Volume 76, Number 20 | October 4 - 10, 2006

Villager photo by Tequila Minsky

The Department of Buildings has allowed pile-driving work to resume on the Zinc Building at Canal and Greenwich Sts., but neighbors say the work is dangerous.

Zinc Building pile driving tests neighbors’ mettle

By Ronda Kaysen

The city might think it’s fine for developers to get back to work building the Zinc Building in Tribeca, but nearby residents think otherwise.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Buildings gave developers the green light to continue building a seven-story residential condo at the triangular corner of Canal and Greenwich Sts. Work had ground to a halt in August when D.O.B. issued a stop-work order after residents complained that pile driving used for the building’s foundation caused worrisome vibrations to their historic buildings.

D.O.B. lifted the stop-work order on Sept. 25 after they reviewed the developer’s engineering reports and plans to monitor the nearby buildings. But neighbors are not convinced the monitors will do the trick. They want to see the pile driving stopped altogether.

“It’s horrendous. It’s terrifying,” said Hal Freedman, a resident at 474 Greenwich St. “Our building is 110 years old and they started doing this without any monitors and any protections or any regard for our safety. This is not a great way to enter a relationship with your neighbors.”

The pile driving has taken its toll, according to residents. Cracks have formed in three nearby historic buildings because of the pile driving, said Noel Dennis, a lawyer for the residents. And until the pile driving stops the problem won’t go away.

“The pile driving creates such substantial vibration that it has caused cracks on three buildings that we know of, and that was only for a limited period of time,” said Dennis, adding that developers plan to drive 98 piles over a period of two to four weeks. “At that level, the constant pile driving places all of the buildings in danger,” he said.

Community Board 1 passed a resolution on Sept. 19 calling for the developers to protect the surrounding buildings and use a different foundation building method, such as auger drilling, which does not cause the same vibrations that pile driving causes.

But pile driving is perfectly acceptable to the city, so long as the developers monitor the nearby buildings.

“Pile driving, with the proper permits, is legal,” said Buildings spokesperson Jennifer Givner. “If neighbors feel it is a dangerous situation, they should call 311 and register their complaints.”

Lawyers for the residents recently started talks with the developers’ lawyers in hopes of reaching an agreement. Residents would like to see the pile driving cease altogether and see their buildings added to the developer’s construction insurance policy.

The developer hopes for a different outcome to the talks.

“Our lawyers are in conversations with the neighbors’ lawyers to try and lower their level of concern about the project,” said Fabian Friedland of Montagu Square Development, one of the developers of the property.

Friedland referred all construction-related questions to Michael Kaye of Douglaston Development. Kaye did not immediately return calls for comment.

Residents feel especially scorned by Friedland, a developer they had come to trust when he appeared before C.B. 1 in 2004 to request their approval for a Board of Standards and Appeals variance for the building. In 2004, the board passed a resolution supporting the development so long as it does “not create vibrations that will endanger older buildings in the landmarked district.” The resolution did not explicitly restrict pile driving, and Friedland insists he never promised the board he wouldn’t drive piles.

The situation escalated on Tues. Sept. 26 when passersby noticed large pieces of debris spilling out from the site into the street.

“This is just the most bizarre, dangerous thing that I’ve ever seen,” said Marc Ameruso, a Greenwich St. resident and C.B. 1 member. “I’m speechless, we had to duck for cover.”

Residents filed a complaint with D.O.B. Givner said the agency will investigate.

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