Volume 18, Number 1 | MAY 27 —JUNE 2, 2005, 2005

City issues then revokes demolition permits

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
The Dept. of Buildings issued a permit to demolish the one-story building on the corner of Greenwich and Thames Sts. and the adjacent three-story building (133-135 Greenwich St.), but revoked the permit after U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and environmental agencies raised concerns.

By Claire F. Hamilton

Five days after the Department of Buildings issued permits to demolish two buildings just south of the World Trade Center site, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection raised a red flag and the permits were revoked.

The apparent oversight of possible toxic hazards inside 133-135 Greenwich St. and 21-29 Thames St. can partly be explained by faulty paperwork filed by the developer, Greenwich Street Project, L.L.C. and partly by a lack of communication between the two agencies.

D.O.B. evaluates structural concerns only, while D.E.P. monitors environmental issues like W.T.C. dust, a hazard that might effectively overrule a demolition permit. Typically, Buildings takes environmental hazards into consideration only by way of instruction from Environmental Protection.

“If they don’t hear from us, the process continues,” says Charles Sturcken of D.E.P. And in the case of the two small buildings, the developer submitted an asbestos intake form that suggested that no significant threat existed inside, Sturcken said. This was despite the location’s proximity to Deutsche Bank, where documented toxic levels were up to thousands of times greater than acceptable standards. The offices of Greenwich Street Project, owned by Thames Greenwich, L.L.C., declined to comment.

Buildings surrounding the W.T.C. site are under the watch of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which stays connected with city agencies. E.P.A. spokesperson Bonnie Bellow said that the two buildings in question were known risks weeks before the demolition permit was issued on May 12. In reaction to rumors, Bellow said the E.P.A. checked to see whether a demolition permit had been issued for 133 Greenwich St. weeks before the permit existed. “We have been working closely with the city through an agreement that they would track and flag buildings in Lower Manhattan. There was an understanding that those two would be treated differently,” she said.

But Ilyse Fink, a Buildings spokesperson, said: “According to our staff, the building at 133 Greenwich St. had not been a subject of discussion prior to last week,” even though “there have been numerous meetings and discussion regarding the Deutsche Bank building.”

Fink said that D.E.P. forwarded a list of buildings to be flagged at the end of last week.

Residents at 125 Cedar St. noticed more scaffolding days after the permit was issued, and contacted Congressmember Jerrold Nadler’s office. “You can look inside those buildings and see that they’re filthy,” said Kathleen Moore, one of the residents.

Linda Rosenthal, Nadler’s director of special projects, took up the investigation that led to the permits’ revocation on May 17. She said that the two environmental agencies, E.P.A. and D.E.P., both reacted with surprise. “Obviously, D.E.P. did not do a good job tracking it. It is only because we alerted D.E.P. and D.O.B. that the permits were revoked.” Rosenthal said her understanding is the developer is planning a 30-story residential building at the sites.

D.E.P.’s Sturcken said, “There is no regimen to issue anything before the demolition permit. We’re talking about special cases.” About the developer’s submitted paperwork, “We did not like their asbestos intake form. We said we see some debris and we think you should file another form,” he said. There are about 53 potentially hazardous, W.T.C.-area buildings that the agency is tracking according to Sturcken, and the Greenwich and Thames St. buildings required heightened scrutiny. The responsible agencies have now met with Greenwich Street Project, L.L.C. to ensure safe cleaning and air monitoring before it can proceed with a planned, luxury high-rise.

Still, neighbors and environmentalists are worried about the potential for disconnect in special cases. Kimberly Flynn of 9/11 Environmental Action said, “We agree with Congressman Nadler that the E.P.A. should be the lead agency and should take charge of the growing list of 9/11-contaminated buildings slated for demolition. The multi-agency chaos has to stop or we are running the risk of something really dangerous happening.”

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