EAST HARLEM — Neighbors are calling it the curse of the headless Buddha.
A Pleasant Avenue apartment building project hated by neighbors has suffered a series of set backs and controversies since construction work knocked over a garden statue of the religious leader.
“When they knocked the head off my Buddha I put a curse on them,” resident Eugene Rodriguez said. “Apparently the curse is working.”
A botched concrete pour earlier this month at 329 Pleasant Ave., a HAP Investment Developers project, prompted the Department of Buildings to temporarily shut down the project. Workers spent about two weeks jack hammering the basement and first floor concrete in order to lift the stop work order.
The development has been controversial from the beginning, with the oddly colored balconies which were later changed, to multiple stop work orders, damage in neighboring back yards, and a severed Buddha statue in Rodriguez’s yard.
HAP is trying to improve community relations at Pleasant Avenue. They’ve repaired some of the damage they’ve caused, hired a much friendlier project manager, and have been more available to residents.
Their CEO Eran Polack has visited the site and spoken with neighbors about their concerns, HAP spokesman Alan Segan said.
The work they’ve done in other people’s yards includes pouring new concrete patios, replacing drains, replacing garden planters and water-proofing the foundation wall to prevent basement leaks, Segan added.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the new project manager, residents said.
“She was agreeable, much more agreeable than anyone we’ve worked with so far,” said Maxine Lubow.
The manager’s predecessor had a confrontational attitude with some of the residents. The new one has a construction background and responds to neighbors' concerns, she added.
Lubow said HAP repaired a leak in her basement caused by their excavation work. However, when the engineer of Lubow's co-op asked to see the work on HAP's side and inspect their plans the request she said she refused.
Other neighbors agreed that the new manager is an improvement but they remained skeptical that it would translate to legitimate change in the project.
“At least there is some civility established amongst the residents and HAP representatives but there is no change really,” said Laurena Torres.
Lubow points to their recent construction mishap — which she said made the site look like a “war zone,” — as a sign that they are still the same controversial developers.
“I have never in my lifetime come across a situation like this,” she said of the concrete work. “It looked like the bombing of Berlin."
For weeks dumpsters outside the site carted chucks of concrete away. The heavy machines were loud and so powerful that you could feel the trembling in neighboring buildings, she said.
Torres did not allow HAP in to repair her yard, where part of her patio appears to be caving into the excavation site.
The developer offered to replace some of the broken bricks. However, the damage they caused goes beyond broken bricks to a possibly compromised foundation and soil shift under her yard, she said.
“It’s a cosmetic olive branch,” said Torres. “The message is sugarcoated but it’s still the same message.”
Rodriguez has stopped talking to them since the Buddha — which he got from a friend over a decade ago because his friend's wife did not like the statue — lost his head about a year ago.
He said the curse prevents HAP from making any money on the building.
His only regret is that it is too powerful.
"It's also damaging my own yard," he said.