Volume 75, Number 49 | April 26 - May 2 2006

Villager photos by Bob Arihood

After squatters were evicted from the building, a small Caterpillar earth mover was brought into the backyard of 120 St. Mark’s Pl. and, without a permit, excavated down 10 feet, which the Department of Buildings says unsettled the building.

Stop-work still in effect at former artists’ squat

By Lincoln Anderson

A partial stop-work order remains in place at 120 St. Mark’s Pl., after the Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order there on April 17.

Jennifer Givner, a D.O.B. spokesperson, said construction workers are only allowed to do shoring work, after they excavated a 10-foot-deep pit in the property’s rear yard, causing a bulge to appear on the building’s rear wall. The work had been done without permits, according to Buildings. The developer, Ben Shaoul, claims the bulge was preexisting.

The building was known as the Cave, a squatter artists’ collective. It was recently emptied of a handful of squatters and a CD store that also didn’t have a lease, after Shaoul of Magnum Management bought them out for amounts ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. Shaoul has a contract to purchase the old tenement.

Before Shaoul and the squatters agreed to buyout terms, however, he and his workers twice visited the building with sledgehammers in an intimidating manner. The first time, they kicked in one squatter’s door and pushed down one of another, though admittedly the latter door was just propped on its hinges because the door jam was rotted.

The second time the developer and his crew showed up, there was a tense standoff with Craig Lopez, owner of Accidental CD’s, after the workers threatened to break down his door with a sledgehammer. Lopez warned he would jump up and put his head in the sledgehammer’s path, and the workers backed off. Police were called to the scene, and Shaoul and his men left. Lopez says that just days before this incident, he had sat down with Shaoul and discussed taking a buyout.

Ben Shaoul, holding phone, second from left, and Jim “Mosaic Man” Power, right, earlier this month, during a tense standoff after Shaoul and his workers, carrying sledgehammers and crowbars, arrived at 120 St. Mark’s Pl.

Ultimately, all the squatters — who included Jim “Mosaic Man” Power, whose mosaics adorn the East Village — took buyouts and left. Had they fought to stay, Shaoul would had to have gotten a vacate order and had them ejected by a city marshal, a process that would have taken much longer. Shaoul contended the way he did it was “more humane” than having marshals and police evict the squatters.

Lopez’s lawyer, Gerry Bunting, said of his client, “He took a buyout under duress. Bunting said the way Shaoul and his men kicked down the door of Rachel Allen, Lopez’s girlfriend, and yelled at her was “harassment.” Shaoul says Allen yelled at him.

Shaoul also denied there were any sledgehammers present during the incidents.

Shaoul’s workers at 120 St. Mark’s Pl. are also said to include Goldie, a notorious St. Mark’s Pl. pot dealer.

A past tenant of another building, 638 E. 11th St., who requested anonymity, last week told The Villager that Shaoul’s workers destabilized that building three years ago after Shaoul had recently bought it, causing all the tenants to be evacuated — an evacuation that became permanent, since none of the tenants ultimately returned.

Givner of Buildings confirmed that on June 21, 2004, the department issued a vacate order for 638 E. 11th St. after construction at the building caused a party wall foundation to crack and separate from the rear exterior wall. In addition, Givner said, the rear masonry wall was cracked, bulging and defective from the second floor to the roof; and the west exterior wall was bulging from the fifth floor to the roof. Jim Capalino, a Shaoul spokesperson, last week told The Villager that heavy rains had destabilized the 11th St. building. However, the former tenant said the developer had demolished a two-story building in the rear yard in which the former landlord lived, and had dug too deep, which is what put the building at risk of collapse.

In addition, Shaoul last year made an initial attempt at a so-called demolition eviction at another building he had just purchased, 515 E. Fifth St., but backed off after public outcry at a Community Board 3 meeting this February. Under the demolition eviction provision, a landlord can evict rent-regulated tenants if he files an application to do a gut rehab of a building.

Givner of D.O.B. said an inspector visiting 515 E. Fifth St. on Sat. April 15 issued a violation for work being done without a variance allowing weekend work. Monte Schapiro, a tenant, said it was his understanding D.O.B. was doing an audit of the construction, but that he recently checked with Buildings, which told him they were not. Schapiro said Councilmember Rosie Mendez has been advocating on their behalf.

Schapiro contends Shaoul is illegally excavating in the building’s basement and rear yard. But Givner said permits were granted for the work.

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