Co-op owners spar with developer over repairs

Patrick Donachie

The Colin L. Powell Apartments on Fox Street.

Builder argues the building’s issues are homeowners’ responsibility

Four years after the General Colin L. Powell Apartments opened at 715 Fox Street in Longwood, residents are mired in an ongoing dispute with the respected development company that financed the project, over who should pay for repairs to fix structural and equipment problems in the building.

When construction on the six-story co-op was completed in 2011, there was a sense of elation among the building’s new residents, many of them first-time homeowners. The fact that the project was financed and managed by Blue Sea Development, one of the Bronx’s most lauded developers of environmentally-friendly buildings, was the icing on the cake.“The first time we walked in, we had tears that we could ever own such a place,” said Damian Griffin, a schoolteacher and president of the co-op board.

But within months of moving in, Griffin and other residents began to notice problems in the 50-unit building. Cracks appeared in the exterior facade. Leaks began seeping into apartments from the roof. And some of the much-touted “green technology” began to fail.

Now the homeowners, who are locked into a 15-year contract with the developer, say that Blue Sea should fix those problems. They add that because the project was partially financed with more than $8 million of taxpayer money, they deserve more transparency than they’ve been getting.

Officials at Blue Sea disagree, saying that they have been forthcoming and that the residents are responsible for repairs at this point.

Homeowners say that two natural gas-fueled generators designed to heat water and supply electricity for the building’s hallway, lobby and community rooms, while also keeping down costs, have broken down. When those units worked properly, the residents say, they helped keep the building’s electric bill for the common spaces at zero, and the gas bills less than $500. But according to the building’s superintendent, Carlos Mendoza, those units have begun malfunctioning. As a result, residents now pay almost $4,000 for those gas and electric bills.

“That’s money we should be setting aside for future problems,” Griffin said.

Xiomara Delgado, the co-op board’s treasurer, agreed.

“We did not expect to spend the type of money that we have,” she said.

A recent meeting between residents and Blue Sea officials has not resulted in any concessions from the company, they say. Mendoza worried that maintenance fees could rise due to those higher costs. Although he does his best to help keep the building clean, he said, he lacks the resources to fix the faulty technology.

“You can walk through this building and eat off any floor, but there’s only so many mechanics a super can do,” he said.

Mendoza cited the building’s green roof as another concern. Rainwater from a recent storm that should have drained in three days was still standing on the roof a week later, he said, adding that could lead to more leaks.

In 2013, an engineering company residents contracted to monitor the building recommended repairs that could total $1 million to correct faulty construction. In response, Blue Sea contracted an engineering firm that rejected many of those recommendations, insisting that most of the issues the first team of engineers highlighted amounted to optional improvements.

Befuddled residents are now looking for help from their elected officials to help navigate the city’s red tape. Last fall they arranged a meeting with representatives from the offices of State Senators Jose M. Serrano and Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblyman Marcos Crespo and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to help negotiate a solution to the impasse. Blue Sea officials declined the invitation. A spokesman from Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office said the council member would continue to monitor the dispute.

“Our office is working with the parties to come to a conclusion,” said the spokesman, Eric Koch.

The borough president’s office, which provided $640,000 for the Colin Powell, did not respond to requests for comment.

Les Bluestone, Blue Sea’s co-founder, wrote in an email to the Express that the issue of the two malfunctioning generators is minor, there is no leak in the roof, and cracks are common in large buildings. At this juncture, he said, responsibility for repairs falls squarely on the shoulders of the building’s residents.

“We have been, and are currently addressing open matters properly identified as warranty issues,” Bluestone wrote. “Any other issues that relate to regular and usual maintenance are being referred appropriately.”

The co-op owners say they will not back down, stressing that the model of affordably priced co-op housing that features environmentally progressive technology is a noble one worth fighting for.

“We’re buying into not just a building, but a neighborhood,” said Griffin. “This is what the future of the Bronx is supposed to be.”

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