Developer of Atlantic Yards Is Cited for Failing to Stop Demolition Work
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
Published: June 15, 2006, NYTimes.com
The city's Buildings Department issued a violation yesterday to Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of the proposed Atlantic Yards project near Downtown Brooklyn, on the ground it did not obey an order to stop demolition work on a building on the project site.
The stop-work order was issued on Saturday, after inspectors responding to a complaint about the demolition work found several building code violations, including a defective safety fence at the demolition site, formerly home to small auto garages at 622 and 620 Pacific Street.
Though Forest City Ratner contractors fixed the fence after getting the stop-work order and resolved other problems, they did not seek a required reinspection to lift the order, said Jennifer Givner, a Department of Buildings spokeswoman.
The violation issued yesterday — fines run from zero to $2,500, as determined by an administrative judge — was the latest step in a running battle between Forest City and the residents of 624 Pacific, a building adjacent to the demolition site and also owned by the developer.
Forest City Ratner is the development partner in building a new Midtown headquarters for The New York Times Company.
Opponents of the Atlantic Yards project, an 8.7-million-square-foot residential, office, and arena development, have been stymied in their attempts to stop the demolition of the Pacific Street properties and and several others. A resident of 624 Pacific, Leigh Anderson, was among the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, and is also a member of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a group opposed to the project.
Contractors began tearing down the vacant Pacific Street buildings with hand tools — as required by the Buildings Department — on May 30. A backhoe was brought to the site on June 7 to help clear debris and level the ground, company officials said.
But Ms. Anderson and other residents say the backhoe was also used to demolish the exterior walls of the two lots, violating the building code and endangering residents living in 624 Pacific. They filed complaints last week with the city and took pictures of the backhoe at work.
Their tenant lawyer, George Locker, complained to officials at Forest City Ratner and at the Empire State Development Corporation, which is reviewing the project's environmental impact and approved the demolitions late last year.
"My clients are being assaulted by a huge piece of mechanical equipment," Mr. Locker said on Tuesday, adding that Ms. Anderson and others had refused earlier settlements offered by Forest City in exchange for moving out of 624 Pacific. He said the demolition work was intended to intimidate them.
No one was injured by the demolitions. Forest City officials said that the infractions cited by the Buildings Department were minor and that 624 Pacific, which the company owns, suffered no structural damage.
Norman Oder, the author of a blog devoted to the Atlantic Yards, posted some of the pictures on Tuesday, along with a report on the demolition.
The pictures taken by Ms. Anderson and another resident, David Gochfeld, appeared to show the backhoe pulling down first-story sections of the buildings' exterior walls. But Ms. Givner said that inspectors visiting the site on several occasions did not see the backhoe being used unlawfully.
In a letter sent to the Empire State Development Corporation in response to Mr. Locker's complaints, Jeffrey L. Braun, a Forest City lawyer, said the company was looking into whether contractors had disregarded instructions not to use the backhoe to demolish walls. If that was done, he said, the company would "take appropriate action."