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Downplayed at virtual community meeting: numerous reports from neighbors about how project construction disturbs sleep, work, and kids' schooling

There was good reason for the "solicitousness and evasiveness" from developers of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, as I described the 11/17/20 online Quality of Life meeting, which is supposed to respond to neighbors' concerns and questions about the project.

Though it was barely mentioned at the meeting two weeks ago, those developers and state officials had received a spreadsheet of 17 reports from neighbors about loud, intrusive construction--some after-hours--that disturbs people's sleep and compromises their pandemic-constrained lives, including work and school from home.

Most respondents live near the eastern end of the site, bordering where developer TF Cornerstone is building two residential towers, known as B12 (615 Dean) and B13 (595 Dean), on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, with deep below-ground space for a Chelsea Piers fitness center and fieldhouse. That especially affects neighbors who live within the project itself, notably the "100% affordable" 535 Carlton Avenue.

Some live near the western end, near the B4 (18 Sixth Ave.) and B15 (662 Pacific St.) sites, catercorner across Sixth Avenue above and below Pacific Street, where master developer Greenland USA is building a tower with the Brodsky Organization, and Brodsky is building one itself.

Foreground: 535 Carlton; B12/B13 site at center;
Photos taken 11/20/20 by Norman Oder
Katheryn Keller, a 535 Carlton Avenue resident who organized the spreadsheet after reaching out to neighbors on NextDoor and Facebook to see if they were also suffering, said she's been woken up "every morning at like 6:59 am, with my bed practically vibrating from the noise outside." 

She lives on the seventh floor of the building, facing the courthard that borders the B12 and B13 sites. The work requires up to 150 daily truck trips.

Keller ordered construction-grade earplugs and shared them with neighbors. "My sleep is shot," she said, noting that she now also relies on an air purifier and ambient music. She said the copious dust means residents can't open windows for fresh air--"the windows in our common area are dusty."

A sample of comments

Respondents said the construction noise and vibration was not only disturbing, it interfered with work and school. At B12/B13, work has typically gone from 7 am to 6 pm, with Long Island Rail Road work nearby happening more randomly overnight. At B4/B15, after-hours variances have extended work hours first from 6 am to 9 pm and then 5 am to 10 pm.

A sample of comments is below. (Reports may be made to the spreadsheet here.)

"I am no longer able to work with the constant background noise as it is disturbing my work calls and ability to focus. I had to seek a studio space to work from during the day which is another expense."
Looking east to the pit at B12/B13

"There is a reason Construction Permits are not typically granted close to a school. In essence, with remote learning, my apartment is a school. It is a failure of society not to create a conducive learning environment for our children... The constant vibration is making everyone in my household on edge. We cannot escape because of of Covid, and are subjected to constant noise and rumbling."

"The construction abruptly wakes my household... every morning with drilling that shakes my apartment, screeching metal that is giving me a headache and loud bucket drops that rattle my head. As someone who works from home I cannot conduct meetings, take phone calls or concentrate on anything. The noise is distracting enough, but the shaking of everything in my apartment causes an anxiety spike that is unwarranted."

"I am working longer and more stressful hours. When I am home, I would like some sort of calm and quiet. However, as I face the construction site in the area between Pacific and Atlantic, bright lights shine into my apartment at all hours of the night. I’ve had to buy light blocking curtains and earplugs; regardless my apartment is full of bright lights and noise from the construction site."

"My line of work requires things to be as silent as absolutely possible. When we rented at 535 Carlton, one of the biggest draws were the 'sound proof' windows, which up until this point have done a fantastic job [but] the windows are absolutely no match for the level of noise created by the construction, however. The noise fluctuates from being very loud and obtrusive, to being so excruciatingly loud that I cannot actually do my job. It is also extremely hard to plan around... I have had to turn down work."

At the meeting

Were those comments taken seriously? I had to go back to my tape of the meeting.

"There was a very detailed Excel spreadsheet that was put together," said Tobi Jaiyesimi, Atlantic Yards Project Director for Empire State Development, "with a number of concerns and comments with regards to the construction activity and the noise on B12 and B13." She spoke about 40 minutes into the meeting, a bit offhandedly, and meeting participants (like me) had no sense of the concerns.

Looking north from Dean Street
"A number of those comments and questions have been responded to," she said. "Some of the suggestions included changing the days in which construction happens, maybe changing the timing, but as [Greenland USA's] Scott [Solish] and [TF Cornerstone's] Amir [Stein] noted, that's heavily regulated by the Department of Buildings. And they have permits that allow for them to work within a specific time."

That's misleading, and illustrates how Empire State Development--the state authority that oversees/shepherds the project--prioritizes its role as an enabler.

After all, construction hours can't be "heavily regulated" by the Department of Buildings if the developers regularly get after-hours variances and--as I reported--even got extended variances to allow work from 5 am to 10 pm, and on Sundays, work that was conspicuously unmentioned in the bi-weekly Construction Alert issued by Empire State Development.

At the meeting, Greenland USA's Solish set out the priority: "And so there's no ability to adjust those hours right now, to change the hours of the work day without having significant impacts on the schedule of the project." 

However, not only did that disregard work hours that had already been extended to 5 am and 10 pm and to Sundays, that obfuscated the fact that the decision should not merely be made according to the developers' business priorities, but with government oversight that assesses trade-offs.

Also unmentioned during the meeting: some residents asked about the additional noise reduction--white-noise machines or noise-canceling headphones, for example--as well as rent concessions. (After all, Greenland USA, as main owner of Greenland Forest City Partners, is also the landlord for 535 Carlton.) 

Downplaying a concern

During the Quality of Life meeting, Keller said, she posed a question in the chat, which was seen only by the presenters, not the other attendees. 

(That's an example, as I've written of the non-transparent format of the meetings. It's a reminder that, what started as a Quality of Life meeting was later changed to a Community Update meeting, more accurately indicating the actual content--presentations by the developer and the state--but in 2016 changed back, in name at least, to Quality of Life. Before then, one Empire State Development official called the bi-monthly session a "developer meeting.")

What can be done, Keller asked in the chat, to make sure that work in the Long Island Rail Road's Vanderbilt Yard, didn't occur at 2 am, which wakes people up five hours before the next construction-induced wakeup.

"They dodged that," she recalled. Indeed, Greenland USA's Solish left out the specific reference to 2 am, reading, "What can be coordinated between Pacific Park and the Long Island Rail Road to ensure that the LIRR is not waking people up, as well as construction starting at seven o'clock in the morning." 

Solish said operational constraints require LIRR work in off-hours, but said the work is "near completion." (That ignored the relative difference between off-hours, say, before 11 pm, and off-hours at 2 am.) 

That said, work in the railyard will recur when and if work on a platform begins, first on the block between Sixth and Carlton avenues, and later on the block between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, paralleling the B12/B13 construction site.

Also, work on Saturdays at the B12/B13 site, starting this Saturday, was just announced in the most recent Construction Update. That will add to the stress. One respondent on the spreadsheet had written, "Hopefully no transition to weekend work as this is the only time to relax at home during the day."

A complaint, ignored by the state

One respondent near the western end of the project, near the B4/B15 sites, observed on the spreadsheet, "Construction noise is constant and often begins outside of city permitted hours. Frequently trucks will load and unload materials between 3-5 am, this is a loud process and often wakes me up. Several reports have been made to 311."

That counts as a comment that, as far as I know, has not "been responded to" (to use ESD rep Jaiyesimi's language), and suggests possible violations that should be assessed not just by city officials but also by the state's consultant.

For the B4 and B15 sites, the after-hours variances most recently have been extended to 5 am. Work before then is a violation, but it's not unknown for construction work to exceed posted hours. Those of us with long Atlantic Yards memories would remember this June 2006 episode of early-morning demolition before permitted hours (which led to fines).


  1. Katheryn10:58 AM

    Thank you Norman. What you're doing takes a lot of time and effort, which I know is greatly appreciated by many.

    It should be noted that I only created the spreadsheet to see if other neighbors were struggling as much as I was in the hopes that something could be done to help in this already very difficult year in our neighborhood. Unfortunately at this point, it doesn't seem that there is anyone from the developer/ownership/management teams that care about anything other than money.

    1. I face the construction from the 550 Vanderbilt side and we could easily double yhe number of complaints. It's almost impossible to work from home and were awaken at 7 am everyday. We have an infant that can't nap at home during the day whixh has been causing us major issues. Where should i be submitting evidence of violations as i record every violation i can see?

    2. Thanks for the comment. I'll be responding in more detail within the next day.

    3. Here's a link to the spreadsheet
      (But I'll also be mentioning this tomorrow.)

    4. Also see this post


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