A Bay Ridge home was demolished last month – and the developers at the site didn’t obtain a demolition permit prior to swinging the wrecking ball.
However, while there is now a stop work order at the location, whether the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) allowed the demolition to occur without a permit in the first place is still unclear.
Questions first arose when local preservationist Victoria Hofmo walked past a gaping hole where a house – attached to its neighbor on the left — used to be, at 312 83rd Street.
As is her habit, Hofmo – the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy – called in her observation to Community Board 10, and discovered that the board had never gotten a notification of the demolition though they had gotten notification of a new building permit for the site, which is owned by 312 Realty LLC.
When questioned about this by Josephine Beckmann, CB 10’s district manager, the CB 10 liaison at DOB responded in an email, “No demo permit required. Passed audit.”
“So, the clever if unscrupulous architect and owner found a way to avoid filing a demo permit,” Hofmo mused, horrified that the contractor had taken down the roof and three full walls, leaving just the rear wall standing – without bracing, as Beckmann pointed out, and with pipes coming out of it. “It’s incredible, unusual.”
The situation, Hofmo added, is “ridiculous and deadly. It’s not protecting the workers and it’s not protecting the neighbors,” the structural integrity of whose homes could be compromised by the work.
“It’s bad enough for a free-standing house, but I don’t know how anybody in their right mind could think in an attached house, it’s okay,” Hofmo added.
“There’s something not right here. Any time I’ve ever seen a new building permit [for a site with an existing structure], there’s always been a companion demolition permit,” explained Beckmann. That, she added, allows the board to monitor what’s going on at the site. “When a demo permit is issued, the property owner has 10 days to notify the community board, so we’re very aware of what’s happening.” In turn, she went on, the board notifies the appropriate elected officials and civic groups so that those who are potentially impacted know what’s going on.
Now, however, with the hubbub stirred up about the demolition, there may be some backtracking going on at DOB. The stop work order was issued on September 29 after a September 28 inspection that took place after Beckmann made a complaint.
While the reason for the SWO, according to DOB’s Buildings Information System (BIS), was “No approved plans at active construction site,” agency spokesperson Alexander Schnell gave this paper what sounds like a different rationale for the issuance of the SWO.
“The work was done outside of the work of the approved job filing,” he wrote in an email (something he subsequently said was just another way of saying the same thing). “Once DOB was made aware of the illegal work, we issued a stop work order on the site. The applicant will need to come into the office and file a plan for the demolition in order for the SWO to be lifted.
“A permit was required for the demolition work,” Schnell added when asked for clarification. “This is not a new rule or interpretation. When no permit was found on file, we issued the stop work order following the inspection.”
One of the major concerns regarding demolition without a permit is that no inspection is made of gas lines on the property where the work is being done, according to Beckmann, who said, “There are certain shutoffs you have to do, fencing. There are safety protocols. We have had terrible things happen in the city from shoddy construction. [For residents], knowing a contractor went to DOB gives you an assurance.
“We have to get the word out,” she said later. “If anyone sees the demolition of a building with no permits and no proper fencing, a call must be made immediately to the Buildings Department, 311.”
Another issue brought up by Hofmo is that complaints regarding demolitions do not automatically get immediate responses. They, she said, “are categorized as a B priority, rather than an A priority, lessening the severity of this very dangerous practice.”
According to Beckmann, the average response to an A priority complaint is 1.2 days, while the average response to a B priority complaint is 50 days. That’s just not good enough, said Beckmann. “I feel if there’s a question about the demolition of a building with no permits, it needs to be an A priority,” she told this paper.
Asked about that, Schnell replied, “Work without a permit is triaged as a B complaint unless the language in the complaint indicates an immediately hazardous condition (i.e. housing shaking may fall).” Indeed, Schnell emailed this paper after the article went on line to say that, in Fiscal Year 2016, the average response to a B priority was 42.8 days, noting also that, “A wide range of complaints are covered by category B. In this case, it was well under the average.”
The plans filed with DOB are for a 50-foot-high, four story building with five units. The lot is located in an R6B residential zone, according to the Department of City Planning.