(en)New York Squat demolished

Wed, 12 Feb 1997 18:42:31 GMT

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Squatter Building Razed despite judge's order BY JOSH ROGERS Less than 24-hours after a fire burned part of a city-owned building occupied by squatters last Sunday, the city declared the building unsafe and had most of it demolished, in violation of a judge's order.The temporary restraining order to stop the demolition at 537-539 E. 5th St. was issued by Judge Barbara Kapnick at 6:13 p.m. on Feb. I 0, but even when the squatters andtheir attorney started waving the order at the demolition crews, the work continued. "This is illegal, what they're doing" the squatters attorney Jackie Bukowski shouted. "The police are not upholding the law." The scene of squatters protesting outside of their home was reminiscent of the larger squatter eviction on E. 13th St. in 1995. This time, fewer people are affected, about 25, and the protests have so far been smaller, with only three arrests. Also, the squatters on 13th St. still have buildings to fight for, as they are hoping the courts will rule they own the buildings even though the Appellate Court has pen-nitted the city to renovate the buildings while the case is pending. With the building on 5th St. now mostly destroyed, the squatters -- who the city maintains occupy buildings illegally -- are going to file a motion to hold the city in contempt,andwillprobablysuefordamages, including the possessions they were not allowed to recover. Cassandra Vernon, a spokesperson for the city Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development, which issued the demolition order, said, "The demolition had already started." She said it would not have ben safe at that point to stop and let people get their things. "We couldn't leave the building in a situation like this, hence the demolition continued," she added. The day of the demolition, her office issued a statement which said: "rhe NYC Dept. of Buildings inspected and deemed the building in imminent danger of collapse. It issued an emergency demolition order..." Architect John Shuttleworth, who is a member of Community Board 3, was very skeptical the fire had caused that much damage, after observing the building immediately after the fire on Feb. 9, and during the demolition the next day. "I saw no charring, I saw no fracture of the beams," he said. "I saw nothing in the long section of the beams, which were damaged. It seemed like these guys rushed to Lake it down and did it." Shuttleworth said he has worked on about eight similar buildings which have been restored after a fire, and many more which were too damaged to be restored. He said healso spoke to Buildings Dept. inspector, Michael Sieburt, who confirmed his assessment. He said Sieburt told him: 'They looked at it quickly,and H.P.D. wanted to take it down ... I said it didn't look like it was in danger of collapse. He said, 'well it's a discretionary takedown.' It's tough to aroue with that." The judge "continued" her temporary restraining order and ordered the city not to remove any debfis until the squatters aregiven a chance to try and recover their belongings. At the hearing, the city's lawyer called a buildings Dept. engineer. Ha@,ev Feinstein to the stand. He had only inspected the building that dav. Feb. 11, after most of the demolition was completed. He said the building, which is still standing in the back, is now unsafe to enter. The engineer who said the building was in "imminent danger" was not called. The fire started at around 4 p.m. on Sunday at 537 E. 5th St. and the demolition crane was on the scene by Monday morning. The building between Avenues A and B is connected to 539 E. 5th via a stair case. Demolition was thwarted twice during the day as squatters tried to reenter the building. One, Bradley Will, 26, hid out in the building most of the day in order to stop the demolition. Will said the fire started in his apartment, and both he and Capt. Thomas Lawrence, commanding officer of the Ninth Precinct, said it was caused by a space heater. The fire department said no cause has been determined. On two occasions, the demolition proceeded for a short time while Will was still in the building, according to several witnesses who saw him appear on the roof. "I climbed out on the roof, and the wrecking ball continued to stfike," he said. The first time he felt something, he said: "I clung to the wall, I cried... I started to cry and [expletive] run to a phone."Most of the time he hid out in adjoining 535 E. 5th St., which was abandoned long ago after a fire. He said because 535 is unsafe, the police were afraid to chase him into that building, which now has also been demolished. Roger Varela's two dogs, Emma and Anakin, died in the fire. That night, he was allowed back into the building to look for them, but he wasn't allowed to remove them. He said he walked all through the building, and "The only damage was to the very front of the building." He and others testified they saw police and city officials go through the building on Monday morning without wearing hard hats. He and Nathan MacDonald were arrested Monday morning when they tried to recover his dogs' bodies. Another tenant, Jason Fitzsirrunons, said his cat Boris has ben missing since the fire. He said his stereo equipment, which he uses to make a living as a D.J., is somewhere in the rubble Capt. Lawrence said his officers "got out all they could get," but the squatters complained most of the stuff was left in the building. Or as another resident, Kurt Reynertson testified: "It seemed like they took a couple of random token items, out of about four or five apartments... The bulk of my belongings are still at 539, underneath the rubble."


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