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June 1, 2007

Judge agrees FCR contractor pursued unsafe demolition, levies fines

Atlantic Yards Report

As if you're not already having trouble keeping all of the lawsuits straight, here's the news on the case regarding Ratner's unsafe demolitions, which shook residents from their beds as workers used a backhoe to knock down the adjacent building.

Readers will remember that the hearing for this bizarre episode featured Ratner's high-powered (read, "high-cost") attorney attempting to get Norman Oder barred from the hearing before trying to spilt hairs to get everyone off. [link]

BackHoeDemo.jpg

For the demolition of 620 Pacific Street and 622 Pacific Street, the contractor had not applied for a mechanical demolition permit, which would not have been issued for 622 Pacific.

At a hard-fought hearing on 3/12/07, a lawyer representing Forest City Ratner acknowledged that the backhoe was used on 620 Pacific, which was adjacent to unoccupied buildings, but said there was no proof the backhoe was used to demolish 622 Pacific, adjacent to the occupied apartment building at 624 Pacific.

That lawyer, Jeffrey Braun, elicited testimony from a representative of Solomon Oliver Mechanical Contracting, who claimed that 622 Pacific was demolished only by hand. However, David Gochfeld, whose fiancee lives in 624 Pacific, took pictures that clearly showed the backhoe being used to demolish 620 Pacific and strongly indicated similar activity at 622 Pacific (photo right and above). A Department of Buildings inspector testified that the evidence backed up that claim, and Gochfeld offered eyewitness testimony.

Administrative Law Judge Helaine Balsam of the Environmental Control Board (ECB), the administrative tribunal that oversees violations issued by city agencies, apparently agreed with the latter arguments. According to notices posted on the ECB web site, she assessed $2000 fines for 620 Pacific, as expected, and also for 622 Pacific, the subject of the hearing.

So, who cares? Apparently Ratner does.

The judge's decision has a symbolic value beyond the total of the fines. In sending a leading land use lawyer to defend the contractor, Forest City Ratner undoubtedly spent more money on legal fees than the fines at issue. In most cases, defendants choose to cut their losses.

However, given the contested nature of Atlantic Yards--and, this was before the fall of the Ward Bakery's parapet in April--the developer apparently wanted to avoid the taint of a violation.

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Posted by lumi at June 1, 2007 11:41 AM