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Partially Collapsed TriBeCa Landmark Has History of Violations, Complaints

By Irene Plagianos | January 18, 2013 2:40pm

TRIBECA — The partial collapse of a wall in a nearly two-century-old TriBeCa building Tuesday that's been hit with a host of violations over its dilapidated condition didn’t injure anyone — but it also didn't surprise anyone, neighbors said.

The crumbling landmark, which sits on the corner of Canal and Greenwich streets, has accrued more than 20 complaints and 30 violations over the last two decades, Department of Buildings records show — as well as a laundry list of complaints from neighbors.

“We’re just watching a piece of history fall apart,” said Robert Verier, who has lived next to the three-story for the last five years. “It’s been vacant, with boarded-up windows, in a state of decay really for years."

In 2010, the Landmarks Preservation Commission found that the building's facade was so badly deteriorated that it was in danger of collapsing — and threated to sue owner Ponte Equities, which owns about 30 TriBeCa properties.

Ponte agreed to make changes and the LPC backed off its suit, but construction never began on the building.

Then, in March of 2012, the landlord was written up for failing to maintain the building's "defective brickwork," according to the DOB website. The landlord received additional violations in July and October of 2012 after parts of the building fell off and landed on the sidewalk, according to DOB records.

The DOB did mot immediately respond to requests for comment.

LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said the agency once again warned Ponte in November that it would take legal action if the property — one of nine downtown buildings"red-tagged" by the DOB as unsafe after Hurricane Sandy —continued to deteriorate.

Ponte promptly responded with new plans for repairs, but this time the DOB rejected its plans, and Ponte has yet to submit modifications.

The LPC work permit, however, does give Ponte until 2016 to complete repairs on the building.

De Bourbon said as of Thursday she was not aware of any new action the LPC may take in light of the falling façade.

The brick building, landmarked in 1998, was constructed in 1819 for John Y. Smith, who ran a starch and hair powder business out of the ground floor and lived with his family above.

According to the LPC’s website, it’s part of a “rare surviving cluster of early 19th century structures in lower Manhattan” that includes neighboring 504, 506 and 508 Canal Sts. All are landmarked, owned by Ponte, and have been hit with multiple violations, records show. 

But Verier, who has long championed saving the landmark, said he was heartened Thursday to see at least one addition to the DOB’s records for the 502 building, which neighbors said is by far in the worst condition. Ponte applied and was approved for the installation of a "construction fence" for the address on Thursday.

"Maybe this means they are actually going to start working on the building," Verier said. "I’m still hopeful something can be done.”

Ponte did not immediately return requests for comment.