NY: Million dollar condo construction halted by "structural deficiency" and "questionable construction practices"

NY Daily News 3-09-08
Troubles hit Chelsea building slated to carry autos up to condos

High rollers who pony up millions for an ultraluxe Chelsea condo will be
able to drive into an elevator and be lifted, car and all, to their apartment door.

But they'd better hit the brakes on the Rolls.
The 19-story building rising at 200 11thAve. with a first-of-its-kind "sky garage" is so plagued with problems that the Buildings Department has halted all work there, citing "questionable construction practices."

"The pillars forming the exterior walls are misaligned," Buildings Department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said after a stop-work order was issued Wednesday. "This could be characterized as a structural deficiency."

The building is truly unique. While car elevators have long been used in commercial buildings, this is touted as a first in the U.S. for individual apartments.

Fourteen of the 16 condos, designed by high-profile architect Annabelle Selldorf, feature the 300-square-foot elevator garages. They sell for $6 million to $17.5 million.Owners drive into the elevator and are lifted virtually to their apartment doors.

From the start, the building has raised concerns of community leaders, the FDNY and union activists, who are picketing to protest what they say is shoddy workmanship at the nonunion site.

"The building leans, it is out of plumb," said Tom Costello, an organizer for the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

Costello said he fears that when the condo is complete, its sculpted stainless steel exterior will mask structural deficiencies. "It's like bad plastic surgery," he said. "The skin will look great, but the skeleton is rotten."

Neil Wexler, a prominent structural engineer who examined the building for the Daily News, said the building appears to be structurally intact, but that the crooked pillars raise concerns that "the [exterior] skin might not fit properly, causing some leaks or other architectural problems."

Lee Compton of Community Board 4, which opposed the elevator garage promised to "raise a ruckus" with the city to make sure the building is safe. (continued)

The developer, Gaia House, an offshoot of Young Woo & Associates, paid lobbyist James Capalino $22,500 last year to schmooze the Planning Commission, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Community Board 4.

The developer did not return calls for comment. Quinn's spokesman said the speaker did not meet with the lobbyist and that unanimous Council approval followed a vote by the City Planning Commission and two public hearings.

Setbacks have delayed occupancy, originally set for 2008, to early 2009, said Leonard Steinberg of Prudential Douglas Elliman, the building's broker. Four of the units have yet to be sold, including the $17.5 million penthouse, said Steinberg, who bought one of them for himself. Steinberg said three major union contractors declined to bid on the job "because it was too small."

Last summer, the developer applied for a hefty tax break for the millionaire buyers under the city's 421-A abatement program. The application has not been ruled on, city officials said.

Since August, the Buildings Department has slapped the site with 19 serious violations. Wednesday's order marked the second time work had been halted at the site.

In January, a stop-work order was issued after inspectors found an inoperable fire safety standpipe and lack of required safety netting.That same month the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined contractor, Seven Star Construction and Development, $2,250 for blocking access to firefighting equipment and problems with guardrails.

Wednesday's stop-work order came only hours after a union worker on the picket line was struck by two 3-inch long, arrow-shaped metal pins that apparently blew off the building."I was just standing there and I turned and it hit me in the chest," said Danielle Leggette, 45. "It was really scary."

Contractor Seven Star did not respond to a call for comment.
Big thanks to Local 157 Blogspot for spotting this.

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