Volume 18 • Issue 14 | August 26 - September 01, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

A view of the construction at West and Chambers Sts. from the roof of P.S. 234. Because of soil conditions, the developer of the lot, known as Site 5C, has been able to avoid pile driving.

Do school bells still ring?

Deal for construction limits at P.S. 234 nears

By Ronda Kaysen

The children at a Tribeca elementary school might not need to include earplugs on their back-to-school shopping list after all. The neighborhood school will not be subjected to months of mind numbing construction noise, if discussions continue to progress, according to school and political leaders involved in the negotiations.

Construction is expected to begin this fall on a large residential development located directly across the street from P.S. 234 on Warren St. in Tribeca. Developer Edward Minskoff Equities has indicated for several months that pile driving — an excessively noisy excavation technique — would likely be necessary for the 1.1 million-sq. ft. project bounded by Warren, Murray, Greenwich and West Sts.

Aghast at the possibility that their youngsters might face a school year drowned out by drilling (65 of the school’s windows face directly onto the site), concerned parents rallied behind City Councilmember Alan Gerson earlier this summer to force the developer to change his tune.

The coming school year looked like it was sure to be a noisy one in late May when Community Board 1, which represents the neighborhood, gave Minksoff’s project a crucial nod of approval, despite several public statements from Minskoff representatives indicating that pile driving would likely happen at the site. The board, usually an advisory body, had the rare authority to block the developer’s application, a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a power it chose not to use.

In recent weeks, however, discussions have begun to turn a corner, Gerson told Downtown Express.

“We’re making progress. We have some good ideas out on the table,” Gerson said. Although some degree of pile driving will likely occur, it might not occur at places nearest the school or a soundproofing wall might be erected to deflect some of the noise. The noise level will be comparable to the noise emanating from construction at Site 5C, a residential development by developer Jack Resnick & Sons adjacent to the school.

“We definitely have movement in the right direction,” said P.S. 234 principal Sandy Bridges of the Minskoff negotiations.

A look at the P.S. 234 yard, left, Site 5C, right, across the street from the lot known as Site 5B, where pile driving is likely to start in September.

A coalition of concerned parents is taking steps to hire an acoustical engineer to evaluate Minskoff’s plan and the proposed solutions and is not convinced the discussions are progressing so smoothly. “They’ve put some ideas on the table that are totally unacceptable to us,” said John Jiler, a P.S. 234 parent, adding that all the current solutions include some amount of pile driving during school hours. “Until they decide to not do it during school hours, we’re not going to be happy.”

Some amount of pile driving is unavoidable at the site, according to Downtown construction czar Charlie Maikish, who steers the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and has discussed the situation with Minskoff.

“He [Minskoff] intends at this point to [drive] piles,” said Maikish, adding. “Some projects you can’t avoid driving piles, you have to do it.” adding that a developer could limit the pile driving hours and avoid pile driving at certain times, such as during exams.

Making the development quiet enough to facilitate learning, in large part, is a matter of cost, and Gerson indicated that the city might swallow some of that cost by offering a partial rebate to the developer. “At the end of the day someone will have to pay, whether it’s Minskoff or the city,” said Gerson.

A spokesperson for Minskoff confirmed negotiations were underway, but declined to comment.

Gerson continues to play a unique role in the negotiations. Last September, he helped reach an agreement between Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and several developers, including Minskoff and Resnick, on the development of Site 5B, Site 5C and other Downtown properties.

Gerson expects an agreement to be reached after Labor Day, Sept. 5. If a satisfactory agreement is not reached by Sept. 7 when the ULURP reaches City Council for a vote, Gerson said he would block it, effectively stalling the development.

The new school year begins the following day.


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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