Builders cited for unsteady ground at Irish Cultural Center site

Backers of the proposed Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley have been cited — for the second time — for problems stemming from an excavation at the their building site on Abeel Street. Now, city officials are urging the group get construction underway, or fill in the hole.

“I’d like to see the project built,” said City Planner Suzanne Cahill. “But obviously we can’t leave the site in the condition that it’s in as a forever situation.” 

The latest incident occurred on Saturday, April 13 as Owen Harvey and his family were placing mulch around trees on their property which borders the excavation at 32 Abeel St. According to Harvey, his seven-year-old son was standing near the edge of the pit when the ground suddenly gave way beneath his feet. The boy was able to scramble back up, narrowly avoiding a plunge into the roughly 12 foot-deep rock-lined pit.

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Harvey said he immediately reached out to city officials to report the issue and later filed a report with city police after workers for the ICCHV showed up uninvited on his property to remedy the erosion. Harvey and his wife Hillary Harvey have filed two unsuccessful lawsuits challenging a zoning board ruling that cleared the way for the ICCHV to get site plan approval from the city planning board. A third lawsuit challenging the scope of the planning board’s review of the project was recently withdrawn.

Owen Harvey said that the April 12 incident was the latest in a series of problems that began after the site was excavated in April 2018. “It’s frustrating to have what is clearly a safety hazard next door to my house,” said Harvey. “Especially considering that I have young children.” 

This is the second time that the ICCHV has received a notice of violation from the city for problems at the excavation. In August 2018 the group was cited after erosion at the pit led to the collapse of a footpath linking the site to the Strand and, according to city officials, contributed to damage of a neighboring driveway. The group was ordered to install silt fencing and other erosion controls at site.

A second notice of violation filed on April 16 noted that some of the issues identified in the previous citation had not been adequately remedied. The citation issued by city engineer John Schulthesis noted that perimeter fencing around the pit was not stable and did not guard against falls, and that the slopes of the excavation were unstable. The citation ordered ICCHV to re-grade the slopes, shore up the fence and install further erosion controls. The group was given a deadline of April 19 to complete the work.

City spokeswoman Summer Smith wrote in an email that the property owners had done “significant work” to address issues at the site and that the engineering department was in contact with them to ensure the work was done in compliance with applicable standards. Hillary Harvey, meanwhile, said that as of April 24 — five days after the deadline contained in the notice of violation — the group had yet to carry out the mandated re-grading of slopes at the site.

In a prepared statement, ICCHV spokeswoman Holly Christiana wrote, “The ICCHV identified and eliminated the reported hazard that resulted from last week’s rain event. Our engineers are continuing to work with the City of Kingston Engineering Department to ensure our interim erosion and border protection controls meet all construction standards to protect the public.”

Cahill said that Schulthesis was drafting a second letter to address issues at the building site.” The ICCHV is also facing June 18 deadline to obtain building permits to begin construction at the site. A previous deadline lapsed forcing the group to return to the planning board for a new site plan approval. Christiana’s statement did not address when construction on the project might begin. Harvey, meanwhile, said that the city has a responsibility to remedy what he called a hazard to his family and property.

“Poor decisions were made that enabled [the ICCHV] to move ahead with what they were doing,” said Harvey. “The city let them dig the pit which is why I think the city needs to fill in the pit.”

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