 15 mph. Thursday night: Clear in the evening, then partly cloudy. Low of 36. Winds less than 5 mph. Chance of rain 20%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Urinetown: The Musical

Winner of three Tony awards and one of the most uproariously funny musicals in recent years, Urinetown is a hilarious tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a time when water is worth its weight in gold. In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year drought, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. Performances start Thursday, January 10 and continue through Saturday, January 26 at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

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Crane collapses in Long Island City, injuring seven


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Seven workers suffered minor injuries when a crane collapsed at a Long Island City building site.

Around 2:20 p.m. today,  firefighters responded to the incident at Center Boulevard and 46th Avenue, where they discovered three workers trapped beneath the fallen crane. According to Deputy Fire Chief Mark Ferran, the trapped individuals were extricated from the scene and taken to an area hospital, along with four other workers who suffered non-life-threatening injuries. No civilians were injured in the crash.

Several dozen workers were at the scene when the crane fell.

According to Ferran, the cause of the crane collapse is under investigation by Department of Buildings (DOB) engineers.

Diana Sanchez saw the crane collapse from her apartment in the building across the street. She said the crane shook as it attempted to lift loads of metal she believed to be too heavy for the device. She grew nervous as she watched the beleaguered apparatus. Then, it snapped.

“Everyone was screaming and running,” she said.

Sanchez said that following the recent collapse of a crane in Manhattan and the increase in construction jobs in Long Island City, she has been concerned about one collapsing nearby for some time.

The Maspeth-based company that manufactures the crane, New York Crane, declined to comment.

The same company was involved in a deadly 2008 crane collapse on the Upper East Side.

Its owner, James Lomma, was charged with manslaughter, but was found not guilty.

The crane from today’s accident was last approved for use by the DOB in October, according to the Daily News.

“Such accidents are avoidable, and I am hopeful a comprehensive investigation will be conducted to discover why today’s frightening incident occurred,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Officials from TF Cornerstone, the building’s developer, were on scene but denied comment on the incident. The building is one of several built by TF Cornerstone as part of the revitalization of the Long Island City waterfront.

Photo Twitter/@UnSweetTee

 

-With additional reporting by Cristabelle Tumola 

 

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