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Warehouse owner sues CitiStorage over fire — but victims still waiting for answers from FDNY

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What in the blazes is going on?

The owner of a storage warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront that went up in flames a year ago recently filed a lawsuit against his tenants, claiming they are at fault for the massive inferno. But neighbors and those who lost their possessions in the pyre say they’ve been asking fire authorities to explain what happened for months with no answers, and now they’re wondering what he knows that they don’t.

“I find it interesting that he is filing this suit right now,” said Steve Chesler, co-chair of activist group Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, which is fighting to transform the Kent Avenue property into parkland for years. “Maybe he has access to information, and hopefully that is going to come to light soon.”

Businessman Norm Brodsky, who was occupying two floors of an adjoining facility with his wife Elaine at the time of the fire, filed a $3-million suit on Jan. 15 alleging that storage companies Citipostal — part of CitiStorage, which Brodsky helped found — and Recall Holdings are to blame for the blaze that destroyed his home and cherished belongings.

The suit — first reported by the Daily News — claims the tenants were responsible for maintaining the space and so are liable for the destruction, though does not outline how they neglected to take care of the property.

But this came as news to the other victims and local activists, who say they’ve been demanding the fire department release a report for months but only getting hot air in response.

Authorities first told Councilman Steve Levin’s (D–Williamsbu­rg) office a report would be ready by the end of November, but have repeatedly pushed back the release date, said Chesler. The department most recently projected it would be ready in mid-January, but missed that deadline too, according to a staffer in Levin’s office.

The people who lost stored paperwork in the inferno are now growing increasingly impatient as their efforts to settle simple claims over the documents keep getting stymied by the fire department’s silence, according to their lawyer.

“We find it extraordinary the fire department can’t come out with a report in less than a year,” said Jim Veach of the Mound Cotton law firm.

The department says only that it is still investigating the cause of the fire, and is unable to speculate when the things will wrap up.

“The incident remains under investigat­ion,” said spokesman Jim Long. “I can not speak to the duration or the expected end of the investigation or finalizing of the report.”

The scorched earth has been a hot topic in the neighborhood in more ways than one, because the city promised residents a decade ago that it would buy the land and use it to extend Bushwick Inlet Park, in exchange for rezoning swathes of the waterfront so developers could stick luxury high-rises along the shore.

But as the years have gone by with no action, the land’s value has continued to climb, and now Brodsky is looking to sell the prime patch of real estate for upwards of $300 million — a price tag the city says it can’t afford.

The activist group plans to host a press conference at the site on Jan. 31, the one-year anniversary of the fire, to remind the city that it has yet to make good on the pledge, and to memorialize the blaze that reignited their passion for securing the parkland.

“It really did light a fire in the community,” said Katherine Thompson, Chesler’s fellow co-chair.

Brodsky’s lawyers and Recall Holdings did not respond to requests for comment. CitiPostal could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:57 am, January 25, 2016
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