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City Should Keep Closer Eye on Controversial Harlem Developer, Critics Say

By Gustavo Solis | August 9, 2015 11:04pm | Updated on August 11, 2015 7:55pm
 Residents of Pleasant Avenue say shoddy construction work by HAP Investment Developers has damaged their property. 
Damage Near 329 Pleasant Ave.
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EAST HARLEM — A state assemblyman is calling for greater city scrutiny of a controversial developer with three projects in the works in the area — after neighbors at two of the three sites have experienced similar frustrations with damage to their property.

Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez is calling on the Department of Buildings to look more closely at HAP Investment Developers, which has racked up stop work orders and violations at two of its three open sites in the neighborhood.

“We’ve seen structural damage to adjacent properties and we are certainly concerned,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t want to see this here as they continue to grow.”

HAP has earned a controversial track record in the neighborhood, after its sites at 2338 Second Ave. and 329 Pleasant Ave. triggered instability in neighboring buildings, officials found.

A building abutting HAP's site at 2338 Second Ave. started to shake and a crew had to install metal bracing to support the structure. Several neighbors of HAP's site at 329 Pleasant Ave. have complained about backyards and basements they say were damaged by shoddy construction work.

Last month, HAP broke ground on a 120,000-square-foot commercial and residential building on 2211 Third Ave. that will include a grocery store and underground parking. Critics say the city needs to look at HAP's projects more closely before problems develop at the latest site.

“We would like a higher level of scrutiny that we have not seen from the Department of Buildings yet,” Rodriguez said. “There have been numerous partial stop work orders but we haven’t seen much of a relief or rectification on this situation.”

Between 2013 and 2014, the DOB slapped 2338 Second Ave. with nine violations including failing to safeguard people or property affected by excavation, and a stop work order in April 2014 after a neighboring building started to vibrate, records show.

That order has since been rescinded but problems continue at 329 Pleasant Ave. They were issued two partial stop work orders in July after cement spilled into a neighboring yard, damaging a wall and patio floor.

Damage to neighboring buildings at Pleasant Avenue, which was first reported in the fall, has continued into the summer and residents affected by the construction are fed up.

“The work has been done, I think, with a disregard for our safety and for our well being,” said Maxine Lubow, who lives in a co-op directly south of 329 Pleasant Ave.

Water recently started to leak into her building’s basement. She fears that in the wintertime, when the water freezes, it will further damage the building, she said.

Ronald Hamlow, who lives in the building directly north 329 Pleasant Ave., has not been able to use his patio all summer because of damage caused by the construction next door.

His patio wall was slipping into the excavation hole so it had to be removed and replaced with a thin wooden board, he said.

Additionally, workers removed a slab of concrete from the ground and said they would repair it later. That was three weeks ago, Hamlow said.

“I live out here in the spring, summer, and fall,” he said. “This place is a sanctuary.”

HAP said they plan to meet with the concerned residents about the issues in Pleasant Avenue.

“HAP has engaged with neighbors and will set a meeting with them to discuss their concerns,” a spokesman said. “HAP is committed to being a positive member of the East Harlem community, and HAP is working with the DOB to remove the stop work orders and will resume construction once given approval to move forward by the DOB.”

Because of the construction, Hamlow is looking to move out of the apartment he has lived in for the last seven years, he said.

And he isn’t the only one leaving.

Laurena Torres, who owns a townhouse on 118th Street with a backyard facing 329 Pleasant Ave., said one of her tenant moved out this year and a second is moving out next month.

“My property has lost 25 percent of its value because of HAP,” Torres, who has 35 years of experience in Real Estate, said.

Cracks first appeared in her patio last October. Since then they have more than doubled in size. In July, when crews filled the excavated ditch with cement, it spilled over the wall and went into Torres’ property. There is a large gray blob of cement in her backyard.

For more than a year, Torres made it her mission to stop the project out of fear that it would damage her and her neighbors’ homes.

“What has happened to some of the properties here is well beyond repair,” she said. “We are talking about major, major work. I’ve been saying it for more than a year. I said this to the Building Department when I first got wind of their design.”