downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 41 | Feb. 23 - March 1, 2007

Fire at Tribeca's Jack Parker site

Photo by Albert Capsouto

Fire broke out in a vacant building at West and Watts Sts. at about 3 p.m. Fri. Feb. 16, bringing four fire companies to the location. The blaze was in control within an hour and there were no injuries. The fire department has not yet determined the cause.

The abandoned garage and automobile service shop was being demolished in preparation for the construction of new residential high rises by Jack Parker Corp.

Albert Capsouto, who co-owns Capsouto Freres restaurant across the street from the development block, captured photos and video of the fire from the roof of his apartment building at 457 Washington St.

According to Capsouto, noxious smoke — first black, then ashy white — billowed from the site from about 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. Holiday rush-hour traffic ground to a halt around the site, which is just a few blocks from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. For community members who feared negative impacts from the Parker development, it was a worst-case scenario come to life.

“Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for what we’re in for,” Capsouto said.

Capsouto is a member of Community Board 1, which opposed Parker’s application to build large towers along West St. until the developer agreed to bring them down to 150 feet and other compromises last August.

Capsouto speculated that the fire might have been caused by lingering fuel or other supplies from the building’s previous use as an auto services shop. If that was the case, he said, then an Environmental Impact Statement — which the development was not required to do — might have revealed the problem and prevented the fire.

Capsouto said that the developer had yet to reach out to local businesses about the fire or about the construction in general. He said he had hired a lawyer and an engineer on his own to assess the possible impacts of having a large-scale construction site nearby.

“It’s not very right for buildings around here to have to incur extra costs to protect themselves from a developer,” he said.

William Wallerstein, vice president of Jack Parker Corp., did not return calls Wednesday about the fire.

— Brooke Edwards and Skye H.McFarlane

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