Friday, January 15, 2016

A push, starting in Manhattan, to limit after-hours construction (and why it would help Atlantic Yards neighbors)

After-hours work in the evenings/weekends "to address field conditions"--a nice euphemism-- and schedule creep is common for the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, and seemingly permitted on a routine basis. And it can be noisy, disrupting neighbors' sleep.

Is there anything to be done? Well, several Manhattan legislators, as well as the Manhattan Borough President, are trying to limit the amount of after-hours work by requiring detailed applications, public comments, and a written explanation for the approval.

A proposed bill, which didn't pass two years ago, would require that plans for after-hours work be posted visibly for the public, It would not allow construction to start early (before 7 am) and only allow evening work until 8 pm on weekdays, ban work on Sundays, and limit work on Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.

That of course would cut down on developers' latitude to build more quickly, and surely is opposed by the real estate establishment and thus elected officials who want to build, build, build. So if anything does move ahead, expect a compromise.

A letter to the city

As DNAInfo reported last month:
Roughly two dozen electeds wrote a letter to First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris on Dec. 16 urging the mayor's office to create a construction liaison who would be responsible for overseeing coordination between the Department of Buildings, theDepartment of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection regarding construction happening in their neighborhoods.
...[Council Members Dan] Garodnick, [Ben] Kallos and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez are sponsoring a bill that, if passed, would streamline and clarify the process for granting these variances and add protections for residents, according to Garodnick.
The bill calls for better notification to the community of after-hours work and setting new standards for when variances can be granted, he said.
The mayor's office said that it plans to address the issue, but would not comment on the letter's demands specifically.
Here's the letter, from Garodnick's web site, which notes:
The Department of Buildings (DOB) too regularly grants AHVs [After Hours Variances] for overnight construction during the workweek between the hours of 6:00 PM and 7:00 AM, as well as on weekends. The noise and traffic caused by construction can be debilitating for families, seniors, small children, and anyone else near such a site. At the same time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) grants permits for curb use at these construction sites. While limited to the hours granted by DOB permits, DOT permits can span months at a time, compared to DOB’s maximum allowance of two weeks for AHVs. This dissonance allows both agencies to deny responsibility for work permits approved for unreasonable hours. DOB can claim that DOT authorization comes before AHVs are issued, due to their longer time frames, while DOT can simultaneously attest that their permits are contingent on the specific hours granted by DOB. It enables a cycle of blame, leaving little possible recourse for nearby residents.
The problem is compounded by the reporting process for un-permitted construction. When members of the public report complaints regarding AHVs through 311, these reports are regularly categorized as complaints about “noise from construction” instead of as “illegal or after hours construction.” As a result, complaints that fall under DOB’s jurisdiction are directed to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), further hindering enforcement.
The proposed bill

Garodnick's office pointed me to this proposed bill from 2014 (text at bottom), which will be updated:
(1) An entity that is seeking an authorization for after hours construction work, pursuant to paragraphs one, two, or three of subdivision e of this section, shall submit, as part of its application, a detailed explanation of the material condition or conditions that exist that require such authorization. The authorizing agency shall issue a written decision detailing the rationale for granting or denying such authorization, and shall make each application and written decision available on the agency’s website not later than five business days after the decision is issued. (2) An entity that is seeking an authorization for after hours construction work, pursuant to paragraph four of subdivision e of this section, shall submit, as part of its application, a detailed explanation of the material condition or conditions that exist that require such authorization. The authorizing agency shall make all such applications available on the agency’s website not less than five business days before authorizing after hours construction work at a work site, and shall allow members of the public to submit comments on such applications either electronically or by mail. The agency shall issue a written decision detailing the rationale for granting or denying such authorization not later than five business days after a grant or denial is issued, and shall make such decision available on the agency’s website. In determining whether to authorize after hours construction work, the agency shall take into account: (i) public comments on such applications, and (ii) whether other after hours construction work has been authorized within a five-block radius of the work site. (3) The authorizing agency shall allow persons to subscribe to an email alert system that will provide information about any application filed pursuant to subdivision e of this section. The authorizing agency shall provide opportunities for city residents to provide an email address to the authorizing agency for this purpose and shall maintain a database of all such email addresses. The authorizing agency shall send email notifications regarding any application to interested parties who provide the authorizing agency with an email address for this purpose and who reside in the community board district where the after hours construction work is requested to occur. Each email notification shall consist of all pertinent information related to such application and include links to the authorizing agency’s website to access relevant forms, materials and other additional information.

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