Posts tagged with "DOB":

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DDG Partners’ development on the Upper East Side continues to raise eyebrows

In late December, Christmas came early for DDG Partners as work started again on its controversial development on Third Avenue and East 88th Street. The project, though, has become embroiled in a zoning furor with neighbors, experts, politicians, and the Department of Buildings (DOB). And the battle, despite workers being back on-site, doesn’t appear to be over.

Local resident group, Carnegie Hill Neighbors (CHN), has been feverishly fighting the development since it was given the go-ahead in summer 2015. In March 2016, CHN enlisted the services of planning expert George M. Janes to help the cause.

After looking at the zoning drawings, Janes said he noticed a “tactic to subdivide the lot” so that DDG’s building would no longer face on to East 88th Street. By avoiding this, the firm escaped further zoning laws triggered by coming up to the street’s edge.

Two months later, councilmember Ben Kallos and Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer penned a letter to the city flagging the issue and calling for construction to be halted. They succeeded and work stopped in May.

The case is complex. Janes’s argument in the zoning challenge outlined the following: If the building did fall flush with East 88th Street, then this portion of the structure—known as the “sliver”—would be limited to 60 feet tall. Along the edges of this sliver running perpendicular to the street, however, no “legal windows” for habitable apartments would be allowed, thus wasting floor space.

“I understand why they did what they did from a design standpoint,” said Janes. “That doesn’t make a difference in terms of the law though.” Janes, in fact, is sure DDG’s updated plans still break the law. “It’s just a matter of whether the DOB will enforce the law,” he said.

In a statement, the DOB said: “The side lot on 88th Street increased in size from 4 by 22 feet into a 10- by 22-foot developable parcel. DOB’s action reduced the size of the new building by 1,200 square feet. The developer will be required to build two means of egress on Third Avenue.”

Interestingly, even though the building’s base does not face East 88th Street, the developer’s listing of condos names the address as “180 East 88th Street” as seen on 180e88.com. The DOB meanwhile, refers to the development as “1558 Third Avenue.”

Janes has submitted another zoning challenge on behalf of CHN, including a letter signed by Kallos, Brewer, New York State Senator Liz Krueger, and Lo van der Valk, president of CHN. The modifications are “really very small,” said Janes. “The lot is still in common ownership, there are still the same issues.”

In the letter obtained by The Architect's Newspaper, the signatories collectively state their objection “to the developer’s absurd efforts to gerrymander its tax and zoning lots to avoid zoning requirements for buildings facing East 88th Street, which the DOB has apparently accepted in approving the project.”

The letter also reads:

The policy implications of this approach for the City are huge. Developers seeking to avoid zoning restrictions that are triggered by street frontage can merely carve off a tiny tax lot, obtain an access easement, and continue to reap all the benefits that the tax lot might offer, other than the tiny amount of floor area these micro-lots produce—a trade-off many developers will embrace given the premium price for height and high-floor apartments.

This was submitted on December 8 and Janes was initially optimistic given the lack of immediate reply that usually comes when a challenge is declined.

Additionally, van der Valk spoke of his desire to curb building heights on the Upper East Side in the wake of the project. “The long-run solution is to impose some building height restrictions in the area,” he said. “This building has some very tall floors, some of the tallest we’ve seen.”

DDG Partners’ tower will rise to 467 feet (excluding mechanicals), using only 32 floors. According to The Real Deal, DDG purchased the site in 2013 for about $70 million and has an estimated sellout of $308 million for the 48 condos on offer.

In a statement, DDG spokesperson Michele de Milly said: “We are pleased that the Stop Work Order was lifted following the Department of Building’s comprehensive audit. Most importantly, hundreds of construction workers can now get back to work on the site in order to meet our completion goal for late 2018.”

The developer also contributed nearly $20,000 to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit that supports the mayor’s social initiatives. DDG declined to comment on the donations when asked in May 2016. It said, however, that it “has and will continue to support public officials with a positive economic development platform that allows New York City to remain a beacon and attraction for the rest of the world.” 

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NYC landlord whose building killed toddler slapped with criminal charges

Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Rick Chandler announced today that the owner of an Upper West Side building where a child was struck and killed by falling debris was charged with violating the city's administrative code. Esplanade Venture Partnership and Alexander Scharf, the managing agent and principal majority shareholder of 305 West End Avenue, were charged with violations of the Administrative Code in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday in relation to a May 2015 incident in which a child was killed by a falling piece of the building's facade. Scharf and his partnership were charged with violating articles of the code that require "all parts of a building, including the exterior walls and appurtenances, to be maintained in a safe condition," a DOB press release explained. The defendant was notified of deficits in the facade that threatened the public's safety yet failed to make needed repairs. Scharf allegedly made minimal repairs to the building's facade but allowed gross deterioration to continue unabated. For his deliberate abdication of appropriate facade maintenance, Scharf faces up to a year in jail and/or a maximum penalty of $25,000. “When you own a building, you have a responsibility to maintain it—you don’t just get to cash the rent checks and call it a day,” said Chandler in a statement. “I hope these criminal charges will send a message that building owners can’t turn a blind eye to maintenance. They have a legal responsibility to their tenants, and to the public, to keep their properties safe.” This particular facade debacle prompted the department, in collaboration with Department of Investigation (DOI), to boost facade rules compliance. The DOB now tracks all Local Law 11 inspection reports, imposes a new timeline on owners who fail to comply, and implements new inspection requirements if owners fail to maintain and inspect their facades appropriately.
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NYC Department of Buildings launches new $29.6 million online filing platform

The department hopes DOB NOW will streamline the construction process by making it possible to file building and construction permits online; track applications; conduct virtual meetings with DOB staff; and print permits at home. Phase one, DOB NOW: Build, will allow applications for sprinkler and plumbing systems. Over the next two years, the DOB will add applications for various jobs until it will be possible to apply for a whole new building from the comfort of your home.

The move comes in response to recent incidents that revealed numerous embarrassing lapses in safety and oversight in the field and within the department.

The mayor has allocated $120 million to hire hundreds of new staff and for modernizing programs like DOB NOW. In a press release, department commissioner Rick D. Chandler expanded on the changes: “Modernizing DOB will not only make dealing with the city’s bureaucracy less aggravating—it offers a unique opportunity to boost our economy and create the housing, jobs, and infrastructure upon which 8.5 million New Yorkers depend. With DOB NOW, New Yorkers will be able to track every step of our work, often in real time. If you hire an architect, engineer, plumber, or other professional, you’ll be able to track their work, too. We want New Yorkers to have more access to our records so they can help hold us and everyone in the construction industry accountable."
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New York City’s ubiquitous sidewalk sheds re-imagined by PBDW, Gensler, Gannett Fleming, and Francis Cauffman

What's uglier than a construction shed? The sheds cover nearly 200 miles (!) of sidewalks across the five boroughs, enveloping pedestrians in drab tunnels of darkness. Past competitions in New York City have attempted to resolve the ubiquitous blight that sheds present, but the winning designs were never implemented. Now, the New York Building Congress has announced four winners of its Construction Shed Design Competition, an invitation to create a more aesthetically pleasing shed. A jury of 14 architects, engineers, and city officials selected Gensler's G-Shed, Gannett Fleming's ScaffoldWing, Francis Cauffman's Side+Ways+Shed, and PBDW Architects and Anastos Engineering Associates' UrbanArbor as the competition's winners, from a pool of 33 entries. “The New York Building Congress issued a challenge to the industry to use its ingenuity and expertise to offer fresh ideas for solving a vexing quality of life issue for New Yorkers, who experience the construction industry most often when navigating the obstructions and cramped spaces of construction sheds,” proclaimed Thomas Scarangello, Chairman of the Building Congress and its innovation task force, in a statement. “The industry’s collective response has been truly inspirational.” The four designs had to meet stringent New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) requirements that regulate sheds for commercial construction of residential and commercial properties, as well as abide by masonry repair regulations set out in Local Law 11. The designs reduce or eliminate the shed supports that obstruct pedestrian flow. They open at the curb line, allowing light to penetrate the sidewalk up to the building wall. To facilitate widespread use, the designs are constructed from ready-made materials, are cost-effective and off-the-shelf, as well. In a vote of confidence, the UrbanArbor design will be used at upcoming New York City Department of Design and Construction projects. Take a look at the winning projects: Gensler's G-Shed's modular poles fit can be braced in different configurations, creating an arcade that enhances the street presence of ground-floor retail. ScaffoldWing's roof decking is made from translucent polycarbonate panels to allow light in from above. Side+Ways+Shed photovoltaic-powered LEDs mitigate the low lighting and "tunnel effect" that plagues the typical construction shed. The supporting columns are wrapped in customizable, patterned fabric to enliven the streetscape. UrbanArbor's Y-shaped, diagonally-braced posts refrence trees, while reducing the density of supporting posts by 50 percent. Translucent polycarbonate parapets afford maximum daylight at sidewalk level while LED lights and solar panels save energy.
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Landmarks Greenlights Proposal for DUMBO’s First Townhouses

Rendering of townhouses (Courtesy of Alloy Development) After implementing a few small changes to the original design, Alloy Development has won the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build the first set of townhouses in DUMBO. The developer modified the height of the five-story residential complex by eliminating a screen on the roof level that was designed to keep out noise and maintain a certain acoustic level in the penthouse units. Now the 3,000-square-foot project needs the approval of Department of Buildings, but AJ Pires of Alloy anticipates that they will be able to break ground by this summer. (Rendering: Courtesy Alloy Development)
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Head Crane Inspector Headed to Prison

James Delayo, once the head of the Department of Building's crane inspectors until he was arrested two years ago for accepting bribes on the job, was sentenced to two to six years in prison today for his $10,000 take. According to the Times, Delayo apologized to the city, as well as his fellow crane inspectors, who "don’t deserve the bad publicity I brought them." The judge called the crime "an extraordinary betrayal of public trust," especially in light of the spate of crane accidents, some lethal, that preceded the city investigation that led to Delayo's arrest. Though as Curbed points out, Delayo was not actually the biggest crook at the department.
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Soho Salvage

Another piece of New York City's historic fabric is disappearing. But only for a short time! We hope... Curbed swung by 74 Grand Street today and discovered that deconstruction of the five story cast-iron building was just getting under way. The building has been leaning for years after being undermined by construction a neighboring lot. Because it had gotten so bad recently—some 30 inches out of alignment in spots—the Department of Buildings declared the building would come down before it brought the entire blog along with it. Afraid a unique piece of the city would be lost, the LPC demanded the facade be replaced whenever a new building gets built on the site, and it would be locked up in a city warehouse until then. The LPC signed on reluctantly, as the oldest cast-iron facade in the city was once stolen from such a warehouse and sold for scrap. We've got our fingers crossed this time around.
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Concrete Verdict Set in Stone

The citywide concrete crackdown continued yesterday as jurors delivered a guilty verdict against Testwell Laboratories and its owner, V. Reddy Kancharla, who were accused of falsifying concrete test reports for a range of high-profile projects including Yankee Stadium and the Freedom Tower. The question of whether Kancharla and his company committed the more serious charge of enterprise corruption, which carries a possible prison sentence of 25 years, is still being examined by the jury, according to the Times. Testwell's defense argued that the inaccuracies found in city-required concrete mix-design reports were nothing more than bookkeeping errors on their part. So far, none of the buildings that received fraudulent reports have been found to have structural concrete issues, but cosmetic cracks in pedestrian ramps at the new Yankee Stadium did require repair, and a lot of finger-pointing. In addition to the enterprise corruption charge, jurors will consider whether Testwell ran a scheme to defraud its customers when it falsified paperwork. To be sure that fraud of this nature is less likely in the future, the DOB established its own Concrete Unit last fall. In addition to conducting surprise visits to construction sites throughout the city, the unit operates an independent testing laboratory that completes its own reports and audits test results of private testing facilities. UPDATE: On February 24, Kancharla, Testwell vice president Vincent Barone, and the company itself were convicted of enterprise corruption. The Times reported that two days after last week's guilty verdict, Kancharla was briefly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. The defendants' sentencing hearing is planned for April 7.
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Stalling Out

Last week, the Times reported on efforts by the city to address the wave of stalled projects plaguing the city. It was a surprising story, but not because of the news of the program--mind you, we were well ahead of the Gray Lady on that. No, what took us aback was the huge jump in the number of stalled buildings the Department of Buildings had recorded between the time our story ran on June 11 and theirs on June 19, with the total number of stalled buildings more than doubling from 138 to 362. We immediately called the DOB to find out more but, well, this being summer, we just heard back today. Turns out the five-man team that makes up the stalled building task force has been hard at work, with the current count for stalled buildings standing at 395. We learned this from the new weekly updates the department is now posting on its website--complete with such useful information as borough, address, and bin number--that DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani helpfully pointed us to this afternoon. So how fast does the task force work? How many buildings can they process in a given week or day? Sclafani couldn't say, except to note that the program had its soft-launch in February, when five existing inspectors were reassigned, with their colleagues helping to call in prospective buildings and answering public complaints. There has been no additional money allocated for the task force at this time, either. Judging by the data on the DOB website, the task force really got to work at the end of March, when a few buildings were filed on the 31st, followed by dozens on April 2nd in Brooklyn and Manhattan. (Those could also simply be the days preceding fieldwork was filed in the computer, as there were similar explosions in the database in early and mid-June in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively--ground zero for most of the stalled, and foreclosed, projects in the city--and another burst of activity in Queens on July 14. There were also smaller numbers of filings scattered throughout the past four months.) Whether this is just the beginning or the end of the task force's work also remains to be seen, or, as we put it to Scalfani, Are we looking at 400 to 500 projects or 4,000 to 5,000? "In terms of identifying where the trend is, I couldn't say," he replied. "Obviously the numbers have gone up, but it's a little too early to say." Furthermore, they're in flux. Prior to this week's database entry, dated July 26, there's one before it, from July 21. In it, 398 buildings were listed as stalled, meaning three came off the list between last week and this week. Whether that's a trend or a fluke remains to be seen, but be sure to check back next week, when we'll take a look and see where this is headed.
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Crumbling Concrete

Yesterday, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served an indictment against a dozen employees of a concrete inspection company, which the DA cited for improperly inspecting at least 102 buildings in the city in recent years. According to the Times' account, Testwell, of Ossinning, New York, was "the city's leading concrete-testing firm." AN picked up a copy of the indictment today, and how right the paper of record is. What is striking is the number and range of projects Testwell touched--or didn't, as the case may be. The Times notes three--the Freedom Tower, new Yankees Stadium, and the Gensler-designed Terminal 5 for Jet Blue--and adds that city officials believe all projects to be safe, though the quality of the concrete may be inferior and thus have a shorter lifespan. But the other 99 projects are not just faceless outer borough in-fill. 7 World Trade Center is there, as are a number of high profile projects, including Norman Foster's Hearst Building, Frank Gehry's Beekman Place tower, Polshek's Brooklyn Museum Expansion, FXFowle's One Bryant Park and 11 Times Square, KPF's Goldman Sachs HQ in Batter Park City, and the new Greek and Roman Gallery's at the Met by Beyer Blinder Belle. (The indictment [we've linked a PDF of the list below] lists the gallery as MoMA, but that can't be right. Not surprisingly, roughly half the projects are nondescript luxury condo projects--10 Barclay, 150 Lafeyette, 801 Amsterdam, Latitude Riverdale--not unlike the majority of construction work in the city during the recent boom. A number of government projects, big and small, local and federal, are listed, including Brooklyn Borough Hall, I.S. 303, Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, as well as a number of collegiate buildings. Perhaps most unsettling, safe or otherwise, are the infrastructure projects the company worked on, such as the Second Avenue subway, New Rochelle MetroNorth station, and, scariest of all, the deck replacement of the Triborough Bridge. There are a few oddballs, too:the USS Intrepid's refurbished Pier 86, the Pier 90 cruise terminal, the massive Xanadu commercial complex at the Meadowlands. The Testwell 102