New York City

Bad RIOC Makes A Comeback

Bad RIOC makes a comeback. Exposed again, the agency, overseen by Governor Andrew Cuomo, looks the other way as local operators violate executive orders and city laws. But why? And who benefits?


This breach of public safety stands out, flying in the face of Cuomo’s public stand and national reputation. Why is RIOC making the governor look like a hypocrite?

davidstone1313

David Stone is a New York City based writer, founding publisher of The Roosevelt Island Daily and News; author of a dozen novels, poetry and nonfiction articles and books.

Bad RIOC Makes A Comeback

In media moment after media moment, Governor Cuomo preaches face masks and social distancing. In the worst of times, he remained unshaken, a pillar of conviction and strength.

America loves him for it, and New York’s bounce back from days of disaster rings a clear signal.

Always local, always larger: Roosevelt Island News.

But on Roosevelt Island, in the business run by Cuomo’s surrogates, that ring is false. Once again, RIOC caves, unwilling to confront violation of executive orders issued to fight COVID-19 and the coronavirus.

A couple of weeks back, we reported that the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. (RIOC) stood tall, fending off angry protests over closures forced by executive orders.

A RIOC Sucks petition complained about RIOC’s shutting down athletic fields, playgrounds and dog runs. And organizers offered a petition asking for RIOC’s removal.

That was frivolous because RIOC’s locked in to a 99-year lease with New York City, and countless fiscal entanglements go with it.

But the effort demonstrated a resurgence of anger over RIOC’s imperious actions.

And now, as we reported in Inside the Sanctuary Speakeasy, irritated residents have more reason for resentment.

How RIOC Violates Public Trust

If you agree, as we do, that RIOC is obliged to honor executive orders from Cuomo that combat the coronavirus, the question is — Why is it selective?

RIOC is, after all, run by the executive making the orders, and his name is all over everything here. It’s at the top of the letter head. His photo hangs in their facilities.

So, why make the governor out to be a hypocrite?

That is, strict enforcement applies to everyone except RIOC favorite Hudson Related and groups under it’s protection.

Early on, Hudson Related continued construction in Southtown, but this was affordable housing. That was okay in PAUSE before Phase 1, but ignoring face masks and social distancing wasn’t.

460 Main Street Construction
In April, Southtown construction continued without face masks or social distancing or interference from Governor Cuomo’s agency.

But by far, the most egregious example of preferential treatment happened at The Sanctuary, a speakeasy and outdoor beer garden being crammed into park space without public discussion.

As the name suggests, 851 Main Street was formerly an historic church. The church, which did not raise any community issues, was evicted, making way for The Sanctuary.

Sancturary: a place of refuge or safety…

Dictionary Definition

But the only refuge and safety is for the owners in avoiding laws and executive orders.

Bad RIOC’s Comeback Spiked By Covering Up

On Monday, we shared a video with RIOC. It showed several apparent violations.

Video shows substantial construction and building additions taking place during what’s supposed to be a Cuomo ordered shutdown. What it doesn’t show are permits, face coverings or social distancing.

After three days and some prompting, RIOC finally answered some of our questions about it. (Note: RIOC was notified of city law violations last year, but this was new.)

“They (The Sanctuary) have stated that they have all necessary permits from the city for any work that requires it,” RIOC claimed, as if their merely saying it made it so.

“We have reminded the Sanctuary that in addition to having all proper permits in place that everyone on the site must obey social distancing guidelines.”

Let’s deal with the dodgy nonsense, one misdirection at a time.

First, RIOC refused to explain why they looked the other way as The Sanctuary ignored their own governor’s executive orders. They won’t address that question at all.

Remember, RIOC owns this property, and the violations were visible many days, and as the video shows, workers were even more active inside.

Work on the Sanctuary Speakeasy continued during New York State's coronavirus lockdown.
Routine outdoor work, building the beer garden, continued without restriction while all but essential construction was ordered shut down by Cuomo.

For example, The Octagon stopped landscaping construction, right next door, until it was approved. And even Cornell Tech put off finishing their campus.

But Hudson Related’s client, The Sanctuary, got a pass from, apparently, Governor Cuomo, courtesy of RIOC.

But what about those pesky city permits…?

The majority of construction requires a Department of Buildings permit. Most often, a New York State licensed Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA) must file plans and pull permits before work begins.

New York City Department of Buildings

There is nothing making The Sanctuary an exception, but a search of NYC Department of Buildings’s database doesn’t turn up a single application, let alone an approved permit, for 851 Main Street.

It does show a history of four complaints, identifying RIOC as the owner.

According to RIOC, “The tenant has stated that they have applied for all necessary permits from NYC.”

So, either RIOC or The Sanctuary’s owners are lying.

Isn’t it RIOC’s responsibility to sort this out and make sure work done on their own property meets city requirements?

Well, RIOC appears to believe it has exactly the same responsibility for enforcement as it has for the governor’s executive orders. That is, none.

Hudson Related was invited to answer all the same questions and was copied on the full email discussion. But they didn’t respond either, leaving us to wonder who’s running the show here.

If it’s RIOC and Governor Cuomo, they’ve still got some questions to answer about undue influence and failure to perform official duties.

Bad RIOC has made a comeback.

2 replies »

  1. Why are the permits not posted? Back in March, I saw a NYC Dept of Buildings vehicle visit the opportunity, but nothing was ever posted.

    • Because they never had them, going back to last fall when they started construction. DOB’s database does not show a single application, but it does show four complaints. It was probably an investigator you saw, but DOB has longstanding weaknesses. For example, if no one answers the door or they refuse to open, DOB leaves a note and goes away. And to say that this department has one of the city’s worst reputations is just repeating what’s already known.

      The fact remains, this is RIOC’s property. Illegal work and executive order violations have been ongoing, and they know it. If RIOC can’t govern even this much, it’s time for major changes in personnel.

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