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  • Writer's pictureAndre Watson

Auto shop holdout throws wrench into East Harlem project

Mechanic says developers Elie Fouerti and Sergey Rybak blew a fuse

By: Suzannah Cavanaugh | Research By Jay Young

From left: Rybak Development’s Sergey Rybak and Appliances Connection’s Elie Fouerti (Getty Images, Rybak Development, YouTube/Elie Fouerti, Google Maps)

For the second time this year, a Sergey Rybak development has been stymied by a holdout.

After an uncooperative synagogue stymied his plans for a 20-story mixed-use building on the Upper East Side, an East Harlem auto shop is poised to dismantle another project by the Brooklyn-based developer.

Prestige Automotive, which has run a car repair shop at 2013 Third Avenue for the past 15 years, stands between Rybak Development and his vision for a mixed-income 15-story building with retail space at the site.

Rybak, along with the building’s owner, Elie Fouerti, have shifted their efforts to clear the property into high gear, according to a lawsuit.

In the complaint, filed last week, Prestige alleges that Fouerti and Rybak have harassed the auto shop in an attempt to drive it out, as the tenant is renting “the only portion of the development site that remains occupied.”

City records show the developers’ plan for the 91-unit residential building encompasses 2005-2015 Third Avenue, the eastern side of the avenue bookended by 110th and 111th Streets.

The developer picked up the buildings on that block last November, paying a collective $13.4 million for the auto shop property and an adjacent site that housed a grocery store.

After New York Yimby reported in March that Fouerti had filed demolition permits for the southern half of the site, Prestige claims workers started to raze 2005-2011 Third Avenue in April.

The suit alleges the work on 2011 Third Avenue, the building that abuts the auto shop, dislodged debris that rained down on cars in Prestige’s garage, causing an estimated $40,000 worth of damage.Moreover, the auto shop claims that Fouerti and Rybak began interior demolition of 2011 Third Avenue without a proper permit — city records show a partial interior demolition permit was filed in June — and that the Department of Buildings repeatedly flagged the work as “illegal and dangerous construction.”

Still, site workers violated multiple stop work orders, according to the suit, and racked up $45,000 in fines. A Department of Buildings complaint filed in July claims a crew took down a stop work sign and started working.

Then, early last month, the shop found its internet and phone service had been severed near the side of the building that borders 2011 Third Avenue and that the developers had sealed off the roof with two-by-fours, blocking a Spectrum team from restoring service.

Prestige claims that without internet and phone access, it was forced to shut down for five days, resulting in a $50,000 loss of business.

Even before Fouerti and Rybak got involved with the site, the complaint alleges, the previous owner, AK Properties Group, had tried to pressure Prestige out of its lease.

Prestige renewed its rental agreement in early 2020, extending its lease through August 2028. That contract nixed a provision that would have allowed the owner to terminate the lease based on an intent to sell the property, the suit alleges.

But come June 2021, AK attempted to do just that. It then sent Prestige an estoppel certificate — a document clarifying the lease terms — in September. However, the auto shop refused to sign the certificate before the building was sold, the complaint reads.

The auto shop has now asked the court to stop Fouerti and Rybak from engaging in further harassment and requests a civil penalty of $50,000, compensatory damages of no less than $100,000, and $25,000 in attorney’s fees.

Neither Fouerti nor Rybak responded to a request for comment.

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