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BY YANNIC RACK | Exactly how high will a new apartment tower rise by the Manhattan Bridge? That question is currently hard to answer.
On July 29, the community room on the second floor of Two Bridges Tower once again filled up with worried residents who demanded answers about the massive development currently being built next door.
The quarterly meeting was a chance for Extell Development to present neighbors with an update on their new residential tower under construction at 250 South St., which, once completed, will dwarf the rest of the neighborhood.
But while the company’s representatives tried to soothe some concerns about the project where construction began last year, they refused to give a final word on the tower’s height.
“This is a construction meeting and we are not here to address that tonight,” Raizy Haas, Extell’s senior vice president for project management and development, responded to the crowd.
“We’re building two buildings, a fair market and an affordable building,” she added. “With respect to the total number of stories or height, it’s still a work in progress.”
That wasn’t good enough for some in the audience.
“We have a right to know. Let them answer us,” demanded one woman when Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, took the microphone.
“I think I’ve got the mic because they’re not willing to answer that,” Stetzer said.
The company’s plans for a roughly 800-unit luxury condo tower by the Manhattan Bridge was revealed long ago, but the building’s proposed height has repeatedly changed.
It has shifted from the original 56 stories to 61, and then rose further to 68, 71, 72 and finally 80 stories, as a recent zoning document filed in the city’s property records shows.
The most recent Dept. of Buildings filing puts the height at 72 stories, however, which is the figure Trever Holland, president of the Two Bridges Tower Residents Association, offered to annoyed members of the community.
“We’re just gonna leave it at that,” he said.
But after the meeting, Holland acknowledged that he expected the company to raise the final height to 80 stories.
“I think the D.O.B. filings are just a game they play to test the market and gauge reaction,” he wrote in an email this week. “If I were to bet, I’d say 80.”
At the meeting, residents also complained about damages to their building, like cracks in the walls and shifting door locks.
They said these are caused by the foundation work currently going on at the construction site, which is expected to continue through the first quarter of next year.
In addition to the tower, Lend Lease — the construction firm overseeing the project — is also building a smaller, affordable housing component right next to it.
“We are aware that there’s been some cracking, some issues with doors sticking,” said Anthony Abbruzzese, Extell’s senior vice president of construction.
“We inspected all the conditions and we’ve committed to repair anything that was caused by our construction,” he said, adding that engineers regularly inspect the building.
To one resident’s question about the possibility of more serious damage to the foundations of Two Bridges Tower, Abbruzzese responded that a network of seismographs is measuring vibration levels around the site, including inside 82 Rutgers Slip.
“The intensity of the pile driving, as of this moment, should be much less than it’s been,” he said. “We expect that at the end of this year we’ll start our superstructure, and the rest of the project remains on schedule.”
That means both buildings, the tower, plus the affordable one, would be finished in 2019.
Any surface damage to the surrounding area, including on Cherry St. — where both the street and the sidewalk have settled due to the construction — will be dealt with then.
“There might have been some settlement, which could be expected going forward,” Abbruzzese said. “It will be repaired on an ongoing basis. That street will be restored, and the sidewalk obviously reconstructed.”
Some residents also complained about a lack of communication from Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, their building’s co-owner, which they said has not been forwarding them weekly construction updates.
They were reminded of a designated phone line and e-mail address that residents can use to contact Extell directly.
Lend Lease also e-mails regular updates in English, Spanish and Chinese to those who signed up for a mailing list.
But one woman, speaking through a translator, complained that she left a message on the answering machine but never heard back from anyone.
When prompted about jobs at the site, Stetzer of C.B. 3 said there were plans to hire locally, both during construction and after the project is done.
“Unions are involved, training is involved,” she said, adding that details would follow soon.
After the meeting, many remained skeptical.
“They didn’t acknowledge that any damage was theirs,” said Paul Newell, a Democratic district leader for the 65th Assembly District. “I got the sense that they were trying to check boxes without incurring costs.”
Holland, the residents association president, said, “I think they were as responsive as they could be, considering that there’s some liability issues. I think it calmed a lot of fears that the damage will be taken care of. That’s what people want to hear.
“I’m glad that they recommitted, to a certain extent, that they’ll build an affordable supermarket,” he added.
He was referring to the Pathmark that, much to the community’s dismay, was closed in December 2012 to make way for the new development.
Although Extell’s executives said they could not answer questions about the fate of the old pharmacy and supermarket building adjacent to the construction site, Haas did make some concessions.
“Extell has committed to put an affordable supermarket in one of the retail spaces,” she said.
Grace Mak, another member of the residents association, said she felt the meeting was more accessible than previous ones but that tenants were still far from optimistic.
“Yes they’ve fixed the cracks, but it’s only a Band-Aid,” she said. “How do we know the Band-Aid is not going to break again? It’s a little step. But we hope we won’t take a big step back later on.”