Water-‘shed’ moment as hated scaffold gone

BY GABE HERMAN | Chelsea residents are thrilled that a, literally, longstanding scaffolding that was an eyesore for years was finally taken down at the end of last month.

A sidewalk shed was put up at 210 Seventh Ave., at W. 22nd St., in 2010 in response to the building’s deteriorating facade. The abandoned property belongs to a notoriously negligent owner.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, tweeted on Feb. 25, “Good news for Chelsea. After many years of advocacy by community members, my office, my predecessor’s office & my colleagues in government, the sidewalk shed at 210 Seventh Avenue — a longtime quality of life and public safety issue for our community — is finally coming down.”

A photo showing the sagging cornice at the abandoned property at Seventh Ave. and W. 22nd St. Three-dozen feet of cornice was removed last October after the city mandated emergency repairs be made. (Photos by Pamela Wolff)

The building is owned by Errol Rainess, who locals describe as an absentee owner who doesn’t maintain his properties well enough.

“He’s kind of a ghostly creature,” said Pamela Wolff, a member of the Chelsea W. 200 Block Association, which encompasses 20th to 22nd Sts. between Seventh and Eighth Aves.

“He is one strange duck,” she said, adding that Rainess is apparently very wealthy and owns properties around the world. “He is famously neglectful of those properties, some of them anyway, this one being the prime example.”

According to Department of Building records, the six-story building has received 115 complaints and 150 violations. This includes 106 Environmental Control Board, or E.C.B., violations, which are issued when a property doesn’t comply with construction codes.

D.O.B. issued a permit for the sidewalk shed on Oct. 21, 2010, and it was installed soon after when the owner received an order to install it, according to a D.O.B. spokesperson. D.O.B. said the shed was necessary because there was a danger of parts of the deteriorating facade falling to the sidewalk.

Although most neighbors detested it, some people actually liked the shed, including this homeless guy who recently lived under it for a few months.

The spokesperson noted that D.O.B. had since issued many violations to the building owner for failing to properly maintain both the building and the sidewalk shed.

In February 2017, D.O.B. ordered the owner to repair the facade after it was observed that it had further deteriorated and was in danger of a partial collapse.

After further violations were issued to the owner for not complying with orders to make repairs, D.O.B. in October 2018 issued an emergency declaration for Department of Housing Preservation and Development contractors to do the repair work. This included removing 35 feet of metal cornice, repairs to the entire facade, and repairs to the sidewalk shed itself, the latter which D.O.B. said had also fallen into extreme disrepair. The owner was sent a bill for this work.

The completed work was then inspected and D.O.B. signed off on it on Jan. 28, 2019. The scaffolding was then finally taken down late last month.

Wolff said she watched the long-entrenched structure being disassembled, and saw that some of the flooring of the bridge had rotted, and there were mushrooms growing out of the ends of them.

Wolff noted that along with the sidewalk shed itself being an eyesore, homeless people would also camp out underneath if for long periods of time.

In 2011 she and her block association worked to get lights working at the shed. She said lights were installed initially but not connected because there was no electricity in the building.

It was a sight for sore eyes when the eyesore scaffolding finally was removed last month.

They reached out to then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in hopes of getting city agencies to hook the lights up to street lampposts, which seemed obvious — but the effort got caught up in bureaucracy. At one point, community members thought of just rigging up lights on the rickety structure on their own.

“We were just going to shoot from the hip and do it ourselves, but we probably would’ve gotten arrested,” Wolff said.

After the lights were at last turned on in 2013, the campaign continued to get the sidewalk shed removed. Wolff said many local politicians were responsive and worked on the cause, but again the problem was getting coordination among city agencies.

“It was like trying to manage snakes in a bucket,” Wolff said. “Every department wanted to pass the buck to the next department, and every department would say, ‘Oh, we can’t do that. Not our job, it’s somebody else’s job… .’ It was endless.”

Finally, continued pressure on D.O.B., H.P.D. and other agencies led to results, Wolff said. She noted the help of many politicians, including Quinn and her staff, former state Senator Thomas Duane, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and current Council Speaker Johnson.

She said Johnson definitely was instrumental in the effort, going back to his days as chairperson of Community Board 4. She said Johnson actually rounded that corner when he walked from his apartment to board meetings.

“He was just as upset about that as the rest of us,” she said. “And as he moved up the line, he kept it in mind.”

Wolff’s block association planned to hold a celebratory champagne party on Wed., March 13, in honor of finally being free of the detested shed.

“People are jubilant. We are just very happy,” Wolff said. “That building is right there in our face. That’s why this is such a celebratory moment for us.”