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Borough Hall Garage Shuttered After Months of Safety Warnings

By  Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska and Katie Honan | September 25, 2014 7:47am 

 The parking garage was shut down a week before it was scheduled to close.
Dilapidated Municipal Garage in Kew Gardens Closes
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QUEENS — The city abruptly shuttered a decrepit 500-spot municipal garage in Kew Gardens on Wednesday for "safety reasons," after more than a year of warnings about the decaying structure.

The four-level garage, which was built in 1963 and serves Queens Borough Hall and the nearby Queens Criminal Court building, was originally scheduled to be closed on Oct. 1 in order to be demolished and turned into a surface parking lot with about 300 spots, officials said.

But the conditions were so treacherous that the Department of Transportation decided to close the garage a week ahead of time, citing “safety reasons,” the agency said on Tuesday afternoon.

However, the DOT had been warned for at least a year about the structure's condition.

Walker Restoration Consultants, which was hired by the Department of Design and Construction on behalf of the DOT, said in 2012 that the structure was aging and approaching a point where it would cost less to demolish it than to renovate, according to city documents obtained by DNAinfo. 

In a February letter, the company alerted the DOT that it had noticed a number of urgent problems at the site, including corrosion within stair towers, a non-functioning elevator and cracks in the roof.

And in a letter dated June 23, the DDC informed the DOT that “allowing public use of many areas of the garage exposes the City to claims of damages to property and/or injury.”

The site has also received 20 violations from the Department of Buildings dating back to 1989, many of them related to elevator issues, according to the DOB website.

One of the violations, from Sept. 7, 2013, says the garage has cracks on all three levels and that the concrete floor beams and sub-beams were also cracked, according to DOB records.

The violation was still open as of Wednesday.

After experts estimated that the full repair of the garage would cost about $44 million and would only guarantee safety for another 15 years, the city decided to close the garage.

The DOT did not immediately respond to emails seeking more details.

“It’s bad enough getting a parking spot in Kew Gardens right now,” said Murray Berger of the Kew Gardens Civic Association. “Now, it will be even worse. People will be going crazy."

Residents and elected officials said that the agency did not provide any other parking for drivers using the lot, mostly judges, court clerks, borough hall employees, jurors and lawyers.

Berger said that he worried that drivers not able to find a spot “will cruise the area and block driveways.”

“It will be anarchy for awhile,” he said.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said she understood the safety concerns, but planning for alternatives for motorists could have been better. There is no timetable for when the new lot will be built.

“What I don't understand is why city agencies, having come to this conclusion months ago, did not notify the community and elected officials so that we might better plan for the closing of this parking field,” she said.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown also sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, asking for help.

“Each weekday, hundreds of vehicles with no parking alternative will spend hours searching for nonexistent parking spaces, clogging local streets and inconveniencing our local residents,” Katz and Brown wrote in the Sept. 18 note.

They also noted that “to take such a drastic action without any sort of plan to mitigate the consequences to the community is not responsible and not fair to the people of this borough.”