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Monday AM Activism Part I: Harlem Resident Wants Builder to Take a Day Off

Above, a homemade Harlem development map from 2001-2007 plotted out by a very frustrated resident who just wants some Saturday shut-eye. She tells us, "This week I will be sending a letter to DOB asking that they stop Saturday construction in our neighborhood. It's been six straight years of weekend construction. The petition, which I just put up on petitiononline, is aimed at Artimus as they are the biggest developer and the worst offender of after-hours construction." The petition is fairly blunt, so here's some color from that letter to the DOB:

Furthermore Artimus is a repeat after-hours work offender. They are as relentless as they are remorseless. Their crews have regularly started work at 6 am instead of 7 am. They work late into the night instead of stopping at 6 pm. They work on Sunday. When they install floors their subcontractors work as late as midnight -- very loud work that floor installation – and throughout the weekend again until midnight. We have complained to Artimus who conveniently blame the subcontractors. After constant badgering, one of the owners, Ken Haron, finally admitted to me that they would not meet their deadlines without after-hours construction. Their pattern of abuse is undisputed. This attitude is particularly upsetting, as almost all of their projects are HPD sites on city-owned land, sites that must be approved by the community board and by the city.This brings up an interesting debate. What would you rather be woken up by way too early? Construction, or the Zune van? Patricia Lancaster Borough Commissioner

Department of Buildings

280 Broadway, 7th Floor

NY NY 10007

RE: Community Request to stop approving Artimus Construction weekend variances


Dear Ms. Lancaster:

I am a 7-year resident of Harlem. For six of those years, I have lived on or bordered the block between West 118 and West 119 on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. As you may know, the many brown fields in our neighborhood have been the site of a significant amount of construction since 2001, much of it by Artimus Construction. [Full Disclosure: I have both rented and bought from Artimus.] For the past six years, your office has granted them almost constant weekend variances that allow them to work Saturdays. With the exception of a few months around Christmas-New Years 2005 most of us have not had one single construction-free weekend since 2001. That is six straight years. You are asking too much of the community.

Furthermore Artimus is a repeat after-hours work offender. They are as relentless as they are remorseless. Their crews have regularly started work at 6 am instead of 7 am. They work late into the night instead of stopping at 6 pm. They work on Sunday. When they install floors their subcontractors work as late as midnight -- very loud work that floor installation – and throughout the weekend again until midnight. We have complained to Artimus who conveniently blame the subcontractors. After constant badgering, one of the owners, Ken Haron, finally admitted to me that they would not meet their deadlines without after-hours construction. Their pattern of abuse is undisputed. This attitude is particularly upsetting, as almost all of their projects are HPD sites on city-owned land, sites that must be approved by the community board and by the city.

Attached is a map that illustrates the sites since 2001 that I can remember. As you can see the Artimus projects are concentrated within a few blocks. With the exception of a couple, these were/are all new buildings some as tall as 12 stories – high for Harlem – that required extensive excavation: A lot of legal noise on top of the illegal. Smaller sites such as an individual renovating a brownstone, of which there are scores on every block, are not included on the map. Nor are the many times the streets have been torn up and repaved as the city replaced neglected services and roads.

Since we still have at least 18-months of construction left, we are asking you to deny all weekend permit applications both for Artimus. If possible, why not for all construction sites in 10026-1027?

As DOB workers explained to me, weekend variances are available to companies doing work that might be better done when there is less traffic, fewer school children or pedestrians to interfere with special work i.e. heavy or dangerous lifting etc. While once or twice a year Atrimus’s needs are legitimate – we do not deny that – the rest of the work is the same work they do during the week. They are simply getting an extra day of work by applying for a special exemption and then using the permit to do regular construction. I would also like to ask you how is it that one company can get permits to work almost every Saturday for six straight years? That is over 300 permits, almost a full year of Saturdays. Surely if you can get a variance every weekend for six years, it isn’t a variance, is it? It’s just paperwork. Do you know that when an architect friend of mine was turned down for a Saturday permit, DOB workers told him how to write the permit to ensure it would be approved? In other words, they told him to lie.

Over the last six years my neighbors and I have called 311 dozens of times but with almost no result. Your office was clearly understaffed for such a construction boom. Our complaints don’t even seem to register on the DOB website. Politically Artimus seems to be untouchable. The city loves them. When he was our councilor, Bill Perkins staff told me outright that he would not want to upset them. Recently I negotiated an informal deal with an Artimus site manager on Soha118 in which they agreed to stop after-hours construction in exchange for our not sending this letter. Still it continues. And so today, Father’s Day, we cannot enjoy our one-day respite celebrating our families because the drills and saws are banging away unimpeded by the city. I have spoken with both their staff and the police this morning as well as 311 and yet the noise continues. We cannot complain individually anymore. We have given Artimus every chance and we are finally exhausted. EXHAUSTED.

Other developers in the neighborhood do not seem to flaunt the rules as arrogantly as Artimus but as Artimus has the biggest sites others often follow their lead. So now that they have begun working yet again on Sundays, we expect the smaller crews to follow.

Just so you know, there have been other problems with Artimus over the last five years including but not limiting to fires, not leaving keys to sites with the police in the case of emergency, workers smoking dope on our property, workers urinating in public and on private property, cursing us out in front of our children when we complain about them openly smoking marijuana on our property, moving legally-parked cars including my own by picking them up, intimidation, and constant illegal street closings (speak to the 28th’s Community Officer Jackson). They are even arrogant as tenants. As the owner of the parking area in our building, they demolished part of the exterior basement wall and joined our building to one of their rental buildings without a permit, permission or notification. And while they do contribute to the community – they recently paid for tree guards for PAL and the old folks home -- it is not enough.

I am including a sample of signatures from the community. More signatures are available at http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?Xartimus&1. Despite their support of the petition, some people surrounding these blocks are reluctant to sign because they are afraid to complain about a company that employs neighborhood residents. The other reason is that Artimus’s rental arm, K&R Management, requires their tenants living in the buildings most affected by the construction to sign extra agreements that they will not complain about construction. I don’t even know if that is legal. It certainly seems inappropriate that tenants in HPD-sponsored buildings on what was city-owned land not be able to complain when that company breaks the law.

Artimus has taken advantage the neighborhood’s fear/goodwill and DOB’s inability to enforce regulations. It has been going on too long. Can you help us? We need some quiet. Please stop issuing Saturday permits for construction in our neighborhood.

· Stop Saturday Construction [Petition Online]