‘Spite wall’ on 87th Street coming down after a decade

The long nightmare on 87th Street finally appears to be coming to an end.

Just about 10 years after it was put up, so close to the property line that it blocked all the windows on one side of the neighboring home, the “spite wall” at 123 87th Street, between Ridge Boulevard and Colonial Road, is finally coming down, courtesy of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Department of Buildings (DOB).

The demolition on the morning of Thursday, October 20, which had residents of the block cheering, follows a long series of violations issued to property owners Cheryl and Robert Cunningham, who built the wall as part of a home expansion back in 2007, then refused to take it down after DOB rescinded its permit and ordered its demolition. After years of litigation, the court intervened, but it was the wall’s instability, according to DOB spokesperson Alexander Schnell, that caused the agency to take action now.

‘Following an inspection of the property on May 31 2016, DOB determined that the wall was unstable and in danger of collapse, and issued an emergency declaration for the demolition of it on June 2.” Schnell explained. “The owner was informed that they must file for permits and remove the wall, or the city would contract out the demolition at cost to the owner.

“This month,” he went on, “the owner challenged the city’s determination in court, but a judge denied a stay of the order. On appeal by the owner, a second judge also denied a stay of the order. Due to the owner’s failure to bring down the wall, the order was executed today, and a city contractor performed the work at cost to the owner.”

“This is a happy day for the block,” remarked 87th Street resident Pat Miller in an email to this newspaper, noting that residents had been making complaints about the situation to DOB for the past eight years. A total of 119 complaints were lodged with DOB between June, 2006 and the present, the vast majority of which were filed after the wall went up in May, 2007.

Currently, according to DOB’s Building Information System (BIS), there are 19 active violations on the property. Most of these relate to the continued existence of the wall, despite DOB instructions to remove it, which came after the owners of 127, the Gershon family, persisted in trying to get the wall taken down, bringing the issue to Community Board 10 and subsequently hiring an attorney and engineer, and eventually taking the case to New York State Supreme Court, which sided with them.

Even then, however, the wall did not come down, recalled Josephine Beckmann, CB 10’s district manager, who recounted how the Cunninghams had tried a variety of approaches in their effort to retain the wall and the expansion it was part of.

“He was trying every way he could to build to the lot line,” said Beckmann. “He made several attempts to submit plans that would allow him to expand into the side yard,” all of which were denied by DOB.

Indeed, the most recent application for a “horizontal addition of two story great room with second floor bedroom” was submitted by Cunningham on July 26 of this year. It was disapproved two days later, according to BIS.

“I really applaud the persistence of the adjacent homeowners,” said Beckmann. “It’s been a long, hard-fought battle and, over the years, the community board has voted overwhelmingly to support the Gershons. This is a long-awaited day for the family and neighbors on the block. The neighbors I spoke to today were absolutely elated.”

Cunningham did not easily accede to the demolition, according to sources. Rather, the NYPD told this paper that he had been arrested for attempting to impede the demolition, positioning his car in such a way as to block the workers.

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