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Questions Amidst the Rubble of Wisconsin Avenue

Was it construction work or a water leak that caused the building collapse at 1424 Wisconsin Ave. on Thanksgiving Day 2011?

and emergency personnel shut down part of Wisconsin Avenue, but two months later, questions remain about the in the 1400 block of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.

The owner of 1424 Wisconsin Ave., Mohammad Esfahani, claims a water leak in a neighboring property weakened his structure and caused the collapse.

But a Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) inspector determined the collapse was likely caused by removing too much dirt from beneath the footings on the north and south walls of the building, spokesman Helder Gil said.

Michael Bryant, a property manager at Borger Management, the team responsible for 1422 Wisconsin Ave., said Esfahani's insurance company would be paying for damages to his building because they were found at fault.

Bryant denied a leak on his property caused Esfahani's building to tumble.

“He’s putting that report out there for insurance purposes to make it seem like it’s not the fault of 1424 [Wisconsin Ave.],” he said.

D.C. Water officials were unable to find any report or record linking a leak to the building collapse. Pamela Mooring, a spokesperson for D.C. Water, said her agency would not generally create a report showing that a leak from one property caused a building to collapse on another.

Esfahani produced a D.C. Water report, dated Jan. 3, that mentions two complaints about a leak on the property, first on Dec. 16 and then Dec. 30, both of which were after the collapse. Nothing in the document indicates when the leak began, though Esfahani maintains that it started before the collapse and that the building owners at 1422 Wisconsin Ave. did nothing about it.

Since the collapse, for Esfahani's property because contractors had continued work on the property after the collapse, rather than just clearing debris. In fact, workers were pouring a new concrete slab—without a permit—when the DCRA inspector stopped by.

Neighbors say they've seen late night construction and oddly timed dump trucks.

“It is difficult for me to imagine that this just sort of happened,” said Peter Colasante, the director of the nearby . He raised concerns about the work being done on the property to the ANC. “I suspect it might be a man-made accident.”

Esfahani denied that his contractors were performing work illegally since the collapse.

“The neighbors are saying we did this job illegally. We have a permit. The permit is in the window. We go by the permit,” he said.

But DCRA’s Gil told Patch that while the contractors did not need a permit or agency oversight to remove debris after the collapse, any work beyond that would require a permit. Pouring concrete would fall under the category of work not permitted.

Esfahani, who used to own Mon Cheri Cafe (now Sprinkles) and Tahoga (now Le Pain Quotidien) on M Street, said he has been in Georgetown “for a long time” and that he knows how things work in the neighborhood. “Especially in Georgetown you have to have a permit,” he explained.

This isn't the first time an Esfahani building collapsed.

word wyz January 27, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Same thing happened at 1413 Wisconsin about five years ago. Illegal excavation in the basement caused damage that forced the evacuation of the building until it could be shored up and re-inspected.
Thomas Gannon January 27, 2012 at 04:09 PM
This is what happens when you hire unqualified contractors. A license does not make you qualified, experience does! Thomas Gannon President Construction By Design Inc.

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