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'Cracked' West End Ave. Facade Could Become Site of Next Tragedy, Foes Say

By Emily Frost | September 29, 2016 8:29am
 Residents believe their building could be the site of another tragedy, with bricks falling on someone. 
711 West End Ave. Facade Is Dangerous, Residents Claim
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A rent-stabilized building set to have a luxury tower rise above it was cited for having "a cracked and damaged" façade, and residents claim the owner has put them and passers-by in danger by delaying repairs — despite learning about the problems months ago. 

A team of developers received city approval to build a 10-story luxury tower on top of steel beams affixed above the existing six-story apartment building at 711 West End Ave., a project that residents and a local elementary school have fought against.

Not only will the construction itself be dangerous, but the building currently has conditions that could lead to a tragedy like the one that killed a 2-year-old girl on the same avenue in May 2015, locals said.

In that incident, bricks fell from the façade of the Esplanade at 305 West End Ave., fatally striking the child in her stroller. The building's owners are now facing criminal charges for failing to maintain the facade. 

In April, the city's Department of Buildings filed a violation against the owners of 711 West End Ave. for failure to maintain its façade, city records show. The violation is still open, though a $500 fine has been levied and paid, records show. 

"At all exposures at upper floors 4-6 cracked & damaged mortar joints were observed, especially under corner type windows," the violation noted. 

The issue was not extensive enough to trigger the immediate installation of a sidewalk shed, according to DOB press secretary Joe Soldevere, who called the cracking "minor."

Following the violation, "management immediately arranged for a certified engineer to conduct an inspection of the entire façade, which took place in May," said Peter Lehr, director of property management for Kaled, in a statement. 

Permits from the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the DOB were secured in September for the façade work, and a sidewalk shed will go up before work is conducted, he said. 

But residents argue that the DOB inspection leading to the violation wasn't thorough enough. 

"What the DOB’s inspector reported was minor, but, unaccountably, his report focused only on a minimal fraction of what is wrong with the building, inside and out," said Stephanie Cooper, a building resident and member of the Tenant Action Group (TAG), which was formed to fight the development project.

TAG hired its own engineer to review the façade and found more extensive problems than the city did, including a July 31, 2016 report showing "mortar deterioration... severe enough so that bricks may fall," she said. 

"It is a dereliction of [DOB's] duty that they would ignore the reports of our highly respected, structural engineer, who showed the clear danger posed by the deterioration, not only to the inhabitants of 711 but also to all passers-by," she said.  

With no sidewalk shed, residents have no choice but to face the risk of falling bricks, said Cooper, who also warned the PTA at nearby school P.S. 75.

"The safety and learning environment of the children are of utmost importance to both administration and parents," said P.S. 75 PTA Co-President Lisa Walters-Valera in an email. 

"We are very concerned about the safety issues posed in the engineering report as the south side of 95th Street is a holding spot for routine fire drills. So we want answers fast regarding the safety of the façade."

TAG's engineer also reported that the building could not withstand construction and would partially collapse under the strain. 

Soldevere said that despite the engineer's report, the building is safe and actually quite similar to others throughout the city.

TAG is leaving open the option to take legal action regarding the façade, Cooper noted.

"There’s a kind of unreality to it," she said. "When you stand on the sidewalk and you look up you can see they show all of the deterioration, but until the bricks actually fall I think people just don’t think about it."