Flushing Construction Stopped As Tenants Fear Safety Issues

Construction on a four-story apartment building in the courtyard of a 38th Avenue apartment complex in Flushing was stopped by the city’s Department of Buildings last week due to a number of violations.

A stop work order was ordered by George Frangoulis, deputy Queens Buildings commissioner, on Friday, after he inspected the site at 143-19-21 38th Avenue.

The construction work was brought to the attention of City Councilwoman Julia Harrison’s office by tenants at the same address.

Suzuki Associates, which bought the existing pre-war c-shaped brick building a year ago, planned to convert its courtyard into a four-story apartment complex with five dwellings.

Paul Graziano, a Flushing resident, who is a self-proclaimed land use-planning activist, says his goal is to preserve and protect neighborhoods. He called the building project “substantial.”

According to Graziano, the original complex was built in 1928 as a hotel, then known as The Olympia. Today, the three four-story buildings contain approximately 105 units of mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments.

One of the tenants concerned about the construction is Nitza Carrasco, who alerted Harrison’s office and Community Board 7. Both have been working with the DOB to halt construction.

“It’s crazy,” Carrasco said. “A building there will block the other buildings’ access and could cause crime and would be dangerous if there was a fire.”

Having lived there for many years, Carrasco said she believes the new owners “don’t have any scruples” and don’t care about the tenants.

Her first inkling of the project was when the owners tore down all the trees in the front courtyard a few weeks ago.

“It was a shame,” she said. “But the only information we got was that the corporation was adding a sidewalk. They didn’t mention anything about construction.”

Steven Lee, the complex manager, did not return telephone calls.

John Watts, spokesman for Councilwoman Harris, said that dangerous conditions forced the city to close down the construction site and that the developers didn’t have the proper building permits.

“Didn’t they think anyone would see it?” he asked. “We will keep watching.

“It was a beautiful complex at one time,” he added.

According to Paul Wein, spokesman at DOB, there were a number of violations at the site including excavating without the proper permits.

Harrison’s office said the builders only had a permit to close the sidewalk and that Frangoulis was horrified when he saw the dangerous conditions there.

Carrasco agreed, saying the barriers around the project are not substantial. Already excavated is a deep trench with a poured concrete foundation and long, metal rods protruding up.

According to Graziano’s research, the developers called the site a vacant lot.

“I think they subdivided the property illegally,” he said. “They called it a vacant lot when in fact it was the courtyard for existing buildings.”

Although many of the tenants are Asian and don’t want to get involved, Carrasco said, she is now organizing a petition drive.

“We don’t need more people there,” she said. “It’s already a crowded area and this is a safety issue.”

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, who has written to the Queens DOB commissioner about the issue, said she too was concerned about egress and ingress if a fire should occur in one of the existing buildings.

In addition, she mourned the loss of the green space, with its mature trees.

“There are getting to be fewer and fewer green spaces in Flushing,” she said. “In this situation, they are ruining a beautiful piece of property.”

Also concerned is Evangeline Egglezos, executive director of the landmarked Bowne House, which is located on Bowne Street, around the corner from the property in question and its closest neighbor.

“I tried to talk to the owners but didn’t get anywhere,” she said. “It’s an abomination and will change the streetscape.”

Graziano said the project, if allowed to continue, “sets a scary precedent to build on open space. The green space is meant for the tenants who live there.”

Bessie Gasparre, a member of Harrison’s staff who has been working on the situation, credited the DOB and Community Board 7 for working together with the councilwoman’s office to resolve the problem.

Wein said a hearing on the violations would be held on October 17th.

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