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New construction pens in College Point homeowner

Charlie Knight and his family arrived back at their College Point home from winter vacation two weeks ago to find workers building a two-story, two-family house next door and using their backyard for storage space.

It angered Knight, but that was nothing compared to the sight that greeted him when he came home from work on the afternoon of March 3.

"I look and all my property next to my house is gone and these guys have laid a foundation attached to mine," Knight said in an interview Monday.

Adding insult to injury, Knight said, the foundation of the new home was built right up to the left side of his own house at 20-31 125th St., where he has lived for the past 13 years. Workers had dug into approximately 10 inches of his own property, destroyed shrubs and rose bushes planted there, erected a wooden fence three feet into his backyard over his patio and were using his outside faucet to mix cement.

Knight said he immediately called the city Department of Buildings, but their staff did not visit until the following Monday. In the meantime, Knight said the Asian-American construction men, who apparently did not speak English, kept working.

"They worked like beavers Saturday and Sunday to get that done," said Knight, referring to the concrete foundation riddled with bricks and wooden planks that abuts his home. "I was flipping out by Monday."

The building permits on the fence surrounding the construction site indicate the contractor is Orient Construction Group of Rego Park and a two-story, two family home is planned for the site at 20-27 and 20-29 125th St.

The site is zoned R-4, which according to a staff member from Community Board 7, requires a minimum of at least a five-foot side yard between the new structure and the property line. A spokesman for the city Department of Planning was unavailable for comment on the property in question.

A stop work order was issued by the Buildings Department on March 6 for inadequate housekeeping, the absence of an 8-foot- high construction fence and most importantly inadequate sheeting, bracing and shoring of Knight's property, said spokesman Mike Wein.

"When you're digging a foundation, you're digging a hole and if you dig too far to the property next to you, you're digging out what's supporting it and there's a chance it could fall," Wein said.

He said Orient had an April 25 court date to respond to the violations.

Orient's work was not unexpected. Both Knight and another neighbor of the property who would not give her last name said they had received letters from the contractor last summer informing them that an existing, one-family home on the property would be demolished and work would begin on the two-family house.

Knight said the original, one-family home had been set back further from the street so his three windows looked out on a front yard and driveway.

Mike Lee of Orient Construction said Knight's home lies six inches within the construction site and Orient can legally attach its two-family home to his.

Lee also said Orient had agreed to reimburse Knight for the water the company had used and Knight had only called the Buildings Department when he realized the structure would block his windows.

Michael Cervini, a Jackson Heights attorney representing Orient, defended the legality of the construction company's project and said it was "100 percent above board."

"In this particular zoning, he can put his structure up right on top of or abutting the adjoining lot structure," Cervini said. "There doesn't seem to be the necessity for any kind of sideyard or setback."

"The only dispute is where is the property boundary line," Cervini noted. "It sure looks like Lee can put the building right on top of the other building."

Knight and his family hired surveyors to recheck their property lines. They have also retained the Jamaica Hills-based law firm of Trop and Spindler to block Orient's project and have their property returned to normal.

In a letter dated March 8, the Knights' lawyer, Gail Spindler, wrote to Orient Construction that the new survey indicated her clients' home was a single-family, detached house which was well within the Knights' property line and there should be a suitable amount of space between Orient's project and the Knight dwelling.

Spindler demanded that Orient permanently cease construction, reimburse the Knights $442 for the survey and restore their premises.

"The landscape must be replaced, the foundation which you dug abutting my clients' property filled in, the cement blocks and other materials built against my clients' property removed, all damage to their structure repaired, the patio restored to its original condition, etc.," wrote the lawyers.

As of press time, Spindler said she had not received a response from Orient. Orient's lawyer said the case would go to court on March 21.

Knight believes Orient is trying to force him to sell his home to them.

"Who wants to buy a house that's down as unattached that's attached to another house?" he said. "So who am I going to be able to sell it to other than Orient?"

He is also afraid of how detaching Orient's foundation from his will affect his 70-year-old home.

"Are they going to jackhammer it?" Knight said. "The removal's going to do more damage than having it put on."

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