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Owner of demolished building files claim against Schenectady

Owner of demolished building files claim against Schenectady

Owner said he wasn't notified Schenectady would tear down building
Owner of demolished building files claim against Schenectady
Excavators from Carver Construction remove debris from the hill on Barney Street in February.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — The owner of one of the properties demolished after a late-January landslide has filed a notice of claim against the city.

Josh Gonzalez, principal of Gabe and Jul Properties LLC, which owned 15 Barney St., makes several claims against the city over actions city officials took to demolish the home. Specifically, he accuses the city of failing to repair a water service line break in a timely manner and of failing to properly inspect his more than 100-year-old home before demolishing it. He also said the city never notified him of the demolition decision.

“I’m the victim here,” Gonzalez said, adding that the city took down his building within 24 hours of the slide. “They didn’t do their due diligence.”

A notice of claim is required before a lawsuit can be filed against a municipality.

Gonzalez said the home was an investment property and that it previously had tenants. There was no one living in the building at the time of the slide, he said.

His legal filing also claims the city didn't tell him the risks the water service leak posed to his property, even though water from the leak damaged the foundation of his building.

Gonzalez said his insurance policy doesn’t cover landslides.

“[The city] takes your house away; that’s a little unsettling,” Gonzalez said.

The landslide occurred during the early morning hours of Jan. 28. It caused mud and debris to crash into the back of an apartment building at 223 Nott Terrace.

After the slide, the city declared a state of emergency and demolished three structures because city officials deemed them unstable. 

Those structures were at 11 and 15 Barney St, as well as the garage behind 2 Daggett Terrace. They were razed at a cost of $73,000.

City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said that, because the area was under a state of emergency after the slide, the city did not need to contact the property owners to demolish the buildings, though the city generally tries to do so.

“We’re not required to give any notice to the parties involved due to the fact it’s an emergency and we have to address the situation immediately,” Falotico said.

He said he would need more information about why Gonzalez feels the city didn’t do enough of an investigation of his building before demolishing it in order to comment on that aspect of the claim.

“It sounds like a vague accusation you make when you can’t point to anything we actually did wrong,” Falotico said.

A geotechnical report released by the city on Monday indicated water from a broken service line to 11 Barney St. flowed into Gonzalez's basement before the landslide. City Engineer Chris Wallin previously said that the water line break was the cause of the landslide.

City officials and residents of 223 Nott Terrace also said water was found in the basement of that building after the landslide crashed into it.

City officials previously said they became aware of the broken water line at 11 Barney St. and shut it off the Friday before the slide.

The city claims it was not liable for the landslide because the water service line is the responsibility of the property owners.

Schenectady County property records indicate 11 Barney St. is owned by Bronx residents Vidyawattie and Yashmenie Devi Abraja. The city said it has tried to make contact with them but has not been able to do so.

The report also indicated the city discovered a water service line leak at 6 Daggett Terrace, located 150 feet from 11 Barney St. well before the landslide. City Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond, though, said the city doesn’t believe that break contributed to the slide. He said water from that line flowed down Landon Terrace into a catch basin.

“It was a small leak,” LaFond said. “The property owner was notified.”

The Dagget Terrace leak was repaired the day after the slide occurred.

Falotico also previously said the city didn’t have any liability because it did nothing to add to the problem that caused the slide. He also doesn't believe the city was negligent in failing to notify residents at the bottom of the hill of the danger because water and sewer maintenance crews didn’t have any reason to believe the slope would fail.

The slide sent three people to the hospital, including Iquann Cornish, who was trapped inside his 223 Nott Terrace apartment by the debris. Cornish said the mud covered him up to his neck for nearly an hour before emergency crews were able to extricate him.

Cornish was airlifted to Albany Medical Center. His uncle, Reco Ross, and his 17-year-old cousin were also taken to the hospital. They were all released a few days later.

Both Cornish and Ross have filed their own notices of claim against the city.

Cornish has also filed a notice of claim against the county because of its involvement in the Schenectady County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, which was published in 2007.

That report included a map that showed the ridge where Barney Street is located as being susceptible to landslides. The ridge was the site of landslides in 1996, which claimed one life, and in 2004.

Cornish claimed both the city and county failed to make sure the hill was stable before the landslide. Ross said the city was negligent in not addressing the water service line break in a timely manner.

The owners of 225 Nott Terrace, David and Bruce Baker, have also filed a notice of claim against the city. Their claim also said the city failed to address the water service line leak in a timely manner.

None of those who have filed notices of claim have detailed how much they are seeking in damages.

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