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City Orders Construction Halt After Workers Decapitate Buddha, Damage Homes

By Gustavo Solis | October 30, 2014 8:51am
 The Department of Buildings issued a stopr-work order at 329 Pleasant Ave. after inspectors found some of the neighboring buildings had been damaged.
329 Pleasant Ave.
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EAST HARLEM — Construction workers at a Pleasant Avenue building site were ordered by the city to cease digging after undermining the foundations of neighboring homes and decapitating a Buddha statue, officials and residents said.

The Department of Buildings issued a partial stop-work order at the 329 Pleasant Ave. HAP Investment Developers' eight-story, 200-unit construction site Wednesday morning because the crew failed to protect the adjacent properties, according to the department’s website.

Workers also caused property damage, neighbor said.

“They knocked the head off the Buddha,” Linda Rodriguez said of her backyard statue.

Rodriguez, who lives at 442 E. 118th St., said construction workers knocked down her backyard fence and that she has noticed cracks along the ground near the construction site.

"I really don't come out here anymore," she said. "We have kids and we don't want them out here."

The DOB initially issued a full stop-work order, halting work on the entire site, but the agency later changed it to a partial stop-work order, banning construction only on a portion of the site near East 118th Street, after a review, said DOB spokesman Alexander Schnell.

HAP, which has spent $100 million on six East Harlem properties, came under scrutiny before construction began when neighbors complained of the building's proposed modern design and the bubblegum color of its balconies.

HAP has since changed the color scheme by letting the community vote for new colors.

The development company did not comment on the stop-work order.

Once construction started, neighbors feared that the excavation work would damage their homes. The site is on an empty lot in the middle of a dozen buildings between East 117th and 118th streets.

In April, another HAP property — 2338 Second Ave. —was given a stop-work order for failing to protect a neighboring building. The neighboring building was left with large cracks running up and down the inside and outside walls.

That stop-work order was lifted Oct. 6, according to the DOB.

On Pleasant Avenue, residents have stopped using their outdoor spaces and fear that they are going to get stuck with the bill to fix their properties.

“The [DOB] inspector told me I shouldn’t be back here, the land could continue to destabilize,” said Laurena Torres who lives at 452 E. 118th St.

Torres' backyard is right next to an 11-foot hole construction workers dug. The crew built a wall out of wood and metal pipes, but it was not enough to hold the dirt under Torres' yard, which collapsed into the site, she said.

As a result, Torres has noticed large cracks on her back patio as well as cracks near the foundation line of her building. Repairing the damage will likely cost thousands of dollars, she said.

The partial stop-work order prohibits the construction crew to work behind her lot until it provides additional bracing, according to the DOB.

“In order to have the order removed, they will need to completely remedy the original condition for which the order was issued and have the department inspect again,” Schnell said.