Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer attacked the New York City Department of Buildings tonight at a meeting of concerned Upper West Side residents at a local church, saying that the department had to change the way it reviews permits and carries out inspections.
Stringer and concerned residents of Park West Village and the surrounding apartment complexes turned out to discuss a recent lawsuit filed by one Village resident against New York City Department of Buildings. The suit claims that the department improperly approved building permits for new developments along Columbus Avenue.
Stringer called a department inquiry report into the collapse of a retaining wall at 808 Columbus Avenue in July 2007, a “57-page whitewash,” and criticized the manner in which the report was publicized. The report, dated February 16, 2008, was not made available to elected officials until mid-March, and then, it was only because officials asked for it, he said.
“We released it,” he said, precipitating applause. “This is a disgrace.”
Stringer said that the only way for the city to respond to the need for review of protocol is a sense of urgency, which, so far, the situation at the Village lacks.
However, hours earlier, Stringer visited a construction site on the East Side of Manhattan where a worker was killed when he fell nine stories, according to the Associated Press, after his safety line snapped.
Stringer said that his office was investigating that incident, telling community members at the Second Presbyterian Church this evening that though the department was unable to name any hazards or violations, his office could name 36 open violations.
Paul Benten, who filed the lawsuit last Friday, said he hopes the suit will result in greater public participation in future development decisions.
The suit, Benten V. DOB et al., names 11 other entities as defendants and 20 “John Doe” defendants,to be named at a later date as seen fit.
“All the people who live and work in a place should have an influence on what happens,” he said. “Full participation has waited far too long, and it begins right now,” he continued, slamming his finger down on the altar.
Benten said that he hopes the New York Supreme Court, the court with whom the suit has been filed, will compel the agency to conduct a broad environmental impact review of this project and projects in the future.
But some residents doubted that any change would come from the involvement of elected officials in the suit.
Maria Watson said that she and others had tried to bring their concerns over the development of the Village’s open space–a parking lot and three tennis courts–to the attention of elected officials two years ago, before construction began, but was met with indifference. Now, she distrusted their pledges of support.
“Those who would have had significant sway missed their opportunity. Now we have to help ourselves,” she said.
Brad Brewer said that change would only come with the support of a court ruling, and that legal battles, such as this one, required significant funds.
“If you don’t produce money, you’re not going to win,” he said.
But Cheryl Strong urged the audience to take action and put pressure on officials and the media to call for a change.
“I do believe that we do have power. We have the power of the vote. We have the power of the pen,” she said.
Work along the west side of Columbus Avenue in April 2007 (top) and April 2008 (bottom). Pictures taken from 784 Columbus Ave.