When RIOC Thumbs Its Nose At Fire Hazards…

When RIOC Thumbs Its Nose At Fire Hazards…

When RIOC thumbs its nose at fire hazards, but residents keep pushing, this happens: New York City issues violation notices and fines. The notice from the Department of Buildings was slow in arriving, but it starts a chain focused on accountability… for RIOC and Hudson Related Retail.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

The story is long and complicated. As we reported in January, Island House residents complained about Nisi’s exhaust vents for decades. But insistent as they were, RIOC matched them with studied indifference.

Palming off responsibility, a sickness embedded in local government, came into play.

Now, however, enough noise finally got the city’s attention. And although DOB issued a violation report , the tale has a few twists and turns ahead. Results, other than RIOC’s indifference, are not certain.

RIOC, along with its partner, Hudson Related Retail, responsible for Flops Shops On Main, may fob off responsibility again. Legal responsibility, that is, not moral or neighborly.

About the Fire Hazards…

Nisi exhaust vents, tenants say, pump noxious odors into Island House. And the Department of Buildings agrees that they are unsafe as well.

In total, residents hit RIOC with three complaints about hazardous conditions in multiple locations, but let’s stick with Nisi for now.

The Department of Buildings violations report is clear: “FAILURE TO MAINTAIN BUILDING IN CODE COMPLIANT MANNER. EXHAUST DISCHARGE MUST BE NO CLOSER THAN 10′ FROM BUILDING OPENINGS.”

But it’s not simple because the party listed in violation is ISLAND HOUSE TENANTS CORP. That is, some of the same people pushing the complaints. Not RIOC or leaseholder Hudson Related Retail.

In the end, however, responsibility for the fire hazards rests squarely on RIOC because of its agreement with Island House for overseeing retail on Main Street. After reviewing documents supplied by a reliable source, we wonder if RIOC’s ducking the issue.

RIOC general counsel Gretchen Robinson and president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and Island House building management declined comment beyond acknowledging the DOB complaint.

There is a deadline for correcting the violation of May 24th.

When residents step up the pressure…

Back in December, Island House residents Srdjan and Dragana Mrkic circulated a petition that gained 51 signatures: “Eliminating Air and Area Pollution Emanating from ‘Nisi’.”

For a prolonged period of time we are all exposed to the malodors and stench produced by the diner “Nisi”, pumped directly and without any filtering right at the main entrance to the building, as well as its constant disgusting odors and filthy garbage disposal and removal on the only main path to the entrance.”

Island House Residents Petition, First Paragraph

But the circumstances were worse than the residents imagined. Inspection by a professional engineer, that same month, discovered severe fire hazards in Nisi’s kitchen. Sprinkler heads, among other concerns, were inoperable because of caked on grease.

It was a disaster waiting to happen.

When RIOC blows off the fire hazards…

A source, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, gave The Daily a copy of a letter written by RIOC’s chief counsel Gretchen Robinson in January. It was not addressed to the residents, who RIOC continues ignoring. Because the letter contained unexplained errors, uncommon for a topic this importance, we verified it as authentic through a third party.

The letter went to Island House’s management, according to our source, in response to concerns about contract violations.

Among other things, Robinson referred to RIOC as “the Roosevelt Island Operation Corporation.”

David Kramer, responsible for Hudson Related Retail (HRR), was copied.

“HRR and LM (Lisa Management) believe the existing exhaust system is built to code,” Robinson wrote. She did not directly address the fire hazards or any responsibility on RIOC’s part, palming everything off on Hudson Related Retail.

The New York City Department of Buildings disagreed.

Over the last several years, RIOC consistently palmed off responsibility for building violations on Hudson Related Retail, but HRR, apparently with RIOC’s default blessing, ignores them all.

For a couple of quick examples, in spite of numerous complaints, RIOC and HRR allowed one retail tenant, The Sanctuary, to convert an historic church into a speakeasy without obtaining a single building permit. Another, Jupioca has operated for a couple of years in Riverwalk Commons without a single Health Department inspection. That’s why no rating codes appear at their entrance.

There are a string of others, but neither RIOC nor Hudson Related Retail accept responsibility. Finally, the city stepped in on one of them, but typically, violations and the dangers that go with them are left festering.

Conclusion: Beyond the laws

Since no one has yet answered the violation complaint or appeared for a hearing, it may be that RIOC and its partner Hudson Related Retail will find a way around the fines.

But the more troubling problem of the state’s snubbing the legitimate concerns of residents stays with us. As the petition made clear, the problems with stink from the exhaust are long term. And RIOC consistently ignores them. And the fire hazards barely provoke a shirk of recognition.

Yet, there’s a simple solution.

The tenants say an efficient filtering system would be enough, but that’s an interim solution that can fall apart easily. Filtering not maintained leads to the same problem repeating itself.

Building a stack carrying the restaurant fumes above the building is the right and simple solution. Engineers design exhaust stacks like that all the time. Correcting the flaw is easy, but costs should not fall on Nisi.

Nisi’s a tenant itself, and with both RIOC and HRR flush with cash, paying for such a simple fix isn’t a genuine challenge.

But indifference is, and so is negligence when confronted with the risk of lives lost in a fire.

Should continued dereliction of duty lead to a loss of life or property, pointing fingers at HRR will hardly get the state off the hook.

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