Volume 76, Number 36 | January 31 - February 6, 2007

High school is rocked by Trump’s pile driving

By Brooke Edwards

Villager photos by Esther Martin
The towering pile driver at the Trump condo-hotel site has been rattling Chelsea Career and Technical High School on Dominick St., at left, teachers say.
Since last month, more than 1,000 students and staff at Chelsea Career and Technical High School have had to choose between sweating in overheated classrooms or opening their windows to the constant pounding of a pile driver and the smell of diesel fumes.

These disturbances are from the construction site across the street, in what will become the Trump Soho Condominium Hotel at 246 Spring St.

As the foundation is being constructed for the proposed 42-story, 413-unit building, developers and city officials say that vibrations, noise and emissions have stayed within the legal limits. However, staff members at Chelsea High School say the disruptions the construction has been causing are unacceptable.

Matt Cerny, an English teacher, said, “There’s all kinds of stories going around the school of teachers being disrupted and having to close their windows.” Though the noise and fumes are not as bad on the opposite side of the building where Cerny’s classroom is, he said, “I’ve been to a few meetings on that side of the building and they’ve been disrupted. We just work around it.”

Cerny said the biggest problem is from the excessive noise, which has interrupted lesson plans and testing for several weeks. However, the fumes have also caused problems.

“It’s like being stuck in traffic behind a car that is smoking,” he said.

When asked what was being done about the situation, a Department of Buildings spokesperson advised, “They should call 311 to register their complaints.”

Natalie Milner, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson, said, “We have only gotten one complaint and we sent someone out to look at the site. Anyone else who has a problem should call 311.”

However, Cerny said several teachers have already called 311 to complain about the situation.

Bob Gormley, district manager for Community Board 2, said that he hasn’t heard any complaints about fumes, but that C.B. 2 has been working with the city and the developers on noise abatement.

“They did a few things to lessen the noise from the pile driver,” Gormley said. These things included making the wooden construction fence taller around the property and putting wood beneath the pile driver to absorb some of the sound and vibrations as it hammers the metal I-beams.

Even after these accommodations, Cerny said that while the noise hasn’t gotten any worse, it certainly hasn’t gotten any better. Also, the fence and the wood under the pile driver have no effect on fumes from the site, he said.

A sound meter has been placed on Dominick St. outside the high school to monitor the noise from the pile driving.
The Department of City Planning zoning law 42-241 states, “…the emission of odorous matter shall be in accordance with limits established by the Department of Environmental Protection.” While officials say these limits have not been exceeded, the law also goes on to say, “In addition to such limits, the emission of odorous matter in such quantities as to be readily detectable at any point along lot lines or to be producing a public nuisance or hazard beyond lot lines is prohibited.”

To Cerny and others at Chelsea High School, the odors have been a “nuisance” well beyond the development’s lot lines.

Though the majority of complaints about the construction have come from the high school, residents have also been affected by noise from the site, which is in the Hudson Square neighborhood, near the western edge of Soho.

David Reck, a C.B. 2 member and president of Friends of Hudson Square, said, “You can hear it all the way over to Greenwich St. where I live. It’s irritating to have it happen all day,” he said.

Reck and neighbors have also had to deal with the inconvenience of the project being granted a special permit by the Department of Buildings to use its pile driver on Saturdays. Though these weekend permits are not usually granted in residential areas, Reck said they are frequently granted in commercial areas even though the sound echoes beyond zoning lines.

The Trump Soho condo-hotel is not new to controversy. Since plans for the development began, local politicians, the Soho Alliance and the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, among others, have spoken out in opposition to it, claiming the project will violate zoning laws.

The development site is in an M1-6 zone, which is an area zoned for light manufacturing. This means that no permanent residences can be built in the district.

“The city’s zoning permits transient hotels, but not residences, in manufacturing districts,” Rachaele Raynoff, a Department of City Planning spokesperson, said in an e-mail. “Questions have been raised as to whether the proposed condo-hotel will be transient.”

Aurora Kessler, a public relations spokesperson for the Trump condo-hotel project, said in a phone interview: “In a nutshell, they are condominium-hotel units. They are not primary residences. They are available for participation in a rental program…. Basically, you can’t stay in the room for more than 120 consecutive days.”

Still, Web sites such as www.condohotelcenter.com are advertising V.I.P. lists to purchase the units with no mention of residency limits.

The project ran into more trouble in mid-December when human remains — now thought to be early 19th-century congregants of an interracial Presbyterian church that was formerly at the location — were found at the site. Although a stop-work order was issued while the remains were investigated, a week later construction resumed and has continued since. According to D.O.B., a partial stop-work order actually remains in effect, under which an archaeologist hired by Trump and his development partners is to instruct the workers where they can and cannot drive piles.

Ironically, all of these issues have arisen before Trump has even gotten a permit to build the condo-hotel. Initial requests for a permit were denied by Buildings because of the dispute over whether the project would conform to the zoning.

If a building permit is granted, the students and teachers at Chelsea High School and residents of the blocks surrounding Trump’s latest development can anticipate more noise, as construction would reportedly last until late 2008.

A sound meter has been placed outside the school on Dominick St., across from the condo-hotel project site, to monitor noise levels. On Saturday afternoon, a sound technician from the Vibra-Tech company was checking the device. He said they monitor it every day and that readings haven’t surpassed 80 decibels, which he said is about 10 decibels below the legal limit.

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