Bad neighbors make bad fences: ‘Spite fence’ replaces ‘spite wall’ in Ridge

Bad neighbors make bad fences: ‘Spite fence’ replaces ‘spite wall’ in Ridge
Community News Group / Caroline Spivack

Bay Ridge’s “spite wall” is gone — now meet the “spite fence.”

The city shut down an 87th Street man’s illegal home enlargement a decade ago, but he refused to clean up the half-built project, instead letting a single, ugly wall loom over the block for a decade. Officials demolished the partition on Oct. 20 citing safety concerns, but a construction fence that encircled it for the last year will remain up until the property owner cleans up demolition debris.

But neighbors are not optimistic that will happen, considering the man’s apparent obstructionist bent.

“Well, he doesn’t have the greatest track record, so if that fence is only going down when he’s ready for it to go down, then welcome to the neighborhood, because that thing doesn’t sound like it‘ll be coming down any time soon,” said Lawrence Hennessy, who lives a block away from the construction site. “That whole thing is one big mess.”

Robert Cunningham built the wall in 2007 as part of a home expansion, but he didn’t have the proper permit and the city slapped him with a stop-work order. Apparently angered at the setback, he refused to dismantle the barrier and fought the city for 10 years until officials determined it was in danger of collapse and sent workers to demolish the wall’s unstable sections, according to a Department of Buildings spokesman.

But even though the wall was dismantled, the unsightly construction fence a few feet in front of it cannot be removed until the area is no longer a construction zone — and for that to happen, Cunningham must demolish the remaining extension and fill in holes he dug on the property, said a spokesman for the Department of Buildings.

But it took nearly a decade to knock the wall down and neighbors are skeptical that Cunningham is in any hurry to repair the lot, according to one area resident who said the fence is only a marginal improvement over the wall.

“It took this long just to get that thing down, and he didn’t even take it down himself — the city did. So yeah, I think it’s probably safe to say it’s going to be there for a while,” said Jon Giannini, who lives around the corner on Colonial Road. “But it’s a step up from the wall. You don’t have to worry about a cinder block coming from out of no where and taking you out.”

Cunningham could also ask the city for a permit to finish the construction he began a decade ago, which would be equally painful for neighbors, said Hennessy.

“It’s his property. He can do what ever he wants, but can you imagine if the neighborhood went through all this just for it to start all over again?” said Hennessy. “I hope that’s not the case. But that wall was nicknamed the ‘spite wall,’ so if that’s any indication the block isn’t out of the woods yet.”

The city will continue to issue fines to Cunningham, but it cannot forcibly clean up the property and remove the fence unless there is a clear and present danger, a spokesman said.

“The [Department of Buildings] must follow enforcement procedures that are provided by law. An emergency declaration can only be issued in the event that a condition poses a threat to the public. The owner will still be subject to additional violations if they don’t correct the condition or demolish the remaining portion of the wall,” said agency rep Alexander Schnell.

Cunningham did not return multiple requests for comment.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Down but not out: The construction fence cannot come down until the owner — who has a history of dragging his feet on such things — cleans up this rubble.
Community News Group / Caroline Spivack