Dyker residents sound alarm over illegal conversions

June 4, 2014 Heather Chin
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Dyker Heights residents are digging in their heels and filing complaints with the Department of Buildings (DOB) about illegal excavations and alleged single room occupancy conversions taking place in the neighborhood this year.

The construction began in earnest in March and rapidly progressed, with nearly a dozen dumpsters reportedly coming and going from 978 Bay Ridge Parkway, full of dirt and debris from the basement foundation.

“The whole inside was gutted, so if you looked inside, it was a complete shell,” said neighbor Frank Rizzo, who attended the May meeting of Dyker Heights Civic Association (DHCA) and a May 28 Community Board 10 Zoning Committee meeting to sound the alarm.

“I’m worried that two-family homes are being converted into 30-40 occupancy buildings,” Rizzo said. “I hope the [DOB] will stop it and the house is returned to what it was intended to be.”

Diane Angelone, whose house is semi-attached with 978 Bay Ridge Parkway, worries how the excavation will affect her foundation. “I’m going to get it inspected. There was a stop work order, but construction just started again,” she said. “None of the new owners spoke to me [beforehand].”

Bob Cassara told the crowd gathered at the DHCA meeting that “there seem to be bathrooms on each floor, multiple vents that indicate around three clothes dryers, stainless steel doors opening onto a single common area and multiple electricity or gas meters.

“Our community worked hard to keep these types of developments out of our neighborhood [through rezoning]. We need to get the City Council to change enforcement rules,” Cassara said.

Cassara noted that houses at 928 and 1176 Bay Ridge Parkway are also seeing questionable construction.

However, DOB online records challenge resident concerns about 978 Bay Ridge Parkway stating “there are no egress issues or illegal conversion” there.

Still, a full stop work order was placed on the property on May 2 for unauthorized “earth work… contrary to [the] approved plan.” However, on May 21, DOB partially rescinded the order; on May 27, the order was rescinded further “to allow completion of all work,” after which a new inspection will occur.

Such decisions aid and abet the illegal construction work going on throughout the area, insisted residents at the CB 10 meeting with DOB representative David Nussbaum.

Nussbaum acknowledged the problems and said inspectors do the best they can, but must adhere to DOB regulations.

“Residents are frustrated that DOB doesn’t have more leeway in terms of gaining access, especially when you have a property with multiple complaints,” said CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann.

According to the NYC Open Data Portal“David from the DOB explained what the regulations are currently. He said he was going to take back some of the questions we raised about multiple complaints and what the threshold of violations is,” said Beckmann. “I recently saw a house with multiple air conditioners—the likelihood of illegal conversion there is great. So that could be a threshold.

“We spent a lot of money and time on rezoning, limiting the size of houses [because] changing the streetscape has financial, tax and community impact,” Beckmann added. “You could raise by 300 percent the number of children going to school, for example. And safety concerns, particularly as it relates to electrical and excavation fires, need to be addressed.”

DHCA President Fran Vella-Marrone agreed, noting, “This has been a big problem for years. This is not the first one and unfortunately, it won’t be the last one, but we have new people in city departments, so hopefully they’ll be energized.”

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