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Falling down! City sues cement magnate Quadrozzi over decrepit Henry St. buildings

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A Cobble Hill homeowner has allowed two landmarked properties to fall apart for nearly a decade — and now the buildings are in danger of collapse, the city charged in a bombshell lawsuit this week.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission slapped concrete magnate John Quadrozzi Jr. with the suit on April 5, arguing that despite repeated attempts, the buildings — a three-story Italianate rowhouse and adjoining carriage house at Henry and Congress Streets — continue to remain “in a state of significant and progressive deterioration and extreme disrepair.”

Court papers describe a classic example of a landlord’s failure to maintain a historic structure: The rowhouse, built in 1852, looks like a “before” picture for an episode of “This Old House,” boasting large cracks, missing bricks, holes and absent windows.

Meanwhile, the carriage house has its own set of problems, including collapsed roof beans and two holes in the roof.

Both buildings are in danger of collapse, the city stated in its suit — a rare time when the Landmarks agency has taken such a battle all the way to court.

“Over the past five years, the commission has repeatedly attempted — through correspondence, meetings, visiting the site, and issuing violations — to persuade Mr. Quadrozzi to repair the two landmarked buildings to avoid litigation,” said Elizabeth Thomas, a Law Department spokeswoman. “Initiating a lawsuit is the only recourse left to compel him to make the legally required repairs to these buildings.”

The commission is seeking immediate repairs and fines of $5,000 a day — post-dated to March 2009.

Quadrozzi said he remains committed to repairing the properties, and blamed the city for dragging its feet in getting permits approved. He said Landmarks was more concerned with exterior work than the significant structural repairs — like putting up a new structural wall — which he knew needed to get done first.

Moreover, Quadrozzi wondered if the city’s ongoing problems with controversial architect Robert Scarano had somehow motivated the lawsuit. Earlier this year, the city took action against Scarano, claiming that the architect designed apartments and buildings that played fast and loose with city zoning laws.

Quadrozzi terminated his business relationship with Scarano last year, but now said that his current issue with the city “makes me feel that all my troubles were because the city was just against my [choice of] architect,” he said.

Scarano refused to comment, but the city said that Quadrozzi was raising a straw man — the problems on Henry Street are Quadrozzi’s own.

For example, applications for some permits were missing the vital information, despite numerous requests for it, Thomas said. The commission approved one application nearly two years ago for the wall’s reconstruction, but the work remains unfinished, she added.

Even an array of violations — 23 violations at the site since 2001, totaling roughly $25,000 — did little to persuade the homeowner, who lives in another home on the block.

“These were for conditions noted at the site, be it a sidewalk shed, defective masonry or defective brickwork,” said Buildings spokeswoman Carly Sullivan. “They are not related to the architect hired by the owner.”

Since 2002, the commission has filed just eight lawsuits citywide compelling owners to make repairs.

“Litigation is a last resort, and comes only after owners repeatedly ignore the commission’s warning letters and notices of violation to persuade them to repair their landmarked properties,” agency spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said.

Neighbors hailed the city suit.

“We’ve been disappointed that he has literally let it deteriorate,” said Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association.

Quadrozzi said work is proceeding on schedule, and he hopes to move into the properties — purchased from Long Island College Hospital in 2000 — at the end of the year. Renovations are costing about $1 million, he said.

“I’m a guy that bought a building and wants to fix it. Instead of helping me, the city wants to kill me,” he said.

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