Kingsbridge Heights was a very different place when the first family moved into 3377 Sedgwick Ave., at the turn of the 20th century.
Just a few years before, the vast plot of land on the other side of Sedgwick was the original home of the Belmont Stakes thoroughbred horse race, and had yet to be transformed into the Jerome Park Reservoir as we know it today. Buildings were no taller than a couple stories, and it was inside a city that was barely a year old.
Time has not been kind to the home as the neighborhood surrounding it changed dramatically from rural countryside to park-front urban. Yet, the home — featuring a prominent hexagonal tower out front — survived, even if not exactly well kept.
But there’s a good chance the home is on its way to becoming nothing but history after a developer known for various apartment buildings in the Bronx shelled out $1.25 million to make it his own, likely quite interested in the fact it’s on property that allows a multifamily building that could rise as high as 75 feet.
Anton Tinaj, a partner with Arberia & Associates, introduced himself to the neighborhood last week with reported yard and building work that earned complaints from both the city’s building and environmental protection departments.
“It was about noon, and I heard a noise,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be named in an effort to keep the peace. “I got to my bedroom and looked out the window, and I’m following the noise. It’s coming from the roof. These guys are hitting the shingles of the roof, throwing pieces down to the side yard.”
The neighbor yelled out to the workers, who surprisingly were quite polite to her, she said. But they wouldn’t stop working, and with concern about what old, dangerous material might be found in the debris, the neighbor called the Community Board 8 office, and 311.
Chao Shio Sieh bought the home for just $31,500 in 1992, according to city property records. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s a pittance compared to the million-dollar windfall Tinaj’s ANE 3377 LLC rained on her to secure the house.
After the complaints, Tinaj actually visited some of the immediate neighbors, and later told The Riverdale Press that most of the complaints were simply a misunderstanding.
“The thing is, we just purchased the property, and (the previous owners) left a lot of garbage,” Tinaj said. “It hadn’t been cleaned for years, so we cleaned up some garbage, and they made a much bigger deal about it.”
The buildings department, however, almost didn’t make much of a deal about it at all. A spokesman for the city agency said a DOB inspector visited the site on May 19 — the same day it received three complaints about non-essential construction work taking place in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic — and left after issuing no citations, finding the building was empty, and there was no construction work ongoing.
Inspectors would visit the site twice more over the next 24 hours, only issuing a violation over the condition of the house’s roof and gutter system.
“We will continue to monitor this property to ensure that no illegal construction is going on,” a DOB spokesman told The Press in an email. “In addition, if members of the public continue to suspect that construction work is illegally ongoing at the property, we encourage them to continue to use the 311 system to notify us. That way we can get inspectors to the scene as soon as possible.”
But that just isn’t enough, said CB8 land use chair Charles Moerdler. DOB inspectors are working on the premise they need to catch construction workers red-handed, while ignoring eyewitness accounts from neighbors.
“On the basis of the information we have received from neighbors, demolition work was ongoing until it was finally stopped — not by the building department, but by the DEP,” Moerdler said.
The environmental protection department collected more than a dozen samples of roofing material from the site, according to email correspondence the agency had with CB8, finding the samples did indeed test positive for the presence of asbestos. Because of that, DEP requires any construction work on the site to now include a certified asbestos contractor to ensure dust particles don’t harm the health of workers, or anyone living around the home.
Tinaj is no stranger to controversy when it comes to properties he owns. In 2013, neighbors immediately next to an apartment building he was constructing at 3529 Bruckner Blvd., in Pelham Bay, complained his structure was just six inches from their home. Tinaj didn’t dispute how close the two buildings were, but was defended by zoning that didn’t require side yards separating buildings.
Before that, his Arberia & Associates was among a development consortium fined more than $71,000 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for allowing workers to climb as high as 24 feet off the ground with scaffolds that lacked guardrails for a construction project on Muliner Avenue in Morris Park. Arberia itself was fined $6,000 for the lack of fall protection on stair landings, and missing stair handrails, according to an OSHA news release from 2011.
Yet the biggest question now is what Tinaj plans to do with his newly acquired Sedgwick Avenue property. Although the 121-year-old home is just two stories, it’s within an R6A zoning that allows up to eight stories of a structure, which can be set at or near the street line for the first 40 feet. Anything above that height requires setbacks between 10 and 15 feet, depending on the size of the street, according to the buildings department.
“We just bought it,” Tinaj said. “We’re just waiting to see what’s going on.”