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Crumbling homes in Astoria, Queens

September 26, 2012 3:16:18 PM PDT
There's plenty of finger-pointing over a high-rise construction project in a quiet neighborhood in Astoria, Queens. Nearby residents say their homes are breaking and cracking, and no one is taking responsibility.

The city Department of Buildings is taking action now, issuing a stop work order on the building on 31st Street. The question: is this all a little too late for homeowners who have been complaining for months that their nearby homes are in danger from devastating damage?

"The foundation is cracking everywhere," Robert said.
"There is cracking all over the place," said one woman.
"The entire floor is raised," John said.
"This is cracked, because of them," Mohammed said.

They are hard-working families who thought they'd found their little piece of the American dream on this block in Astoria, Queens.

"This is where we plan to raise our family and make a home and now we're in jeopardy of losing our home," one woman said.

These homeowners claim their houses are slowly being ripped apart by a massive 8-story office building under construction on 31st Street. You can see it sticking up out of the skyline from miles away.

"You look up and see that spike. It's just an eyesore," John said.

The residents say they had no warning that such a massive hi-rise was being built, and certainly not right up against their backyards.

Home video shows workers dumping dirt out of the building's windows to fill up gaps in the foundation because there wasn't enough room to get to the back from the ground. And residents say tools regularly fall into their backyards from the upper floors.

"It got way worse once the building was going in then the house started to break and crack," Robert said.

That was in the spring. The homeowners claim it gets worse by the day.

"I can fit in my whole hand as you see," said one homeowner, putting her hand between some bricks. "Everything is separated. You know I can't even fit my hand down here. It was not like this before."

The homeowners say they tried contacting the building's developers, Pali realty, with no luck.

"It's heartbreaking and it's frustrating. It's frustrating to be ignored," John said.

We tried tracking down the owners of Pali Realty, leaving messages at the listed phone number, which coincides with a medical office across the street-we stopped by the address for the corporation which is a residential home in Whitestone. No response.

The Department of Buildings recently issued a full stop work order to the project. Among the objections - that the developers failed to provide a large a large enough rear yard. DOB could not answer why no city inspectors caught that problem before. In all, there've been 13 violations issued to the site, and fines of just over $16,000. Officials claim all but one of the violations has been resolved.

But the homeowners say their problems certainly aren't resolved. An engineer hired by homeowner Robert Draghi wrote, "The construction of the new building has and is affecting the residence? Substantial damage is evident? It may be become more economically advisable to totally rebuild the home from the ground up."

City councilman Peter Vallone is now trying to mediate.

"If they can be repaired, they have to pay to be repaired. If they can't be repaired, you're talking some serious money damage," Vallone said.

I finally reached an attorney for Pali Realty on the phone. He refused to do an interview, but says there are three insurance companies and engineers now involved; he predicted the blame game, involving the contractors, will end up in court. There's lots more to investigate on this story, and we're doing it.

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