CHELSEA — Last June, Tre Dici manager Michael Colucci was forced to tell the 30 employees working at his popular Italian restaurant they would be losing their jobs after the city informed him the eatery's building had to be vacated.
Ongoing construction at 132 W. 26th St., two doors down from Colucci’s restaurant at 128 W. 26th St., had left his building with structural issues and caused “significant movement and settlement” of the property, rendering it an “imminent danger” to the building’s occupants, the Department of Buildings said.
“It was pretty devastating, actually,” said Colucci, 35, who opened Tre Dici in 2004 and believes the restaurant played a key role in rejuvenating a block once considered less than desirable. “The most upsetting thing is that it was by no fault of our own.”
A day after Colucci received the vacate notice, the city issued a partial stop-work order at the construction site, where 132W26 Owner LLC is in the process of constructing a 12-story apartment building with commercial space on the first two floors, records show.
Work at the site was being carried out “contrary to the approved plans,” a DOB spokesman said, without providing specifics.
More than six months later, neighbors living near the stagnant construction site — which DOB records show was originally slated for completion in the fall of 2014 — say they are dealing with repercussions including trash build-up, unsafe walkways and the loss of business to nearby storefronts.
Despite multiple complaints from neighbors and a lawsuit from the owner of Tre Dici's building against the project's developer, there's still no time frame for when construction will begin again.
Block resident Alma Frank referred to it as an “abandoned work site,” and she and her neighbors want to regain use of the sidewalk in front of the building, which is filled with construction barriers.
“Trash just accumulates, and no one’s picking it up,” Frank said.
In addition to the garbage drawing rats and other vermin to the site, water, snow and ice accumulate between the barriers where a makeshift pedestrian path has sprung up, making it a dangerous passageway that people often avoid by walking on the street, she explained.
Another neighbor, Beverly Silberstang, described the pavement as “extremely uneven” and also said the conditions force pedestrians into the street.
A manager at Fitness Showrooms NYC down the block called the site an “eyesore.”
“There’s no way it helps the area,” said the manager, David, who declined to give his last name. “If it’s going to be stopped for this long, they should clean it up.”
Business at the bicycle shop in the storefront next to the site has suffered as it struggles to draw customers past the barriers to its left and scaffolding around the vacated building to its right, the store's owner said.
“It’s a nightmare for me,” said Chelsea Bicycles owner Rafael Vazquez, who described garbage piling up near the construction site and obstructing his storefront.
He estimated his shop has seen a 30 to 40 percent drop in its business since construction began more than two years ago.
“I am in really bad condition from this neighbor — they don’t do what they need to do,” Vazquez added.
Steven Ancona, who manages the construction project on behalf of 132W26 Owner LLC, refuted the claims about garbage piling up at the site, saying ownership has the site “cleaned daily, exterminated periodically.”
On a recent visit to the site, a man was seen picking up trash between the barriers.
“...[W]e anticipate work to resume shortly,” Ancona said, without providing an exact date.
Ancona declined to comment on a lawsuit filed in the fall against 132W26 Owner LLC and several others involved with the project by the owners of the building Tre Dici occupied.
The suit claims the developer performed “improper” construction work at the site, including failing to consider “existing soil conditions” and hiring “incompetent workers." This led an already-tilting 130 W. 26th St. — the building sandwiched between the construction site and Tre Dici’s building — to lean into 128 W. 26th St. even more, the suit said.
The owners of Tre Dici's building discovered the damage in March 2014, but construction continued to harm the structure until it stopped this year, the suit added.
The owners of 128 W. 26th St. could not be reached for comment.
Several neighbors have reached out to Community Board 4 about problems arising from the barriers in front of the site, and CB4's Quality of Life committee reached out to the owner and is working to resolve the problem, committee co-chairwoman Tina DiFeliciantonio said.
But the fates of both 132 and 128 W. 26th streets remain to be seen.
Colucci said he is in the process of opening a new Tre Dici outpost in Westchester, but hopes to return to 26th Street when his building’s issues are resolved.
“When they rebuild, we’ll be back in the same location,” he said. “We’re not going to let this devastating setback keep us from being part of the community.”