CB8 blows whistle on meat man’s home renovations

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All Pat LaFrieda wanted was a nice place to live, closer to where his kids go to school. So he hired an architect to fix up his new home in Spuyten Duyvil.

But he’s come under fire from Community Board 8 who claims he’s not playing by the rules. And now LaFrieda wants to make things right — after the work at his 3061 Scenic Place home already is well underway.

Renovations on the home perched above the Hudson River began in 2016, and almost immediately stirred a controversy. Some of the work involved cutting down a tree in front of the home and building a cement wall on a steep slope — work that typically requires permits and approvals in an area inside Riverdale’s Special Natural Area District.

“A steep slope is a very fragile and important feature in a natural area district,” CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty said at a recent land use committee meeting. “And clearly, this back here is a steep slope.”

But LaFrieda didn’t obtain the necessary permits, prompting land use chair Charles Moerdler — after a protracted and reportedly fruitless exchange with city authorities — to request the city investigate why the appropriate agencies failed to provide oversight — namely, city planning, which reviews SNAD-related projects, and the buildings department.

Critics claimed the work also involved adding a third story to the house, which might have required an additional permit. 

But the architect in charge at the time — Michael Goldblum of the Building Studio Architects firm — said in December 2016 there is no third floor, only a raised second floor and renovated attic. That’s work he said  wouldn’t require a separate permit. 

And because the renovations didn’t expand the house’s footprint, the buildings department suggested no additional permits were needed.

When land use brought this issue up more than a year ago, no one from city planning or buildings showed up. But that was different March 5 — buildings borough commissioner Werner deFoe and senior city planner Juton Horstman were on hand to answer tough questions — especially since Moerdler’s committee has not received from the city the revised Scenic Place plan. 

“We have an application, but we do not yet have the full plan,” Moerdler said. “City planning has certified it good, it was put in the mail, and it’s like the old story of the check in the mail. It ain’t here yet.” 

Complicating matters for Moerdler was the fact that at least one buildings department official inspected the site during the construction. And despite the lack of permits and approvals, only issued violations for not having records to inspect on site. 

By then, however, LaFrieda had passed a point of no return. The work had to be completed because otherwise, the property could be compromised. The buildings and planning departments decided then that no action would take place until the restoration was complete, deFoe said.

“Don’t you think somebody might have told the board?” Moerdler asked. “Today’s the first time I’ve heard. This has been going on for over a year. At that point there was illegal work going on. Don’t you think somebody should’ve issued a violation?”

LaFrieda, a food wholesaler through his company Meat Purveyors, told the land use committee he was unaware of SNAD rules when he hired his first architect. And he certainly had no intention to break them. But the house and property needed work, including a retaining wall on the river side of the property that was falling down.

Since learning he was flirting with the wrong side of the law, LaFrieda hired lawyer Frank Angelino and a new architect, Demetrios Kaltsis. Although work needed to finish, Angelino said his plan was to work with city planning to fix all the regulatory issues. 

CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty — who helped develop the Special Natural Area District in the first place — demanded committee members see a series of photos she’d taken on a trip to the property.

“I don’t see how any of us can look at that application without understanding what happened at that site,” Ginty said. “This needs to be seen. We must remember what was done. It is, to me, shocking.”

Angelino admitted to the trouble surrounding tree removal on the property. But the attorney hopes the city will allow LaFrieda to restore trees based on SNAD regulations — planting 12 new three-inch caliper trees.

“Ultimately, I’m responsible for this,” LaFrieda said. “I didn’t get accustomed to what SNAD was or what the regulations were. I was going off the experts I had hired” — and it was his original architect — a local one, according to LaFrieda — who told him he wasn’t in SNAD.

“Obviously they weren’t competent,” committee member Bob Bender said. “What happened here has implications for the SNAD throughout the entire community. And we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” 

CLARIFICATION: Michael Goldblum’s comments about the need for a permit on vertical construction at 3061 Scenic Place were made in December 2016. A story about the renovations at that property that appeared in the March 15 issue did not make the timing clear.

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