Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Fern Luskin, BSA testimony (#144 12A and 145 12A), September 25, 2012: The historical importance of this landmarked building: In April 2007 I saw steel I-beams or a 5th story being erected atop the 1846-1847 bricks of this formerly four story row house, unsupported by anything but those fragile bricks. That’s when I began to delve into the history of the building in order to prevent this addition from going forward. A few months later, I discovered that this was a documented Underground Railroad Station. [We must not deprive New Yorkers and Americans of this unique treasure in the midst of Manhattan, a monument to abolitionism, to the Underground Railroad in NYC, to Emancipation Proclamation, and to the Draft Riots and a reminder of several pivotal moments in U.S. history]. Mr. Mamounas’ deceptions and illegal construction: Over the years, dating back to 2005, Mr. Mamounas has repeatedly deceived the DOB and engaged in illegal construction which can be proved with concrete evidence: by time stamped photographs, some of which show the dates of construction imprinted on the building materials, and eyewitness accounts. On all of Mr. Mamounas’ work permits, he claims that the only thing he intended to add to the height of the 4th story building was a penthouse, when in fact he built an additional 5th story and was also going to add a penthouse above that. His deceptions continue even today in the appeal to the BSA, for although Mr. Mamounas’ attorney claims the construction was for the most part done between 2005 and 2007, the 5th story and penthouse were actually not begun until the spring of 2007 as my neighbors and I witnessed (see my time stamped photo's showing that the 4th story roof was still intact in Sept. 2007). Construction on the 5th story then resumed 2 years later (show 2009 photographs) and again in the fall of 2010 when Mamounas’ men worked furiously and furtively to complete this 5th story and to finish the interior of the apartments on the 3rd, 4th and 5th stories (again, documented in 2010 photographs), at the very time he was ordered by the DOB to do nothing but fire safety work (Oct. 13, 2010) and to remove the illegal 5th story (Nov. 23, 2010, Order to Correct). According to DOB memos and violations, the fire safety work was to be done only in the basement to the first floor apartment and in the 2nd to 3rd floor apartments. “No roof protection to be done! This work to be done only." That none of this construction was done in good faith is furthermore shown by the fact that the architectural plans Mamounas was actually using were not the approved plans: The work done on the 3rd – 5th stories in the fall of 2010 was based on the September 2008 plans posted on the building site which include a brand-new 5th story AND a penthouse above that, rather than the amended plans approved by the DOB on March 24, 2010 which do NOT include the 5th floor and the penthouse. This is shown by the time stamped photograph dating November 7, 2010 of the Sept. 2008 plan that was posted on the wall of the 4th floor. The 5th floor plan, by contrast, was not posted on the 5th story, but was instead secreted away in a folder on a different floor, evidently so the inspectors wouldn’t see it. When Mr. Mamounas submitted the amended March 2010 plans to the DOB, he fooled them by simply omitting the pages for the 5th story and penthouse, even though he was, in fact, continuing to build the 5th story. Even on the current plans of July 12, 2011, submitted to the BSA in relation to this case, the illegal 5th story is still included. VIOLATION OF ZONING LAWS: Despite what Mr. Mitzner claims, Mr. Mamounas violated both the zoning law for this R8b district as indicated by the Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden, in this 2007 signed letter and the conditions for the variance for the Multiple Dwelling Law issued to him by the DOB. If we can’t rely on our Planning Commissioner to insure that zoning laws are followed, then who can we rely on? It was because of these violations of the Sliver and Multiple Dwelling laws that Mr. Mamounas failed 3 DOB audits. Although on the May 29, 2007 plans submitted to the BSA (p. A-13), which are identical those posted on the building site in the Fall of 2010, the architect deceptively indicates in written form that the building is only 60 feet high, the scale of the building on the elevation tells a different story: that its height is almost 64 ft. high, as is the actual building. This violates the R8b zoning law, as it exceeds 60 feet. And although the DOB issued a variance in 2005 in regard to the Multiple Dwelling Law, since it is invalid as only the BSA had the authority to issue such a variance and the building permit was revoked in the summer of 2009. If all builders were to defy zoning laws and the DOB, imagine not only the unsightliness of our city, but the potential danger of building collapse and injury to residents. In this particular case, the steel I-beams of the 5th story sit atop 1846-1847 bricks, unsupported by anything but those bricks. According to the new 2011 plans, Mr. Mamounas plans to excavate the bedrock, which would endanger all the contiguous landmarked buildings on the block. The DOB, in fact, was intending to pursue a criminal investigation against the owner because of the illegally installed boiler and chimney which were not approved by the DOB. The eruption of the 5th story on this row of 4 story buildings is aesthetically disturbing and it lops off a slice of our history with a serrated knife. No hardship as Mr. Mamounas claims, but rather a self-created hardship: Finally, Mamounas, greatly inflating the cost of demolition of the illegal 5th story at $961,000, claims hardship, but this was of his own illegal doing. With its paper thin and plywood thin exterior walls, Julie and I will tear it down for free! The only hardship is on his neighbors as his illegal addition lowers their property values and might endanger their adjoining buildings. My appeal to the BSA: With this case, the BSA has an unparalleled opportunity to set a high ethical standard for all to follow and an important precedent, particularly for landmarked buildings. After all, if a scofflaw developer can flout the law, even in a landmarked building of such importance, then why bother instituting the laws. Why don’t we just abolish the City Council or better yet, return to the law of the Wild West – that way owners could build whatever, however, and wherever they want to. The whole country is watching this case. For the sake of our children, I trust you will make the right decision. The architectural and historical legacy of this landmarked Underground Railroad Station should endure for future generations so we can teach them what transpired here.