Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Community Board 7 calls on DOB to stop work until safety issues are satisfied

Many thanks to Community Board 7 and the Youth, Education, & Libraries Committee for researching, drafting, and passing this resolution!


Date: February 2, 2016
Committee of Origin: Youth, Education & Libraries
Re: Protections for PS 75 from Effects of Adjacent Construction
Full Board Vote: 42 In Favor  0 Against  0 Abstentions  0 Present
Committee: 8-0-0-0.

This Resolution is based on the following facts:

A development group is moving forward with a plan to construct a new 10-story residential tower directly above the existing 6-story rent-regulated apartment building at 711 West End Avenue, located on the west side of the avenue between West 94th-95th Streets, in Manhattan Community District 7. 

The new tower is intended to be a separate structure that sits on a platform to be erected above the existing building, although support columns, elevator shafts and other connections from the new tower will pass through portions of the existing building.

The project involves a novel method of construction that the development team nevertheless contends is "as-of-right" for zoning and building code purposes.

Construction of the platform and new tower will require drilling into bedrock to create footings for the multiple support columns for the new platform and tower.  It will also require the use of one or more construction cranes at least as tall as the combined 16-story height of the planned structure, the removal of excavation and other debris and the delivery of steel beams for the support columns and platform, as well as significant amounts of other construction materials and supplies, and the need to devote sidewalk and travel lane space on West 94th and 95th Streets for staging areas.

The project will drastically disrupt the residents of the occupied existing building who will endure the excavation and insertion of the columns inside and outside the existing structure to support the platform; the demolition of existing apartments in whose place new elevator shafts will be built to accommodate separate elevators for the new tower; vibrations from blasting for the column footings and from anchoring the columns to the existing structure; and the noise, dust, debris from a complex and active construction site literally right above their heads for a period of months if not years.

The corridor between West 95th -96th Streets west of Amsterdam Avenue is the scene of significant traffic congestion, with West 95th Street serving as the lone egress route east from the southbound exit of the Henry Hudson Parkway (heavily traveled in the morning rush), and West 96th Street functioning as the sole means of access to the northbound and southbound lanes of the Parkway (heavily traveled throughout the day).  These and neighboring intersections have seen three pedestrian fatalities from vehicle collisions, numerous vehicular collisions resulting in serious injuries, and a constant stream of near-misses.  The Department of Transportation, in consultation with CB7 and our area elected officials, has re-designed West End Avenue's travel and parking lanes in an attempt to address the safety issues presented by this high volume of traffic through a densely populated residential area.

PS 75 (the Emily Dickinson School), an elementary school, and MS 250 (the West Side Collaborative School), a middle school, are situated in the school building on the west side of West End Avenue between West 95th-96th Streets. 

PS 75 is home to a NEST program that offers an integrated teaching approach that reaches students with differing abilities on the autism spectrum as well as students in general education populations, as well as serving other special needs students in a variety of contexts.  Special needs children are particularly vulnerable to external disruptions from noise, vibration, and congestion.  Both schools reflect the racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the larger surrounding community. 

Based on a safety plan carefully developed in consultation with the school principal and community, the NYPD 24 precinct and school safety command, CB7 and others, virtually all staff and students enter on West 95th Street.  According to the Principal at PS75, this is the only viable door for entry and exit based on the mandated need for a security desk at the point of entry.  This entrance will be situated less than 100 feet from the site of drilling, construction, staging and deliveries for the new residential tower. 

In addition, the playground used extensively by the school for dismissal, recess, afterschool and other activities is located across West 95th Street from the construction site, and would be exposed to all manner of dangers incident to such construction.

Students will be as close as 100 feet from the considerable noise and vibrations inevitably generated by this construction, especially since creating footings for the columns will necessitate blasting into bedrock.

In a recent case regarding the adequacy of an environmental impact statement concerning a construction project adjacent to a nearby public school, a New York Court insisted upon heightened protections from noise, toxic substances and related construction effects where the health and safety of school children were impacted. 

Elected officials have engaged the developers over the concerns regarding noise, vibration, dust and debris, traffic and sidewalk congestion.  It should be acknowledged that progress has been made on some issues such as relocating the principal construction crane away from the area closest to the school, and arranging for a sidewalk bridge to cover the West 95th Street access to the school building.  However, both the school and the residents of the existing building still have significant, outstanding concerns.

THEREFORE, Community Board 7/Manhattan calls on:

  • Any final commitments made by the developer should be memorialized and shared with the PS 75 community and the building’s tenants;
  • the NYPD 24 precinct and school safety command and the Department of Education to re-evaluate and re-develop plans for student drop-off and dismissal to account for the dangers presented by the construction at 711 West End Avenue;
  • the DoE and School Construction Authority develop a plan to protect the safety of students and staff utilizing the small yard and playground adjacent to the school on West 95th Street;
  • the FDNY to conduct a new assessment of the fire evacuation plans for the school, and to work with the DoE, SCA, principals and PTA to develop plans that take the externalities of construction into account;
  • the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an environmental safety review to ascertain whether and to what extent the construction poses a threat to health and safety of the students and the residents of the existing building;
  • the Department of Transportation to limit the staging area and other encroachments on the roadbed and sidewalks surrounding the construction site to ensure adequate safe passage for students and families to and from the school as well as for the residents going to and from the existing building;
  • the Department of Buildings to join our local elected officials, the Administrations and PTAs of the schools, the tenants association of the existing building, and CB7 to form a construction task force to facilitate dialogue on key issues and impacts of the construction and to ensure that all parties keep their respective commitments;
  • DoB to require the developer to provide meaningful mitigation to residents and the school population from the effects of noise, vibration, dust and debris from construction; and 
  • the DoB to withhold permission and issue stop work orders as necessary to ensure that no construction at 711 West End Avenue be permitted to go forward, nor any preparation work that would reasonably be expected to have the effects noted above, to proceed until the foregoing steps were completed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Radio silence as Mayor de Blasio ignores PS75 & community

Just an update: no response at all from the Mayor's office in response to letters from PS 75 parents, community members, and Community Board 7.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tenant Protection Plan "fails drastically": Independent engineer's report on 711 WEA development

The tenants at 711 W.E.A. have published a report from an independent engineer who reviewed Kalikow's permit application. The report is here (page 2 of the linked document.) It finds that the Tenant Protection Plan "fails drastically to account for both the size and complexity of the project, and ultimately falls short on every code requirement" the developer is required to address.

Developers used 4-week lapse in building code to win permits that would now be illegal

Tenants of 711 West End Ave. have issued a press release explaining how the developers managed to secure construction permits that are widely believed to be unsafe, and would now be illegal.

Current NYC building codes for tenant protection don't allow developers to claim they're constructing a "new, unoccupied building" on an occupied site unless they vacate and demolish the existing building. But Kalikow (the developers at 711 W.E.A.) have done just that. They submitted their applications during a short window of time when NYC building codes weren't in effect.

We don't know why the codes weren't in effect during that time, or how Kalikow knew they could build their huge project around that short time gap.

Read the press release here. The PDF includes an independent engineer's report, which finds that the developer's Tenant Protection Plan (required by DOB) is deeply inadequate. It also includes information from tenants' meeting with DOB Commissioner Rebholz.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

CB7 calls on City Hall for intervention in construction, coordination of agencies

July 1, 2015

Hon. Tony Shorris                                           Hon. Richard R. Buery, Jr.
First Deputy Mayor, City of New York          Hon. Alicia Glen
City Hall                                                          Deputy Mayors, City of New York
New York, NY  10007                                     City Hall
                                                                        New York, NY  10007

Re: Construction Surrounding PS 75/03M075 – Emily Dickinson School

Dear First Deputy Mayor Shorris and Deputy Mayors Buery and Glen:

As community leaders and members of Community Board 7/Manhattan, we have great concerns about the increasing number of significant construction projects adjacent to schools.  We appreciate that construction is a reality of living in our City, but are keenly aware that schools present special situations in need of heightened attention and protection from the impacts of development. 

We seek a coordinated response to the most pressing concerns raised by such construction adjacent to PS 75 (03M075 – the Emily Dickinson School) located on West End Avenue between West 95-96 Streets.  In particular, we need to provide support and meaningful assistance to address the multiple safety issues and disruption to the learning environment that inevitably follow major construction next to this school.  The need goes beyond the continuing issue of whether our schools have the capacity to absorb the enrollment of children who will reside in the family-friendly buildings that continue proliferate in our District.  We have worked closely with the PS 163 community in our District for over a year in connection with monumental construction less than 30 feet away.  Now PS 75 is in a similar position. 

PS 75 is surrounded on three sides by soft sites that are expected to be in active construction beginning in as little as a few months and potentially continuing for many years.

The first, and perhaps most threatening, project likely to affect the school is the claimed as-of-right proposal to build a platform over the top of the existing building at 711 West End Avenue (across West 95th from the school), and then construct multiple additional floors of luxury housing above it.  This complex project will create logistical, engineering and safety issues that will materially compromise the learning environment for students, teachers, administration and staff.  It will also create enormous safety concerns for the school community not limited to drop-off and pick-up.  This project is already having a negative impact on the residents of the existing building at 711 WEA.

Among the most pressing concerns are the blasting, noise, dust and debris that a project of this scale will have on the school, and the interference of a crane, construction materials and deliveries on West 95th Street outside a principal school entrance.   West 95th Street is a busy street providing egress from the southbound Henry Hudson Parkway.  Less than a year ago a neighbor was killed in front of the school by a willfully careless driver.  Children should not be put is such harm's way.

Looking to the near future, the former Salvation Army Williams residence at 720 WEA across from the school, and the soft development site at the northwest corner of West 96th and WEA, will likely ensure that at least a full generation of students will come and go at PS 75 under the barrage of construction.

Similar to PS 163, PS 75's enrollment includes a significant number of families who are zoned for other schools but choose this one.  That choice enrollment greatly enriches the diversity of the student body, and is highly valued by the entire community. At the same time, parents and administrators are working hard to boost enrollment so that the school can continue to support the enrichment programs central to its success. The looming threat of disruptive construction at PS 163 has already seen scores of families leave and choose different schools.  We fear a similar result will happen at PS 75, meaning the loss of a diverse, high-quality school.

Our schools are focal points of our community but we don’t do enough to support them when they are facing external threats.  We have grave concerns about these construction projects overall.

Our immediate concern is that the resources and expertise of City government be available to the PS 75 community to help them analyze the impact, understand what concerns and questions need to be addressed in order to mitigate any impacts and protect the student population, and secure meaningful protections.  While the DoB may have limited leverage over as-of-right construction permits, careful oversight to ensure the safety of children and the vitality of a school requires a coordinated plan that includes DoB’s and other agencies’ expertise and engagement to meet these particular concerns.

To that end, we request that you convene a meeting or working group of all relevant City agencies, including the Departments of Buildings, Education, Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Health & Mental Hygiene, as well as the School Construction Authority, to meet with the PS 75 school and community leaders.  The goal of such a meeting is to be proactive in protecting our schools in much the same way residential neighbors are required to be protected during construction. 

We implore you to advocate for meaningful protections for the entire community, including the school community, and not to allow construction to go forward until such protections are secured.

We look forward to working with you to achieve these necessary goals. 

Respectfully submitted,

Elizabeth Caputo                      Eric Shuffler                Blanche Lawton
Chair, CB7                               Co-chairs CB7 Youth, Education & Libraries Committee        

Copy:   Hon. Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker, New York City Council
            Hon. Helen Rosenthal, New York City Council, 6th District
            Hon. Mark Levine, New York City Council, 7th District
Hon. Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President
Hon. Scott M. Stringer, New York City Comptroller
            Hon. Letitia A. James, New York City Public Advocate
            Hon. Jose M. Serrano, New York State Senate, 29th District
Hon. Bill Perkins, New York State Senate, 30th District
            Hon. Adriano Espaillat, New York State Senate, 31st District
            Hon. Linda B. Rosenthal, New York State Assembly, 67th District

            Hon. Daniel J. O’Donnell, New York State Assembly, 69th District

Friday, June 26, 2015

Video: Protest of shady DOB permit approvals - June 25, 2015

NYC Councilmember Helen Rosenthal

P.S. 75 Parents & PTA

NYC Councilmember Helen Rosenthal

NYT: Researcher tracks harmful impacts of noise, especially on students & schools

'[In the 1970s] someone suggested that she examine an elementary school near elevated tracks of the No. 1 line in Inwood, at Manhattan’s northern tip. Some students there were lagging in their studies. What Ms. Bronzaft found, in a widely publicized 1975 study, was that children in classrooms facing the tracks performed far worse than those on the other side of the building, the quieter side. 
“Not only were the trains disruptive, the teacher had to stop teaching,” Ms. Bronzaft recalled. “Teachers stopped about 11 percent of the time.” 
“Bottom line: By the sixth grade, the children were nearly a year behind those on the quiet side,” she said. 
On the heels of that study, transit officials cushioned the rails with rubber pads, and school administrators put insulation panels on classroom ceilings. A few years later, Ms. Bronzaft returned to that school. Reading levels had equalized on both sides of the building, she found. “What it demonstrated,” she said at lunch, “is that when you correct for noise, you can help children.”'
Read the article:
Raising Her Voice in Pursuit of a Quieter City
Arline Bronzaft Seeks a Less Noisy New York
(New York Times, by Clyde Haberman, Oct. 6, 2013)