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Cracks in homes lead residents to seek halt to work at SJU site

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Since last fall, the Concerned Citizens of Jamaica Estates, which organized a protest Saturday, has been trying to fight the 478-bed dorm project at 172-14 Henley Rd. because of its out-of-context nature in the neighborhood and their fears that it will tax water and sewer infrastructure. Residents also believe that St. John's University, which is to lease the building from developer H2H Residences LLC, was dishonest with the community for failing to announce in advance its plans to house students in the residential neighborhood.The community has sought to halt construction via stop work orders issued through the Department of Buildings in September and October, one of which was for inadequate sewer permits. But the most recent expired in November.Evelyne Altenberg, whose house is immediately next door to the construction site, has had a crack develop along the length of her side yard in the past week, which City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) says is due to improper excavation and shoring of the foundation hole. The crack is wider than a human foot and deep enough that people stumbled into it Saturday after the rally."After the last meeting [in January], I asked the Department of Buildings to come out here and issue a stop work order because they haven't properly shored up the bulkhead," Avella said. "They sent somebody out here and found nothing wrong."In mid-January Avella spoke to Queens DOB Commissioner Derek Lee about the shoring, and followed up with letters Jan. 18, Jan. 30 and Feb. 11, his office said. Lee replied Feb. 5 saying the agency had audited the plans and would allow construction to proceed, according to a copy of Avella's most recent letter.City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) pledged $5,000 to the group from his discretionary fund so they can hire a civil engineer to examine the site, an offer that made barely a ripple in the protest.Aside from concerns about safety, sewer capacity, noise and parking, the foundation has been dug down to the water table and will be prone to flooding and mold, the group says. The tarp covering the chain link fence at the site flapped open in the wind, revealing standing water in several places in the excavation."This place is built over a stream. If mold develops, that's not good," said Philip Ross, one of the speakers at the protest. He said that the excavation for the six-story building's foundation keeps filling with water as a result.Shakti Chris, another speaker at the rally, said residents who had sought permission to alter their house and basement were told by a geologist that they could only dig down six feet. The excavation for the dorm is much deeper than that, and "it's when they dug deeper and hit the water table that the water stands," she said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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