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    Posted May 5, 2012 by
    New York, New York

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    As 100 Year Old Building Collapses in Harlem, New York City Neighbors Worry More May Follow

    On Friday May 4th 2012 around 4pm neighbors of 110 West 123rd Street heard a sudden, loud crack then saw their block disappear under a thick cloud of dust. When it settled, it became obvious that the four-story brownstone building had collapsed.

    Over 100 fire fighters and several K9 units reported to the scene, blocked off the street and searched the debris for survivors. Fortunately, the building, which contains 9 units, had been empty and no bystanders were hurt.

    Four hours later the block was reopened to pedestrian traffic, and neighbors were able to return. One resident told me that earlier in the day he saw workers enter the property. The scaffolding, which had surrounded the building was removed during the course of the day. Around noon, two residents saw the works crew leave, leaving the premises empty at the time of its collapse.

    According to Propertyshark.com, the property, which was built in 1910, sold for $600,000 to 110 West 123rd Street LLC on 11/15/2011. Average sale prices in the vicinity run at $1.1 million, indicating that the building was in significant disrepair at the time it was sold. According to the Buildings Department Website, the owners had received 3 complaints and 6 violations since 1993 for defective boilers. Structural concerns were not mentioned in the inspection papers. DNAInfo.com reports that in February, the Buildings Department approved a permit to structurally reinforce the property. Neither the contractors nor the building owners returned calls for comment.

    The collapse has rattled nerves not only of residents in the immediate vicinity of the destroyed building, but also in the community, where many buildings have fallen into disrepair. Ayaz Awan, the owner of 245 Lenox Avenue, around the corner from the collapse site, told me he is concerned his neighbor’s house (243 Lenox Avenue) might soon crumble, pulling his own building down with it. Repeated pleas to the Director of the Buildings Department of New York City, Derek Lee, to have the building stabilized, have had no impact in the past seven years. A few weeks ago finally a crew from the Buildings Department appeared and applied a few 2 by 4” wooden planks to the facade, a measure they told Awan would suffice to stabilize the building.

    According to the Buildings Department Website, 243 Lenox Avenue is a Landmark Building owned by a Robert Wilkins. Since 2007, the property has received 19 complaints and received 23 building code violations, amongst others one for "hazardous interior defects and immediate emergency" in October of 2007. The last complaint on record was filed on 5/4/2012 for "building shaking/vibrating/structural stability affected" and an emergency response team has been assigned. However Awan is not optimistic. "Does someone have to die first, before they fix this building?" he asks me. "I've complained to everyone in sight, and nothing happens." Three work permits are on display outside 243 Lenox Avenue, but do not indicate major renovation work. One permit expired last month.

    Western Harlem, mostly built up in the early 20th century, has a plethora of buildings that have fallen into disrepair since the 1960s, as the neighborhood went through a deep economic crisis and battled high crime rates. In the past ten years, a new crop of building owners has moved in, and renovated many of the beautiful brownstone buildings. Only in September 2011 17 people were injured as a scaffolding and the building it surrounded collapsed on the busy corner of 125th Street (the main shopping street of Western Harlem) and 7th Avenue and fell onto a passing bus. The economic crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession has put a halt to many development plans in the neighborhood for more than three years. Only in the past few months have I observed building activity increase again. It will be while until all the structurally unsound buildings in the neighborhood are properly repaired and more building collapses may follow.
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