By Serena Solomon
LOWER MANHATTA — A Hell's Kitchen artist pleaded with a judge Thursday to restore his sculpture garden, which the city forced a landlord to tear down, despite approval by the fire department.
Workers took down the artwork this week after the Department of Buildings threatened to slap the landlord of artist David Scalza with $18,000 in fines. A department inspector said the garden, created in a W. 56th Street apartment courtyard, was a fire hazard.
But only a few days before the Buildings inspector arrived, the FDNY gave the sculpture garden the all clear, Scalza said at the hearing before administrative law judge Susan Brand of the city's Environmental Control Board. Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesman, confirmed this.
"That's why this is so hard to understand," Scalza told Brand. "If the fire department said it was OK, shouldn't they know better?"
On Oct. 2, however, an inspector for the department of buildings came to the property and stated that "debris and rubbish" were blocking the fire escape.
"It's great for the fire department," said Brand. "But it might not be OK for the building inspector."
At the hearing, Scalza passed around photos and compared them to those of the inspector's. He insisted the inspector's photos did not give a clear picture of the garden, and that his proved that no sculpture was an obstruction.
With the inspector's testimony disputed, Brand had to adjourn the hearing until a later date when the inspector could be present. It is now scheduled for March 25.
"It's a ridiculous wait," said Scalza, after the hearing. But he said it gave him time to meet with local politicians, the landlord and the buildings department to possibly sort things out.
In the last week, since the sculpture garden has been threatened, many in the community have rallied to support the garden, which Scalza created four years after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
A former ABC TV news editor, Michael Jacobsohn, has created a mini documentary called "Save our Sculpture Garden" and State Sen. Tom Duane has also committed to forge a truce or find another location for the garden.
"It's going to come back," said Scalza. "So many people are involved."