Volume 18 • Issue 19 | Sep. 30 - Oct 06, 2005

P.S. 234 wins noise protections in development deal

By Ronda Kaysen

A major Tribeca project received a go ahead from the city on Wednesday after its developer agreed to minimize construction noise that would have disrupted a nearby school.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the neighborhood, brokered the deal between the city and developer Edward Minskoff Equities early Wednesday morning, bringing months of protracted negotiations to a close and securing a vote of approval from the City Council later that day.

The deal clears the way for Minskoff to develop a 1.1 million sq. ft. residential project at 270 Greenwich St. The development, dubbed Site 5B, includes a nearly 400 foot tall condo tower, several townhouses, rental units and 170,000 sq. ft. of retail space, which will house a Barnes & Noble bookstore and a Whole Foods Market.

In a rare decision to restrict a developer’s construction methods because of quality of life concerns, Minskoff is required to create sound barriers and use alternative construction techniques to mitigate pile driving noise that would have inundated P.S. 234, an elementary school with 700 students that abuts the project’s Warren St. side. Minskoff will cover the approximately $2.5 million in mitigation costs.

“This sets a new framework — people, especially kids, have to come first,” said Gerson in a telephone interview shortly after the City Council vote, adding that he hopes this agreement sets a new precedent for future developments, particularly upcoming projects across West St. at Sites 23 and 24, which face another school: P.S./I.S. 89, also on Warren St.

Discussions between the councilmember and Minskoff dragged on through the summer, extending beyond the City Council Sept. 22 deadline for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a lengthy development process that needs City Council and mayoral approval. Gerson stalled a vote twice in the hopes that an agreement could be reached that would not unduly impact the schoolchildren and the residential neighborhood.

The agreement requires Minskoff to reduce the number of piles and cut the number of weeks of pile driving in half from 12 weeks to five to six weeks. A hydraulic pile driving hammer, quieter than a standard driver, will be used and all pile driving hammers will be enclosed in acoustical shrouding, muffling the sound. With the exception of some preliminary driving slated for December, the bulk of the pile driving will be delayed until after students complete standardized tests on Jan. 12.

A sidewalk bridge on the south side of the school will be enclosed with plywood and acoustical material. Another sidewalk bridge will be erected on the south side of Warren St., creating a 20-ft. high acoustic wall, further protecting the school.

In all, noise inside the school will not exceed 50 decibels, the current noise levels inside the school when air conditioning is running. The noise restrictions will also lessen the noise at P.S./I.S. 89 across West St.

“[The agreement] is great. Our experts tell us it’s great,” said Gerson. “I said all along that we’re going to protect our kids and the surrounding residents.”

Martin McLaughlin, a spokesperson for Minskoff, was reluctant to discuss the specifics of the noise agreement, which will cost the developer as much as $2.5 million. “It’s all settled, the agreements are made and we’re going forward. We tried to be a good neighbor and we’re doing what we can do,” he said.

Parents, city and school officials expressed satisfaction and relief that a deal was reached that did not unduly impact the school or the neighborhood.

“We’ve gotten a lot, it’s not perfect, but we’ve gotten a lot,” said P.S. 234 principal Sandy Bridges, who sent a notice to parents on Tuesday evening alerting them of the imminent agreement. “My goal was to mitigate the sound, not to completely eradicate it. Is it perfect? No, but I think it is a manageable and livable compromise.”

John Jiler, a P.S. 234 parent who has closely followed the negotiations and attended the Wednesday City Council ULURP vote, was delighted by the agreement. “The deal was rather remarkable. We got more than we dreamed we would, and are very happy,” he said in an e-mail to Downtown Express.

The noise agreement is the latest chapter in a larger deal brokered a year ago by Gerson between the developer and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff for the sale of Site 5B, which is city land. As part of the $110 million sale, Minskoff agreed to contribute $3.6 million to a community center planned for a different development in the agreement and $7.5 million for the maintenance of nearby Washington Market Park.

“People were astounded by how much the community got for this,” said McLaughlin. The development also includes a 55,000 sq. ft. Whole Foods Market and a new addition to the project, a Barnes and Noble bookstore.

“From an infrastructure perspective, this is a tremendous step forward,” said Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, the organization that will operate the new 28,000 sq. ft. community center. The $3.8 million will go toward the build out of the community center, which is expected to open in 2007. The center still needs to raise an additional $1.5 million to $2 million.

The Doctoroff deal assured a “community friendly” development, language that bound Minskoff to answer to school concerns and gave Gerson the leverage to vote down ULURP, which he threatened to do. Gerson maintains he had the 2/3 majority needed in City Council to overturn a mayoral veto.

Although the school is the closest building to the development, nearby residences will also benefit from the construction agreement. “The fact that there’s a school there helped influence and get the noise abatement strategy in place,” said Kevin Doherty, president of The Tribeca condo board, a condo at 303 Greenwich St., close to the development. Doherty is also president of the P.S. 234 P.T.A. Doherty doubts the residents, without the school’s involvement, would have been able to influence the developer at all.

“This an achievement in that the city has never before gotten an agreement from a developer to take into account the [impact of] their construction noise on schools,” said Bennett Brooks, a noise consultant hired by the school. “The fact that they got the attention of the developer on this issue is considered a big achievement.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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