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At AY CDC, neighborhood impacts of disruptive construction downplayed; developer claims after-hours pace is "good construction management"

This is the third of four articles on the 12/10/20 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which was announced with less than three days' notice. The first article concerned plans for the platform and affordable housing. The second article concerned disruptive signage from the Barclays Center. The fourth article concerned public comments.

During the meeting, representatives of Empire State Development (ESD), parent of the AY CDC, as well as master developer Greenland USA (which owns nearly all of Greenland Forest City Partners), played down the impacts of construction, reported by neighbors as disruptive to work and school from home.

Notably, they suggested that, despite after-hours variances that allow work, depending on the site, to start at 5 am and last until 10 pm, nearly all work happens during daylight hours. A state rep claimed the work was "heavily" overseen by the Department of Buildings, which is hardly convincing.

A developer's rep, asked about the after-hours pace, denied that it reflected schedule constraints: "We do want to get the buildings finished as soon as we can. But this is not because of any scheduling issues, this is good construction management."

That strikes me as a distinction without much of a difference.

After all, at a previous meeting, that same executive, Scott Solish of Greenland USA, said, "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. So there's no--there's no shifting from a 12 to 7 or a 12 to 8 shift that will be able to be done."

Reporting back on virtual meetings

About halfway through the meeting (webcast), Tobi Jaiyesimi, AY CDC executive director and also ESD's Atlantic Yards project director, described the issues and concerns raised at the two virtual Quality of Life meetings since the pandemic began.

She said there had been "comments and questions " about the meetings, "with some folks inquiring about the format of the chat, noting who's in attendance, whether or not there can be an opportunity for participants to speak or to use audio and video." 

That doesn't quite specify the issues of transparency. 

She noted questions--which were also raised earlier in the meeting--about the timetable for affordable housing and the platform, and the level of affordability. 

Disruptive construction: railyard

"More recently there's also been some questions and concerns and complaints that have come up with regards to after-hours work that happens in the rail yard," Jaiyesimi said, as in the webcast embedded below. 

 

The after-hours work is done by the Long Island Rail Road, she said, and constrained by the reail road's operational needs, after rail cars are stored and serviced during the day.

"Both the developer and the ESD representatives," she said, "will continue to stress to the Long Island Rail Road the importance of minimizing impact to those in the communities, using less noisy equipment, finding ways to redirect lighting there might be used for the safety of their personnel doing the work."

That doesn't necessarily have much impact.

Disruptive construction: southeast block

 

"There's been a number of questions and complaints that have come in with regards to the construction noise from B12 and B13," Jaiyesimi said, citing the two towers planned for Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, which will contain a below-grade Chelsea Piers fitness center and fieldhouse. "As [colleague] Marion [Phillips III] mentioned, both buildings, both sites are in the foundation exploration phase," with foundational fittings installed.

"For the last Quality of Life meeting, we actually received a very detailed spreadsheet, with a number of concerns and notes and comments from those in the community, which included changes to start time, changes to maybe days of construction, the type of equipment," she said. "Again all of this in response to just folks working from home, learning from home, the new normal that we're all having to adjust to and realizing that living next to a construction site isn't the most favorable condition at the moment."

That hardly describes the impacts which make work or school from home impossible, or how ESD downplayed those concerns at a Quality of Life meeting. Or that the concerns also extend to residents near Sixth Avenue, near two other construction sites, B4 and B15.

Hours of work

"Overall, do note that the developers for all sites are working within their permitted hours that's approved and heavily monitored by the Department of Buildings," Jaiyesimi said. "There are times where the permit hours isn't reflective of actual construction activities. It's to ensure that there's the ability to space in workers coming into the site to ensure physical, social distancing, as temperatures are being taken, as preliminary delivery or operation needs to be done to get the site going, and to ensure that the work can be done as efficiently as possible, There are activities where there might be weekend work, but that's again within specific hours and permitted times. It's approved by the Department of Buildings.

AY CDC director Gib Veconi, noting complaints about after-hours work, asked about the justification.

"Some of the after hours work permits that are issued reflect hours that are standard for DOB regulations," Jaiyesimi said, confusingly, "and that it's not necessary or it's not exact that the developer and the construction team are working within those specific hours. And then in other instances it's to allow for, while construction itself might not commence at those hours, it allows for the workers to come on site to get tested, and to go through the necessary COVID-19 screenings on time."

(Solish later said no workers had tested positive.)

It may make sense for workers to gather, but that's not all the work. 

Indeed, as she added, "It's to allow for some maybe early or preliminary deliveries to support the construction activities at the site. And so it, and then it also allows for safe social distancing."

She also noted a recent visit by the Department of Environmental Protection for emergency work along Dean Street was "not directly related to the Atlantic Yards project."

Avoiding noise?

Veconi asked, "Is it the case that the actual work that's being done during those hours outside of normal working hours is stuff that's scheduled so it's not to create a lot of noise?"

"Some of the work is. I'm not gonna say, it doesn't generate noise, but you know at B12/B13 right now it's excavation and foundation work, which is below the street level," Solish said. "Right now, certain parts of the site are 30 or 40 people below ground. And B15 is totally enclosed, and B4 is enclosed up to the 28th floor."

Work below street level can still be very loud.

"So, there is work, construction activities that is happening outside of the normal 7 to 3 typical work day," he said, citing the need for temperature checks and staggering entrance times.

"So there is construction activity that does happen after the typical ending day, but it's for the most part, almost all the work is finishing, no later than 5 pm; sites are closed no later than usually 6," he said.

If so, it's unclear why they've had permits to work until 10 pm, and on Sundays.

Noisy work does start early

Director Ethel Tyus, noting that people working from home faced a lot of stress, asked if the workday started at 5 am. 

"So there really isn't any work that's happening at 5 o'clock," Solish said, going on to indicate that, indeed, there was some work.

"We do have some of the tradespeople come to the site, they'll start up the hoist before 5 o'clock," he said, before correcting himself. "They'll start to crane up before, not before 5, sorry, in these early morning hours they will start some of this equipment, so that as the workforce begins to arrive, that it's that people aren't forced to congregate."

 "And in limited cases as Tobi [Jaiyesimi] had previously mentioned, there might be one or two deliveries that happen into the loading docks," he said. "To prepare for that work day, again to promote efficiency..There's no heavy construction activity that's happening in these 5 to 7 hours."

That, again, confirms the after-hours variances that have not been acknowledged in the weekly Construction Updates, as I wrote.

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