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.