Neighbors Battling Medical Building Developer Over Access to Yards

By Jeanmarie Evelly on October 4, 2013 9:27am 

 Neighbors on 32nd Street in Astoria say the construction of an eight story medical facility against their backyards has damaged their homes.
Neighbors on 32nd Street in Astoria say the construction of an eight story medical facility against their backyards has damaged their homes.
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Norm Sutaria

ASTORIA — Queens residents who say their homes were damaged by the construction of a nearby medical facility are now fighting the developer's attempts to access their properties in order to finish the job.

Pali Realty told five neighboring property owners that construction crews will need to enter their yards to finish the eight-story medical building at 23-25 31st St. in Astoria — a request the residents have refused, out of fear it would mean more damage to their properties.

"Nobody is going to grant access," said Robert Draghi, who owns a home on 32nd Street. His backyard is adjacent to the construction of the medical facility, which he said has plagued him and his neighbors for the past few years.

He said construction of the building has caused the foundation of his house to crack and shift, so much so that experts have told him it would be cheaper to tear the whole structure down than to repair it. The construction has caused damaged to his neighbors' homes as well, he said.

Now, the developer has filed papers seeking court permission to enter the properties, according to a rep for the company.

The spokesman says the access is necessary for Pali Realty to comply with a ruling issued by the city's Board of Standards and Appeals last May.

The developer had applied for a special permit from the BSA to lift a partial stop work order at the building, after an audit in 2012 found a portion of the medical facility was built 10 feet further out than zoning rules allow.

One of the conditions in the ruling was that the building's glass rear wall be finished with stucco to make it opaque, a recommendation made by Community Board 1 based on concerns from the neighbors. That work can't be done without entering their properties, Pali's spokesman said.

A letter sent from the company to homeowners last month says construction crews also need access to the yards in order to waterproof the rear of the building and remove existing steel piles.

The work would take two months and require the construction of scaffolding and safety fencing over a small portion of the yards, as well as platforms over the homeowners' existing sheds, the letter says.

"There's just no way they can finish this building without being on our property and doing damage," Draghi said.

The developer said it would cover any potential damage to the homeowner's yards, but neighbors say they're skeptical because they still haven't been compensated for the damage already done to their homes.

Pali Realty's spokesman said the company had been willing to fix damages caused by the construction but says compensation is now in the hands of their contractor's insurance company, which took over the negotiations after one of the neighboring homeowners sued.

But Draghi says Pali Realty never made him an actual offer.

"They have never offered to do anything to help us," he said, saying the first estimate he submitted to their insurance company was rejected, and that he has yet to receive a counter offer.

"They have not taken responsibility and they haven’t been ethical," said Norm Sutaria, a renter who lives near the construction site who has been fighting the project with his neighbors.

A court appearance has been set in the case for Oct. 9, the neighbors said.

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