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.
From the Department of Buildings:
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 Lebewohl, told 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.
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.