EAST HARLEM — A multi-national real estate developer that has invested $100 million into six neighborhood projects has unresolved safety issues that worry residents who say the company is not doing enough to assuage their fears.
HAP Investment Developers, which has offices in Manhattan and Israel, has broken ground on two of the six area development sites. The buildings will be between six and 11 stories high and have between 17 and 30 apartments, according to their website.
The six HAP sites are 2338 Second Ave., 329 Pleasant Ave., 1655 Madison Ave., 419 East 117th St., 247 East 117th St., and 2211 Third Ave. The largest project at 2211 Third Ave. will have 107 units, a supermarket and a 5,000-square-foot parking garage. The developer touts the East River Plaza and the Second Avenue subway line as draws to “up and coming East Harlem.”
But neighbors say the developers have a poor safety record and complain that the builders have ignored questions about the projects' designs.
In April, the Department of Buildings placed a stop-work order on HAP's 2338 Second Ave. site when the walls of a neighboring building became unstable and started to shake during the excavation process.
HAP was also fined $1,200 for not notifying the DOB before starting to excavate. Five months later, the fines have not yet been paid and the stop work order has not been lifted, according to DOB spokesman Alexander Schnell said.
HAP still has to produce an engineering report indicating the site is in code compliance and then schedule an inspection with DOB, said Schnell, adding that HAP’s excavation plans have been approved by the Department of Buildings.
In addition, cracks still remain up and down the building's wall.
“It was pretty obvious something was wrong,” said Jay Vallo, who lives next to the Second Avenue project. “When they were pounding the ground you could feel the whole building shaking. There are still cracks all over the wall.”
Soon after the order was issued, HAP took multiple measures to ensure safety such as bracing the building’s walls with metal beams and installing a monitor and crack checks to make sure the building remains safe and secure, HAP CEO Eran Polack said.
"All safety measures and precautions are being taken to insure safe construction of the development and the adjacent buildings," said Polack, adding that he has a lot of experience with collapsed buildings.
“I volunteered for 10, maybe even 15 years for a rescue and recovery team that helps recover from earthquakes and bomb attacks,” Polack explained. ”I’ve been to Kenya to Nairobi when [Osama] Bin Laden bombed the U.S. Embassy over there to rescue people over there from the rubble. So I have a sense of being careful and I’ve seen those things happen in my life so I think the company is taking a lot of measures in safety.”
Polack explained that the company's goal is to develop buildings in which longtime East Harlem residents can coexist with transplants and new businesses. The apartments will be a mix of condos and rentals with 20 percent of them being affordable housing units, he said.
However, because of the stop-work order on Second ave, Maxine Lubow, president of a city-funded co-op next to HAP's Pleasant Avenue site, and other property owners asked to be included in HAP’s insurance policy during and after the construction. HAP refused, she said.
“They have been very difficult to deal with,” said Lubow. “We’re not objecting to the building. All we’re saying is, ‘If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen. Let’s just make sure it happens in a safe way.’”
Lubow fears that HAP’s plan to excavate the empty lot will damage her building and put the tenants in danger. She asked the construction contractors to share their plans so that an independent engineer can look through them but her request has been ignored, she said.
"From what we understand, they are going to excavate below our foundation line," she said. "That could be very dangerous for our building.”
HAP has filed applications to the DOB to build in three more lots but has not started any construction there, according to city documents. Another development, 419 East 117th St., was an already-existing building that they gut-renovated and added two floors to, according to their website.
The 419 East 117th St. building is nearly complete and the apartments will be listed after HAP gets the certificate of occupancy, Polack said.
Residents say they're worried.
“Second Avenue demonstrated their inability to do the job,” said Laurena Torres, who lives next to the Pleasant Avenue site. “They are not providing any insurance to us. They are doing nothing to guarantee anyone any safety here or any coverage or protection.”
State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez said he's fielded many phone calls from concerned neighbors.
"They have approached our neighborhood as if it was merely an investment in their portfolio," he said. "In light of their stop-work order, I urge the Department of Buildings to review any and all permits granted thus far."