Legislature must protect history


To the editor:

(re: “Project is hazard to neighbors,” Dec. 13)

First let me say that I am extremely grateful to both Councilman Andrew Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, along with Community Board 8 land use committee chairman Charles Moerdler, and their respective staffs for their hard work and advocacy on the behalf of Spuyten Duyvil in our fight against the development of 2395 Palisade Ave., on the site of our architectural and historic treasure Villa Rosa Bonheur.

However, in response to a recent letter to the editor, Mr. Dinowitz and Mr. Cohen, I would like to point out something I find very lacking from this treatment: The absence of the mention of the buildings department’s role in this tragic scenario. Why were permits for exterior demolition (aka roof “repair,” as per the construction crew on site) extended at all in the absence of asbestos abatement? Why did the DOB inspectors deny what was clear to anyone with two eyes: The willful demolition of the structure, which leaves us with what we have today, a devastated shell of what is considered one of the most beloved landmarks in our community?

Councilman Cohen sent a letter to buildings department chair Rich Chandler on Oct. 26 asking for an investigation of the circumstances that led to the demolition of the roof of this beautiful house.

Gratefully, stop work orders and penalties have resulted form the discovery of unsafe work practices and the exposure of the community to potential asbestos contamination. But I have yet to hear any conversation as to how we ended up in this place at all. Was there negligence on anyone’s part? If so, who is the responsible party that allowed this train wreck? Could it have been one of our city agencies?

Who knows, because no one is talking about it.

But one thing seems to be clear from this story: Regardless of culpability on anyone’s party, the neighborhood is suffering real-life consequences. I can make one observation based on what I’ve seen in the last few months: The buildings department seems uninterested in the lack of fairness and perhaps injustice of this story.

To the public, the buildings department seems more like a rubber stamp agency for the real estate development industry than a public entity that we maintain with our taxes. With time, the developer will “clean up their act” enough for the stop work orders to be lifted, and will pay the relatively miniscule penalties imposed. Their real-life consequences will be written off as the cost of doing business, and the inconvenience suffered as a result of their own bad actions.

We will be left with a building shoe-horned onto a triangle of land, and all the permanent consequences of a high-rise development inappropriate for the current scale and needs of the community.

I would like to propose that our elected officials and the public advocates of city government do something truly productive for the community and city as a whole for the long term: Enact legislation to prevent predatory development from destructively rolling over a neighborhood. Increase penalties so that they are meaningful and not a petty annoyance.

We do appreciate the letters, we do appreciate the meetings, but what we really need is the protection of the public interest. Increase penalties so that they are meaningful and not a petty annoyance. Penalize bad actors by taking away the rewards of tax incentives and other such offers.

We don’t want another community to find themselves the sad victims of such circumstances as we have, and we don’t want to be those victims ever again.

Stephanie Coggins

Stephanie Coggins,