The city Buildings Department, which said Henry Huang caused "some damage" to the neighbor's property, immediately hit the son of the notorious northeast Queens developer with four violations after the incident.
The Huang development, which is being built by son Henry Huang, has been the target of community criticism because the property is being divided into four-house lots in a neighborhood where similarly sized parcels hold only individual homes.
"We have fought against this project for three years," neighborhood East Bayside Homeowners Association President Frank Skala said. "Fortunately no one was hurt or killed or buried (in the collapse)."
The accident occurred at 2 a.m. Saturday in the backyard of the neighbor's house at 39-33 223rd St., leaving a cliff between the home and the parcel that is being developed. The owner, Patricia Martin, declined to comment on the incident, saying she was "too disturbed" to discuss the matter.
Henry Huang did not return calls requesting comment on the incident.
"We were sleeping and we literally thought it was an earthquake," said neighbor Lisa Mandalios, who lives on the other side of Huang's lot. "We looked around, but we couldn't see anything."
When Mandalios awoke in the morning, she said the land beneath Martin's property had disintegrated to the point where the underside of Martin's pool was exposed.
Martin's yard was filled in and raised about 25 feet in order for her to build that pool, neighbors said. The backyards in the neighborhood, which abut the Cross Island Parkway and waterway, are comprised of sand because that area used to be beachfront property.
"If that goes falling on the Cross Island Expressway," Mandalios said of the remaining unsupported retaining wall that runs between the back of Martin's property and the highway, "you're going to have a mass tragedy."
Mandalios said she notified the city Department of Buildings about the collapse.
"I don't blame the builder," Mandalios said. "I blame the Department of Buildings because they're the ones that allowed them to do this."
She is not alone in attacking the city agency for its inability to prevent the collapse.
"I am shocked such a serious condition not only has been allowed to occur but that follow-up action by the Department of Buildings is seriously lagging," City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. "As of midday Monday, no corrective work by Mr. Huang was evident."
In a letter to the Buildings Department, Avella requested an investigation into why Huang was allowed to dig so low and so close to the adjacent property line and why no actions were taken by the agency until late Monday to require Huang to prevent further erosion.
Buildings Department spokeswoman Ilyse Fink said Avella was not entirely correct in his assessment. She said the agency had required Huang to secure the site Monday and that he was issued multiple violations for the accident.
"They did cause some damage to the adjoining property, but they did not imperil the house," she said.
The agency issued the developer violations for not notifying the city about the collapse and not having the proper fencing in place as well as two violations for not safeguarding the work site. Fines for those violations, she said, could range from zero to $5,000.
"We directed them to have their structural engineer submit a plan as to how they were doing proper bracing," she added. She said the department was not concerned that the wall that faces the Cross Island Expressway could fall apart.
Mandalios said she saw the builders support the cliff-like edge of the property between the Huangs' development and Martin's home with excess dirt after the collapse.
The front doors of the Huangs' four-house development will sit 20 to 30 feet below where Martin's front door is and the houses will face away from hers. The four houses appear to be brick in the depictions on the front of the construction site and will be built at staggered levels so they all have views of the water.
The elder Huang was convicted of a felony for environmental damage that he did to the RKO Keith's theater in Flushing during the years that he owned the historic property,
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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