Controversial Lenox Avenue Scaffolding Returns

By Jeff Mays on August 31, 2012 10:17am 

A worker presides over the re-instillation of a troublesome scaffolding at Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street in Harlem.
A worker presides over the re-instillation of a troublesome scaffolding at Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street in Harlem.
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Laurent Delly

HARLEM — For two short weeks, Harlem residents said they got a taste of the sweet life as the scaffolding that languished on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street for eight years was finally removed.

The crowds of men hanging on the corner drinking alcohol, urinating and doing drugs disappeared.

"It seemed cleaner, emptier and a little more peaceful," said Dana Johnson, a journalist who has lived on the block for several years.

That changed Wednesday night when a construction company arrived and began assembling new scaffolding.  After a worker finished installing one of the scaffold's legs, a man stopped at the metal beam, opened his zipper and relieved himself while a group of shocked residents looked on in disbelief. 

"It's back to business as usual," Johnson said.

Residents said they were told at a meeting with the Department of Buildings at the office of State Sen. Bill Perkins earlier this week that the scaffolding had to be reinstalled because the city's engineers had declared the building unsafe. 

On July 4, a portion of the building's roof suffered a partial roof collapse that the DOB said was due to a "lack of maintenance." A stop work order exists on the building and the DOB also issued a violation for removing the scaffolding in violation of the order and for failing to safeguard people and property.

Laurent Delly, a property owner on the street and vice president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, said the DOB told residents that it granted the owner of the property permission to complete the work, and would reassess the progress of repairs in a month.

"The Department met with a representative for the property owner today and outlined the facade and roof repairs that are necessary for the sidewalk shed to be removed," said DOB spokesperson Tony Sclafani.

"The purpose of the sidewalk shed is to protect pedestrians and can only be removed once the property owner performs the work."

Perkins' office said it plans to ask the 28th Precinct to address the loitering and crime in the area of the scaffolding while it remains in place.

However, residents said they don't understand why the city hasn't forced owner ZamZam Realty to complete the work more quickly and remove the scaffolding that has become a magnet for trouble after almost a decade.

Property owner Stacy Parker Le Melle, who lives next to the building at 260 Lenox Ave. with her husband and son, said she understands the concerns about the danger posed by an unstable building, but that the dangers of what goes on under the scaffolding is also a pressing concern.

"We understand the DOB's concern with building integrity.  However, we who live here know that the possibility of a falling brick is just one of many bad things that could happen to you here, especially if there is a sidewalk shed to attract bad behavior and criminality," Le Melle wrote in a letter to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

"In other words, just because DOB has their bases covered does not mean we will.  We need a solution that promotes safety for all," she wrote.

The owner of the building has said he plans to renovate it in order to rent the commercial and residential space. A bodega already operates on the corner.

Delly said he and his neighbors left the meeting with a tiny sense of optimism even though the DOB resisted the idea of making repairs to the property and billing the owner, saying the scaffolding was the best solution.

"There seems to be a blind eye to the concerns of the community," said Johnson. "It's discouraging, very discouraging."

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