ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION IN NORTH FLUSHING IDENTIFIED AND HALTED; DEVELOPER FINED $5,000 FOR VIOLATING STOP WORK ORDER AFTER INTERVENTION BY GRAZIANO, NEIGHBORS
Several weeks ago, a construction fence went up around 156-10 32nd Avenue, a quiet block in Broadway-Flushing across the street from Bowne Park. The house's new owner, Jian Wen Zhu, had recently applied for an alteration permit known as an "ALT 1" which specifically states that over 50% of the building must be retained, including the basement or cellar. In other words, an alteration permit means just that: an alteration to an existing building, not a new building.
Two days later, the building was more than 50% demolished; within another two days, almost the entire building had been removed, except for two exterior wall stubs.
Paul Graziano, candidate for the 19th Council District, had contacted the local homeowner association as well as State Senator Tony Avella, and wrote a "Zoning Challenge" to the Department of Buildings, as it was clear that the architect on record, Ling Li, had self-certified a project that violated the R1-2A zoning - New York City's most restrictive - which covers much of Broadway-Flushing.
After a series of 311 calls were made and official complaints were lodged by residents of the area, the Buildings Department sent an inspector, who stated that 'No violation warranted for complaint at time of inspection; site is fenced, gated and secure with permits posted and current for ALT 1 - no workers on site.'
"This was an outrage," Graziano stated, "as the complaint that was filed with 311 called for a Stop Work Order, as the demolition for the house far exceeded what an ALT 1 permit allows and the permit itself should not have been granted as the floor area was over what is allowed under the R1-2A zone. The 311 operator had listed that the complaint was concerned with safety, and the Buildings inspector responded to that instead of what they were supposed to."
One week later, the Department of Buildings finally responded to the correct complaint, after much pressure from Senator Avella, Graziano and local residents. On Thursday, July 18th, a Full Stop Work Order was served to the owner for demolition contrary to approved plans. However, the contractors at the site continued to work on Friday, July 19th and Monday, July 22nd.
On Monday morning, Graziano and a resident involved with the homeowners association confronted the foreman of the construction crew - which numbered at least a dozen - and engaged him in a heated exchange which lasted for more than 10 minutes. The foreman stated that he was allowed to work and "do maintenance" to the property, and that they hadn't done anything wrong. When pressed as to why there was a Stop Work Order and they were still working, he stated that "the house had some extra rot in it so we had to take down more of it than we thought." He followed this statement with a discussion about how this was America and it was the owner's right to build what he wanted.
That afternoon, again pressed by Senator Avella, Graziano and the homeowners association, the property was inspected by the Buildings Department a third time. A violation of the Stop Work Order was issued for "failure to obey stop work order" and a $5,000 civil fine was levied.
Now, the owner must apply for full demolition and new building permits as well as file new plans, which must be approved by the Department of Buildings.
"I'm glad the Department of Buildings finally did what they were supposed to do," said Graziano, "but it shouldn't have taken so long. More importantly, this house, along with all of the other teardowns that have occurred in the last decade, would have never happened if Broadway-Flushing had become a New York City landmark historic district as more than 85% of the residents have supported. The homeowners association and residents of this area have spent significant time, money and effort to protect their century-old neighborhood from speculative developers."
All of Broadway-Flushing was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and was downzoned in 2009 with the most restrictive "anti-McMansion" zoning in New York City (R1-2A and R2A), both of which were authored and designed by Graziano.
"Last week's victory against the developer who tried to break the restrictive covenants and split a corner property is wonderful and the Stop Work Order is welcome," Graziano stated, "but if Broadway-Flushing had been landmarked almost a decade ago as it deserves, neither of these - nor other - bad development situations would have happened. The house at 156-10 32nd Avenue was a beautiful house and there was absolutely no reason to tear it down in the first place. Should I be lucky enough to be elected by the people of the 19th Council District in November, landmarking Broadway-Flushing and our other historic neighborhoods in the 19th Council District will be one of my absolute top priorities to make sure this doesn't ever happen again."
Stop Work Order / Civil Penalty for 156-10 32nd Avenue can be viewed here:
Democratic candidate for 19th New York City Council District