By Joseph Epstein
Critics of a proposed ten-story addition of luxury condominiums on top of a seven-story rent stabilized building at 711 West End Avenue on the corner of 95th street are rejecting builders’ claims that the unusual project will be safe.
“The building is in poor condition and the project was set up by the developer hastily and does not include an adequate tenant protection plan,” said one resident, Stephanie Cooper, a member of the Tenant Action Group (TAG) executive committee.
The development is a joint project between the owner SJP Properties and P2B Ventures and will commence as early as late spring, according to a spokesperson for the project. It has been dubbed The Haswell, in honor of New York urban planner Andrew Haswell Green; a teaser site recently went live. A coalition of building residents are considering legal action to stop the project.
TAG hired Richard Herschlag, a private civil engineer with experience in public advocacy to investigate tenant concerns. In his report, he found the project would have “catastrophic effects” on the lower building’s foundation due to the building’s moisture problem. Building developers are dismissive of Herschlag’s findings, questioning his motives.
“I would weigh it against the professionals that have stamped the plan,” said P2B Ventures project developer Paul Boardman.
“If the building was a hazard it would have been flagged as a hazard,” added Boardman. He said there had been extensive tests of the exterior and interior walls and that the building has been cared for “quite responsibly” by the owners.
Cooper argued that the building has in fact been “horrendously neglected,” claiming there have been incidences of mold, lack of insulation for some tenants and ceiling damage caused by moisture. But a representative for the building wrote that “there have been no reports of mold.”
“The common areas under our routine maintenance all meet New York City’s most stringent standards and have experienced no issues we know of.”
The tenants group has also raised alarms over false statements in the permits. Boardman acknowledged that the developer had been fined for $4,800 for indicating that the building was unoccupied, he described this as a “clerical error” stemming from a misunderstanding over whether the question pertained to the preexisting building or the addition.
“What’s being construed by this tenant group is that there is a clerical error in the form and therefore there is some kind of seedy activity going on which is just categorically false,” Boardman said, “Obviously, this building is occupied, and no one has ever, ever tried to say otherwise.”
Boardman and the tenants disagree on important points such as whether the building will put additional pressure on the lower structure. According to Boardman, the addition is designed to be completely separate from the existing building, with independent structures and foundations. He said that the buildings are “seismically separate,” meaning that in the event of an earthquake, they would act independently.
“The project is very unusual, I’m not aware of this kind of thing ever being done in Manhattan,” said George Deodatis, Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at Columbia University. “Technologically speaking, it can be done, but it will be wildly expensive.”
TAG disagrees with the notion that the addition is separate, pointing out that the buildings will have a shared lobby, the same address, and the elevator shaft for the new building will pass through the preexisting one. Cooper said the classification of the two buildings as separate is “inherently dishonest.”
“They [owners and developers] never thought anyone would look into it,” says Cooper, “They have disdain for us.”
When asked why he thinks tenants like Cooper are so opposed to the construction, Boardman said, “When you’re a resident in New York, development is often something that is aggressive towards you. We believe in not talking about things, but actually performing, we don’t want to get in a public debate. We are just demonstrating by our actions the quality of the project that we’re pursuing.”
Cooper herself put it more simply, “our objective goal is that we don’t want to die.”