No sleep ’til morning: Late-night construction ‘torture’ has Downtowners demanding changes

Photo courtesy of Michelle Noguchi Hanover Square resident Michelle Noguchi said after-hours construction like this routinely keeps her awake past 2 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Noguchi
Hanover Square resident Michelle Noguchi said after-hours construction like this routinely keeps her awake past 2 a.m.

BY YANNIC RACK | 

The city that never sleeps is living up to its reputation Downtown, where late-night construction is making it impossible for some to get a good night’s rest. Residents in Lower Manhattan say they are constantly assaulted by after hours construction work, and local lawmakers warn that the problem could get even worse due to less city oversight.

“We are being tortured,” said Michelle Noguchi, who lives on Hanover Square and claims the deafening noise from dump trucks and jackhammering routinely keeps her up past 2 a.m. “It’s everywhere. It’s really making me question having moved to this neighborhood in the first place,” she said.

Noguchi is not the only one losing sleep over the issue — last year, the Dept. of Buildings received 3,773 complaints for after-hours construction across the city.

The State Comptroller’s Office is conducting a survey on noise in city neighborhoods, and asks residents to participate in the online survey by March 15.

“When it’s going on, sometimes past 11 p.m., it’s deafening,” agreed John St. resident Patrick Kennell, head of the newly formed Financial District Neighborhood Association. “It does keep people up, especially families with kids. In the summertime, we can’t keep our windows open, because of the noise, but also because of dust and debris.”

The D.O.B. issues work permits called After Hours Variances, which allow work after 6 p.m. and before 7 a.m. on weekdays, and are necessary for construction at any time on the weekend. The Dept. of Transportation also issues permits when the work spills over onto the sidewalk or street, as is the case with many projects.

“After Hours Variances are granted primarily when it’s safer or less disruptive to a neighborhood to perform the work at night or on weekends,” said a Dept. of Buildings spokesperson.

“For example, variances are granted for work done near schools or public spaces, for heavy construction work that might require sidewalks to be closed to protect pedestrians, or for work that would cause traffic gridlock if it’s done during the day.”

But out of those thousands of complaints, the agency only issued 54 violations last year, which means most of the work was properly permitted. And according to lawmakers across the city, that’s precisely the problem.

Last December, 20 elected officials signed a letter to First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, demanding the city stop rubber-stamping permits and create a “construction liaison” to manage complaints on construction noise and traffic.

“The deficient coordination [between agencies] has led to a high concentration of after-hours construction in several neighborhoods and questionable standards for permits granted,” wrote the politicians, including State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Councilmember Margaret Chin, who all represent parts of Lower Manhattan.

They also argued that the differences between the two agencies’ permits — Buildings issues them for two weeks, while the Dept. of Transportation variances can span months — allow both agencies to deny responsibility for unreasonable hours.

“It enables a cycle of blame, leaving little possible recourse for nearby residents,” the pols wrote. A bill introduced in the Council two years ago would stop contractors from working before 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m. on weekdays, and before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on Saturdays, with no work at all on Sundays.

But the bill, which has 13 co-sponsors, has not been scheduled for a hearing since it was introduced in February 2014. “We have been getting more complaints, and we’re working very hard on this issue,” said Paul Leonard, a spokesperson for Councilmember Chin, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“We already have legislation that has been introduced and we are looking to have it heard as soon as possible, so New Yorkers Downtown can see some meaningful relief,” he said.

It couldn’t come a day too soon for Linda Gerstman, who has lived on Broad St. in the Financial District for eight years. “At this point, I think the problem is so pervasive that the only solution is going to be legislation,” she said. “It’s a problem throughout the city.”

She also noted that because of the canyon streetscape of Lower Manhattan, noise from nearby construction sites tends to travel.

Gerstman said getting relief was easier in the days of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, a dedicated office that coordinated thousands of construction projects — and complaints — south of Canal St. after 9/11.

The L.M.C.C.C. closed in 2014 and was replaced by the Dept. of Transportation’s Lower Manhattan Commissioner’s office — which the agency revealed last year would be phased out in March due to lack of funding, despite more than 90 active construction projects in the area.

“Fourteen years after 9/11 and three years after Sandy, [construction has] a major impact on quality of life Downtown,” Community Board 1 chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes said when the agency announced the move in December. “It’s really important there is coordination.”

Elected officials are pushing the Dept. of Transportation to keep the Commissioner’s office open.

“Community engagement makes a big difference when communities are impacted by construction. L.M.C.C.C. and the more recent D.O.T. coordination have proved the point,” said State Sen. Squadron. “Construction and building projects should never mean tearing down a community’s quality life.”

For her part, Noguchi said she can only hope the politicians’ efforts will get results soon. Close to her apartment, the tower at One Wall St. will soon undergo a massive residential conversion, and with thousands of new apartments coming to the Financial District alone in the next few years, there likely will come more afterhours work as well. “I cannot and will not continue living like this,” she said.

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