Friday, December 1, 2023

Residents ordered to vacate after excavation next door destabilized this 14th Street building

Photos from yesterday morning

The city has issued a Full Vacate Order for 642 E. 14th St. after ongoing excavation work on a 24-floor development next door at the NW corner of Avenue C destabilized the building, according to city records. 

Structural stability of building compromised due to construction operations taking place at 644 E. 14th Street. Heavy cracks in the exterior and interior in addition to separation noted at door frames and floor from wall...

The development, owned by Madison Reality Capital, is expected to yield 197 apartments — a percentage said to be affordable housing — plus retail space and a community facility. 

A few residents of 642 E. 14th St., said to be the property of Second Avenue Deli owner Jeremy Lebewohltold EVG that city officials put in the directive to leave at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
"Some folks wanted to stay. By the end of the night, I believe it was mandatory that everyone be out of the building," said one resident who has lived there for more than two years. "We packed what we could in about 30 minutes and cleaned up just in case." 

The American Red Cross is housing the residents at a Chinatown hotel, though just through Sunday. After that, the residents don't know where they are supposed to live. 

"We were only able to bring what we could carry. We have no idea when we will be able to access our building or our belongings again, if ever," the resident said. 
A Partial Stop Work Order on the site allows crews to perform dewatering operations to prevent further destabilization. An emergency construction fence is expected to be erected outside No. 642, a 5-story building with 18 units, per Streeteasy. (One resident said there were 16 residences.) 

Meanwhile, per city documents, DOB engineers are monitoring the site daily.
There have been concerns about what excavation work on the lot might do to the adjacent buildings on 14th Street. This corner property last housed the single-level R&S Strauss auto parts store, which closed in April 2009.

As previously reported, Madison Realty Capital paid Opal Holdings $31.3 million for the property in May 2020. Opal Holdings bought the parcel in June 2016 from Brooklyn's Rabsky Group for $23 million. 

There were approved plans here for a 15-floor mixed-use building, though there weren't any affordable units attached to this version. As revealed in the spring of 2021, several developers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby the city for NYCHA air rights to make this a larger structure with more housing.

In the spring of 2022, the NYCHA and Madison Realty Capital filed documents seeking a non-ULURP modification — known as an LSRD — to the development plan. 

One group of locals started a Facebook group in June 2022 to help notify residents of the ongoing plans at No. 644.

"While we are all for the development of that corner ... and the affordable housing element of the plans, we are not happy with the sheer size of the footprint and the excessive height that goes along with the proposal," one of the organizers told EVG at the time. "We believe it will have countless negative effects on the local community and is out of place in this neighborhood. One major, immediate concern is that they have done little outreach and have kept plans for the project very quiet, which seems to be an obvious strategy to avoid any scrutiny from the local public."

Before a presentation in May 2022 before Community Board 3's Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee, Tenants Taking Control, a group of 100-plus long-term tenants in 15 East Village buildings owned by Madison Realty Capital spoke out against the plans.

In a "warning letter" to CB3 members and other local elected officials, the group, which has had Madison Realty Capital as a landlord since 2017, alleged: "We believe from first-hand experience that they disregard East Village tenant and community needs for their own financial benefit."

In June 2022, Community Board 3 signed off on the plan, which was expected to generate $19.5 million for the NYCHA, to be exclusively used at the adjacent Campos Plaza II for capital repairs and other programmatic needs as determined by a community planning process involving NYCHA and the residents of Campos Plaza II.

The current plans for 644 show a 234-foot-tall building with 197 apartments known as 14+C, according to the Fischer + Makooi Architects website 
In January 2019, the Commercial Observer reported that Jeremy Lebewohl filed a $10 million lawsuit against Opal Holdings alleging that No. 642 sustained damages by the foundation work next door at No. 644 during a previous iteration of the project.

The suit claimed that Opal tried to cut costs on the project by driving piles for the foundation too close to Lebewohl's building, which led to the damages. (It's not immediately known what happened to the suit.)

According to DOB records, complaints about work on the corner lot date back to June 2017, when someone reported, "The building is shaking when the construction workers at the site are pile driving." An April 2018 complaint noted a "cracked exterior" in the building.

And from a February 2023 complaint in public records:
What is compromising the building's integrity: There is construction planned to start next door at 644 E 14 Street, and it is suspected that this cracked the facade at 642. There is further construction planned and it is likely to cause further structural damage. The tenants are also very concerned about the damage that can't be seen: namely the structural integrity of the building. The location of the structural instability: Cracks are largely on the east side of the building. The location of the crack or gap and whether it is horizontal or vertical: There are diagonal cracks on the side of the building.
However, DOB records show that an inspector "observed no visible cracks or structural defect on exterior facade."

The resident of two years said, "We absolutely had concerns — the drywall in our buildings was significantly cracked, and walls were beginning to separate from the floor. We shared it with management but probably should've followed up more."

Another resident, who also lived in 642 for two-plus years, told us: "We would constantly feel our building shake. I know from a few other tenants that we were all very concerned. I submitted information to 311, and they came to our apartment three times from September to November. Finally, on Tuesday, they told us we had to vacate."

The residents we spoke with hadn't heard anything as of yesterday from 642's management company — aside from suggesting they contact the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for shelter services.

While the resident we talked with said they had access to resources, that wasn't likely the case for all of 642's tenants.

"It's shameful that so many families were put out for a 'luxury building' with what seems like very little empathy," the first resident said. 


editrrix said...

Oh my god, this is outrageous! I am outraged. Those poor people being displaced without information or any compassion. Capitalism and greed just destroy, destroy, destroy. When will we learn?

Trixie said...

Oh, I pray that the building residents will be able to go back in and save their belongings, family photos, etc. All the little things that make up the fabric of their lives.

MTA614 said...

I for one look forward to the collection of rich foreign kids, out-of-touch gold collar workers, and finance bros, and who will live here. Or maybe we'll be really lucky and it will just sit empty all the time while those who have parked their money in these units get richer and the rest of our rent burdens' inch ever higher upward.

noble neolani said...

Where is Mayor Adams? One of his backers (if not this company but that ilk) has caused a building full of families out onto the street and not a peep out of Gracie Mansion.

Xeo said...

You can look at comments on stories about this building site going back years where residents are openly concerned about the digging and that the entire building was shaking hard.

This building site has been in limbo for so long - and now they were approved to build to the height they currently have because they included rent controlled units. It's ironic and horrible that they're forcing residents out next door.

I support the building of new units, but I understand more and more the fear of buildings next to construction sites. This is negligence pure and simple. I hope the developers will be forced to pay for the repairs and the rehousing of the displaced residents.

Emily said...

If NY housing made any sort of sense, they should all be entitled to apartments in the new building at their current rents or better. I hope they seek legal help.

sonyblockbuster said...

Bummer! How can the developer be so careless wthout inkling of accountability. Oh wait, it's NYC. W T F !

noble neolani said...

The answer to most of the questions above is: GREED.

arts+projects said...

Mind-blowing and horrible.

Magda's style roOm said...

Absolute corruption and devastation for these tenants. It's overwhelming and terrible beyond any tenant's imagination. How will these people keep their jobs now?? How will they find another home they can afford? How will they get their possessions? It all falls on them so wealthy real estate gets richer just using and spitting out people for wealth and greed. WRONG WRONG WRONG! WHERE ARE YOU CITY COUNCIL AND MAYOR??


"rent controlled units"

What was promised was "affordable housing units" which is a far cry from "rent controlled units" which is very specific NYC only residential housing regulation which is no longer being done going forward forever. The tenants under this NYC regulation are grandfathered under that regulation. For now. BTW ALL residential regulations nationwide such as the NYC Rent Control, the NYS Rent Stabilization (HSTPA) etc., in in danger of being declared "unconstitutional" by the majority MAGA US Supreme Court if they decide to review 2 pending remaining cases (they declined to review 1 of the 3) that REBNY, the RSA and other RE industry groups have presented to the US Supreme Court.

David Crane said...

Madison Realty was very aware of the risk that their construction would damage 642 E 14th St, and they publicly committed to adequately protect the 642 building. At the June 14, 2022 meeting of the CB 3 Land Use Committee, there was an exchange, and Madison Realty (represented at the meeting by Akerman LLP) made promises they did not keep.

View the two minute exchange at that meeting:

The two speakers are David Crane (me, a CB3 member), and Nora Martins (lawyer for Madison Realty). Here is a transcript:

David: Construction had begun at that site many years ago, and after they finished digging the pit and the pilings, it was abandoned. It sounds like it may be a different developer, but I'm asking if you are aware of why construction was abandoned.

Nora: I wasn't really involved at that time. We are not the original developer on the site.

David: That's what I kind of expected and you probably don't have detailed construction plans. But there was a lawsuit that stopped the construction there because the pile driving against the wall of 642 - the very adjacent building, 642 E 14th St. A close friend lives there and I watched this whole thing. The pile driving did structural damage to that building, there was a lawsuit, and that's what presumably stopped the previous development that was happening. You need to be aware of that, and you need to be planning for that, because there needs to be protection for that building. I mean, it was damaged.

Nora: Absolutely

David: It came through the Sandy flood, which was severe in that area, and then the pile driving was done five years later (I'm guessing).

Nora: Right, right. I'm not sure if that is the reason the construction never moved forward. I'm sure it had something to do with it, but I think that is some that as we move forward and develop the site, we are very, very aware of making sure that 642 is adequately protected and monitored throughout construction.

David: When you start working up a plan with the developer, it really has to be a priority.

Nora: Yes, absolutely.

XTC said...

Looks like the engineering firm, general contractor, and developer are going to get smacked with a big lawsuit. Doubtful they'll due the right thing and help the displaced tenants get sorted. I'd be curious to know if they have any legal standing as I assume none of them are owners with a financial interest in the building.

1Kprojectspace-de Ekster said...

terrible. I hope the displaced folks come out on top.

only one complaint in february on the dob page made by 311 complaint.
complain everyday!!
we live in ticket culture.
after making your 311 complaint,
send it to :

this is unacceptable.

Mary Garvey said...

Why isn't the developer immediately responsible for providing temporary housing and remediation of this problem? Where is the involvement of our elected representatives and government officials?

Imagine finding yourself homeless, at this time, with no affordable housing available and an overly taxed shelter system?

cami said...

EV Grive - thank you for covering this story.
Tomorrow marks a full week since tenants have been vacated and as of now (9:15pm on 12/4) tenants have yet to be made aware of any next steps on behalf of their building...and crickets from the greedy b's over at Madison Realty.

Tomorrow also marks the 2nd day that tenants will be un-housed*.
*That is if they haven't yet found ulterior accommodations past the 5-day hotel stay mgmt provided. Upon staying in touch with tenants, some have been fortunate enough to have found a safe temporary living space but I do worry about tenants who have remained in their building and what the longevity of mgmt's darkness will cause to the community. It's already been devastating as it is.

I'm hopeful that through the power of our community, answers sought after will be found and justice will be served for the tenants of 642.

a Madison Realty Capital tenant a few blocks away said...

MRC is my nightmare landlord. they have a history of making low and mid income tenants' lives miserable. how can this be legal? they bought a bunch of RENT-STABILIZED buildings in the east vill clearly with the intention of eliminating as many rent stabilized tenants as they could and frankensteining (combining units to get them out of rent stabilization.)

" was mandatory that everyone be out of the building...We packed what we could in about 30 minutes and cleaned up just in case."

The American Red Cross is housing the residents at a Chinatown hotel, though just through Sunday. After that, the residents don't know where they are supposed to live.

"We were only able to bring what we could carry. We have no idea when we will be able to access our building or our belongings again, if ever," the resident said..." "

can u imagine if you *owned* an apt in this building and this happened? how furious would you be?

this is on another level than what happened to me last year during demolition in my building, it was all on me to rehouse myself for months and sue afterwards. MRC DIDN'T give a sh*t that the remaining tenants' units were UNINHABITABLE during demolition/construction. what if ppl don't have the means to rehouse themselves or sue like i did? i think that's most of the ppl in the buildings they buy up!

can you imagine the chaos - leave your home in 30 mins! - u have no idea when u can go back! not as bad a being a Palestinian but think about how f'ed up this is and that it's completely legal.

kris, 642 tenant who vacated in sept due to increasingly slanted apartment said...

thanks for sharing this david. Nora does not look convincing in her responses here… it’s clear that MRC was saying whatever they needed in order to push forward with their plans.