HARLEM — The owner of a three-story apartment building on West 123rd Street says a construction firm hired by the Abyssinian Baptist Church dumped contaminated debris in her backyard and so badly damaged the building she has to tear it down, according to a lawsuit.
Stacy Golia, whose husband Peter Golia was once jailed for failing to make repairs on another Harlem property, claims that A. Aleem Construction, hired by the church's development arm Abyssinian Development Corporation to build an 8-story affordable housing building, destroying her building in the process.
According to the lawsuit, Stacy Golia's apartment building at 237 W. 123rd St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass boulevards was destabilized when steel beams supporting the property were cut and reset by Abyssinian contractors working on 225 West 123rd St.
A large vertical crack formed in the rear of the building and water began to leak in the basement, according to the lawsuit. The foundation of the building also became separated from the floor joists on the first floor. The stairs in the building shifted and cracks appeared in all three apartments in the building.
As a result, "In all likelihood, plaintiff will be forced to vacate and demolish the building," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 28 by Stacy Golia's corporation, 237 West 123rd Street, LLC, charges that A. Aleem Construction failed to "ensure that the structural integrity and both the exterior and interior of the Building would be protected."
The construction firm "dumped...three feet of construction debris containing asphalt, coal, bricks and metal" in the backyard, the lawsuit claims.
Additional testing is needed to determine the depth of the alleged contamination and how much of the backyard must be remediated, the suit charges.
Abyssian's new building is set to replace the adjacent and decrepit Ennis Frances Houses, but the project has divided the neighborhood as existing brownstone owners and residents vehemently oppose the new building, saying it is out of character with the neighborhood.
But those on both sides are unsure what to make of the lawsuit, as those opposed to the Abyssinian project are also not pleased with the stewardship of the 123rd Street building. People present at an August block association meeting said Peter Golia came to the meeting to speak on behalf of the 123rd Street building, and warned them about the damage.
According to state Department of Finance records, Peter Golia sold his wife the building in 2005 for $900,000. Stacy Golia recently transferred ownership of the building to the LLC which she is the sole owner of, according to state records and the lawsuit.
In 2004 Peter Golia was sentenced to 10 days in jail for trying to force tenants out of a building at 2649 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. He left the building without a roof and the staircase was so dangerous that the department of Housing Preservation and Development evacuated the structure.
Harlem Assemblymen Keith Wright called Golia a "notorious Harlem slumlord" in a 2004 statement applauding his jailing.
"He just wants another check," said one neighbor who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
Stacy Golia's lawyer Kenneth McCallion did not return repeated calls for comment.
Matthew Stillman, 39, a creative consultant who has owned a property on West 123rd Street for 13 years, said he supports the lawsuit's claim.
"I think the suit does have merit. The owner of the building brought his structural engineer and showed us pictures of what was going on," said Stillman, who said he was present at the Aug. block association meeting where Peter Golia spoke. "This guy may be a slumlord but it doesn't mean he hasn't been wronged," said Stillman, whose website Who Hurts Harlem? frequently references Abyssinian Development Corporation.
"They've been just terrible, bowling over people, not listening, not showing up to meetings and reneging on agreements they made earlier," Stillman added.
Joshua Bauchner, a 39-year-old attorney who has lived on the block since 2007, said he wouldn't be surprised if Abyssinian ignored the landlord's concerns because they have ignored the neighborhood's concerns regarding things such as trash, lighting, security and the size of the building.
"If he reached out to Abyssinian Development Corporation and they rebuffed him, I wouldn't be surprised," said Bauchner, who is also co-chair of Community Board 10's land use committee.
Dupe Ajayi, a counsel for Abyssinian Development Corporation, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. In the past, the group has said they are trying to build decent affordable housing so that people of all income levels can benefit from Harlem's revival.
Stillman said the neighborhood is concerned that the new 8-story project will permanently change the character of the neighborhood.
"The people at Abyssinian have good hearts. They want to do a lot but you can't do a million things at once and do a million things well," said Stillman.
Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Peter Golia owns 237 West 123rd St. He sold it to his wife in 2005.