Neighbors besieged by Cooper Square construction
By Albert Amateau
A roomful of angry East Village neighbors last week told public officials and developers’ representatives that they were fed up with the disruption and the fear of continued problems associated with four development projects in a four-block radius at Cooper Square.
The Dec. 20 meeting, sponsored by Councilmember Rosie Mendez and the transportation committees of Community Board 3 and 2, drew about 100 residents to Cooper Union’s Engineering Building.
The projects, three on the east side of Cooper Square and one on the west side, include:
• A 23-story hotel with 146 rooms at 25-33 Cooper Square at E. Fifth St. that the Peck Moss Hotel group began building last spring and which is expected to open in the spring of 2008;
• A 15-story residential project that a development partnership has begun at 351-353 Bowery at E. Fourth St.;
• A 15-story residential building that Atlantic Development plans for 2 Cooper Square near the Skidmore House and the Merchant’s House on the west side of Cooper Square;
• Cooper Union’s proposed nine-story replacement for its Hewitt Building at 41 Cooper Square.
Although issues of access, traffic and noise were the focus of the meeting, residents complained that the scale of the projects would overburden the area. Mendez noted that the development density was the result of 1960s rezoning.
“Everything before us is as of right,” Mendez said. “These projects will have a profound effect on daily life in the neighborhood.”
The cumulative impact of four construction projects was a constant refrain.
“How can the Department of Buildings justify giving out all these permits at one time?” said Anna Sawaryn, a leader of the Coalition to Save the East Village.
The 85,000-square-foot hotel project at 25-33 Cooper Square, being built on three sides of an existing tenement, was the subject of most complaints. David Shone, construction supervisor, said that a crane will be brought completely within the property by the first week in January and the building would top out in March. The staging area for trucks will be on E. Fifth St. and weekday work is permitted between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. but will most likely conclude at 4 p.m.
Residents, however, protested that work earlier in December started at 6:30 a.m. and that on the one Saturday for which a permit was issued, work began 20 minutes before the 9 a.m. permit time.
Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3 district manager, said she had received frequent complaints about the project’s failure to maintain a 5-foot pedestrian passage leading to the JASA Green residences for seniors. David Crane, head of the board’s Transportation Committee, was more specific. He said the pedestrian access last week was 3.5 feet.
“I had one heck of a time getting here to this meeting,” said one tenant of the JASA residence who uses a walker. “I think you have an utter disregard for people in the neighborhood,” she told the construction supervisor. The JASA residence at the southeast corner of E. Fifth St. is four blocks from the Cooper Union building where last week’s forum took place.
Last May, excavation at the site caused a crack to appear in the existing building on the site, Sawaryn noted. Moreover, elementary school children at St. George’s School which is affiliated with St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Taras Shevchenko Pl. a half block from the construction site, have had to put up with construction noise from the hotel project, Sawaryn said.
“How do you expect children to learn?” she asked.
Shone said the access passages would be widened to 5 feet by the first of the year, and he gave his cell phone number, 917-577-3218, for complaints.
The project manager for the 351-353 Bowery site between E. Third and E. Fourth Sts. gave several contact phone numbers: 646-721-0799; 212-227-2412; 347-231-3703 and 917-559-3477. The 211-foot tower on Bowery will have a three-story wing on E. Fourth St., and during construction, one lane on Bowery would close, James Walsh, the project manager, said. On completion of the foundation, the construction crane would be erected completely within the property line.
A school bus stop for handicapped children on E. Fourth St. will have to be shifted south. Moreover, Stetzer noted, the C.B. 3 office is located on E. Fourth St. across from the site, and a New York University trolley bus stops at the corner.
Walsh said the contractor would erect the sidewalk shed on the Bowery side of the project by the first week of the new year.
“There will be two or three weeks before we can get everything inside the property,” he said. The good news: “We don’t anticipate a tremendous need for after-hours work permits,” he said.
Residents were also concerned about pollution from idling construction vehicles.
“There’s a 31-year-old law about idling vehicles, but no one cares and it’s never enforced,” said one neighbor.
The Ninth Precinct sergeant in charge of traffic enforcement told the meeting that idling vehicles are not a priority, but he promised to follow up on complaints phoned into 212-477-7839. He suggested that idling complaints be made to the City Department of Environmental Protection.
Mendez said her office would consult with the precinct about engine-idling violations. She designated her aide, John Fout, 212-677-1077, to respond to public inquiries about construction issues.
The 185-foot-tall Atlantic Development project at 2 Cooper Square on E. Fourth St. on the east side of the square near the Skidmore mansion will not begin before this summer and is expected to be completed in 15 to 18 months, according to a spokesman for KNK, contractor for the development. A shaft for the Third City Water Tunnel project is still under construction in front of the Skidmore mansion and will complicate Atlantic’s project.
Preliminary site preparation has begun for the demolition of the Hewitt Building in connection with the Cooper Union project. Asbestos abatement at the Hewitt is nearing completion, and the demolition phase will have a resident safety expert, according to Brian Murphy, of F. J. Sciami, the construction company.
Residents were mostly concerned about rats. A neighborhood rat infestation frequently occurs when old buildings are demolished.
“We will have a rodent control subcontractor on hand before demolition and they will come weekly or as needed,” Murphy said.
The complaint phone numbers for the Cooper Union project are 212-232-2200 and 917-295-8929.