NYC needs to address ‘epidemic of scaffolding in Manhattan,’ borough president says

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By Dan Sears

Scaffolding has wrapped the side of the city medical examiner’s office in Kips Bay for so long that many locals can’t even remember life without the eyesore.

Records show the structure has been in place for more than 14 years, making it the oldest sidewalk shed currently in Manhattan. Its rusted beams stretch two blocks around the corner, making the drab building on First Avenue even more unsightly.

“It looks horrendous,” said Hamza Ahmed, 24, a student at the nearby NYU Medical School. “I’ve been seeing the scaffolding for like two or three years now. I’m kind of used to it, but I definitely would love to see it go down at some point.”

Records show a permit for the scaffolding was originally issued in 2009 while maintenance was performed on the building. But the shed has lingered for years after the work was completed due to building “ownership issues,” according to the office of Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.

The medical examiner building’s scaffolding is one of more than 10 aging sidewalk sheds that Levine highlighted in a report released on Friday. The report comes a month after Mayor Eric Adams heralded the removal of scaffolding that stood in Harlem for 21 years, which he said was the start of his “Get Sheds Down” plan to expedite the removal of the city’s roughly 400 miles of scaffolding.

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Levine said more must be done to dismantle the scaffolding, and pointed to seven other Manhattan properties that have been shrouded in scaffolding from six to 13 years.

“We have an epidemic of scaffolding in Manhattan, almost 4,000 sheds,” said Levine. “We need to totally reform the system so that we continue to protect pedestrians and that work is done expeditiously.”

Adams has called scaffolding an unsightly blemish on New York City and a misuse of public space.

Levine said he’s working with the mayor to introduce legislation reforming Local Law 11, which requires buildings taller than six stories to adhere to strict inspections and maintenance. Levine said the law has created red tape that results in scaffolding surrounding buildings for years.

The law was passed in 1998 after several pedestrians were killed by debris that had fallen from buildings’ facades.

Levine also said he’s working to expedite arbitration in building ownership disputes, which often result in scaffolding like the one at the medical examiner’s office remaining in place while legal battles play out.

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Those reforms would be welcome news for Thom Ostrowski, an East Village resident who’s had to look at scaffolding that’s sat on East Ninth Street for 13 of the 30 years he’s lived in the neighborhood.

The shed — the second oldest in Manhattan — is perched in front of a landmarked community center that previously housed P.S. 64. Crain’s reported earlier this month that the building sold for $57 million following 25 years of legal and political battles.

“It’s just kind of gone derelict for most of the time I’ve been in the East Village,” Ostrowski, 62, said of the scaffolding.

Levine said the building is emblematic of a larger problem: property owners neglect their buildings, and leave sidewalk sheds in front of them.

“The owner of the property during the period of dispute just let it deteriorate further and further and further to the point where it was unsafe,” said Levine. “[In] cases like this, the city should fine the property owner so that they maintain the safety of the facade as opposed to taking the cheap way out, which is just renting a sidewalk shed indefinitely.”

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The Department of Buildings touted the Adams administration’s scaffolding removal efforts.

“We’ve been saying all along — getting sidewalk sheds down, both for aesthetics and to encourage landlords to do needed façade work — is one of the most challenging and most important things that we want to do during this administration,” said DOB spokesperson David Maggiotto.

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