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Whose Idea Was This Anyway?

A controversial emergency demolition finds Troy’s Fire Chief facing tough questions at a Public Safety Committee meeting

by E.S. Cormac on August 21, 2013

Shut down: The King Street site after a stop work order was issued by New York state. Photo by E.S. Cormac.

“Who made the decision to allow Bombers to stay open during the demolition?” City Councilman Dean Bodnar (R-District 3) asked during last Thursday’s (Aug. 15) Troy Public Safety Meeting.

“That was my decision,” said Troy Fire Chief Tom Garrett.

“How could you guys let people eat next door? And part of that restaurant is an open-air area,” Bodnar said.

Garrett responded: “Where Bombers’ outside patio is, its at the bottom of a hill. How much asbestos do you think is in the air from people putting on their brakes coming down that hill?”

Garrett faced Troy’s Public Safety Committee during roughly 40 minutes of questions that involved the controversial demolitions on King Street, which were labeled emergencies. The New York State Department of Labor issued a stop-work order the day after the Aug. 5 demolition of 4,6,8, and 10 King Street. The Labor Department cited that air-quality monitoring and other measures required by law were not enacted during the demolition.

The stop-work order stated that debris at the site needed to be examined for asbestos and other hazardous materials. Heavy equipment operated by the construction company remained at the site, unable to be moved under provisions in the order.

Bombers Burrito Bar, located on the corner of King and Federal Streets, is at the center of the controversy because it is next door to the demolition.

“How much asbestos was in the air during the demolition?” Councilman Mark McGrath (R-District 2) asked.

Garrett said everyone would have to wait for the air-quality report from the Department of Labor, which has not yet been released.

The Public Safety Committee had many questions for Garrett. The fire chief answered many of their concerns surrounding the project, but many ambiguities remain, including who initially contacted M. Cristo Construction and hired the firm to perform the work, and whether the city of Troy would be liable for the demolition.

“Was it a city demolition or a private demolition?” committee Chairwoman Nina Nichols (D-At Large), asked the fire chief at one point.

“It was a private demolition,” said Garrett.

“Are there written contracts with all these people? With Mr. Boyajian and Mr. Cristo?” Mark McGrath asked. Don Boyajian owns the properties on King Street involved in the demolition, and Michael Cristo owns M. Cristo Construction.

“The city doesn’t have a written contract, no, because we didn’t do the demolition,” Garrett said.

“I put Mr. Cristo in touch with the chief,” Boyajian said. The building owner insisted that he did not directly hire the construction company. According to an Aug. 15 report in the Troy Record, Cristo said that he was instructed to perform the demolition by Garrett.

During the Thursday evening meeting, Garrett stated that he did not hire M. Cristo construction to perform the demolition.

The confusion surrounding the bid process created questions about whether the city was liable for shortcomings in the demolition process. During a normal emergency demolition, at least three construction companies need to make bids on a project, according to city officials. Garrett insisted that this was a private demolition, therefore no bids were necessary. Garrett also insisted that M. Cristo Construction is solely liable for the operation.

During the Thursday night meeting, however, Troy corporation counsel Ian Silverman declined to comment on whether the city or Cristo was liable. “I think that’s premature at this moment, I don’t think this is an appropriate forum,” Silverman said.

Boyajian agreed to pay for the cost of the demolition project, clearing up questions about funding. “This was the first time in my 40 years here that any owner has said I will pay for the demolition,” Garrett said.

Although several disagreements remain, both the Public Safety Committee and Garrett did agree that there were lessons learned during the demolition. Both parties pledged to find solutions in order to move forward.

In 2006, Garrett was involved in another controversial demolition involving the destruction of the marquee of the Cinema Art building (289 River Street). The city settled a lawsuit filed by Jan DeGroote, the owner of the property, for $30,000 in June 2012.