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Residents Fighting to Keep Troublesome Lenox Avenue Scaffolding Down

By Jeff Mays | August 21, 2012 1:21pm | Updated on August 21, 2012 1:55pm

HARLEM — The Lenox Avenue corner normally filled with men drinking beer, urinating and doing pull-ups on the metal bars of the scaffolding on 123rd Street was all clear and full of daylight Monday, a few days after the covering came down after eight long years.

Neighbors watched a young boy ride his bike all the way down to the once forbidden corner and  marveled at how quiet it was. There's a bodega on the ground floor, but the rest of the building is vacant.

"One lady got to the end of the block and said: 'Oh God, I'm free.' People were ecstatic. It's like we got out of jail," said long-time resident Barbara Heard.

But it might not stay that way for long. The Department of Buildings says the owner of the property at 260 Lenox Ave. has to put the scaffolding back up because the building is not safe.

Neighbors are fighting to force the city to make the landlord make the repairs necessary to keep the scaffolding down.

The DOB did not respond to repeated requests for comment but in an e-mail exchange with residents said the "building is unsafe."

Without the scaffolding "it is a danger to anyone who walks on the sidewalk around it," wrote DOB's director of Community Affairs Donald Ranshte.

"The [scaffolding] should not have been removed. It is going back up," Ranshte wrote in an e-mail.

A stop work order has been issued for the site and two new violations for failing to safeguard people and property and for failure to comply with the stop work order for the removal of the shed.

Laurent Delly, a property owner on the street and vice president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, said residents are concerned about the stability of the  materials used to make repairs to the building.

But after eight years, the DOB should force the building's owner to make the necessary repairs to keep the shed down or perform the work themselves and bill the owner, said Delly.

"We are in a state of shock. Where was the DOB on this?" asked Delly.

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." The building is owned by ZamZam Realty. A man who identified himself as the owner said last week that he wasn't sure if the scaffolding would return.

The owner says the plan is to renovate the landmarked building for residential and commercial use. It is a plan neighbors welcome but are beginning to doubt will ever happen.

"People are elated the scaffold is gone but we are worried that it is only temporary," said Heard.

Residents of the block are planning to meet with DOB in the coming week to work on the issue.

Residents such as Stacy Parker Le Melle, who lives next to the building with her husband and son, said it was important that the scaffolding not return.

"After the scaffolding came down it was the first time I felt comfortable with my son playing outside," said Le Melle. "Normally I'm anxious about coming out here but it meant something to be out here with my child."