Volume 18 • Issue 51 | May 12 - 18, 2006

Tribecans try to block project on environmental grounds

By Ronda Kaysen

Local residents and elected officials asked the city to halt the demolition of a stand of North Tribeca buildings, fearing they might be contaminated with World Trade Center dust.

The six squat, one- and two-story buildings at Watts and Washington Sts. are being demolished to make way for a new residential tower, which has born the brunt of virulent criticism from local residents who say that the new development will be too large for the neighborhood.

The Jack Parker Corp., which owns the property, finished testing the building for asbestos and has applied for asbestos removal permits from the City Dept. of Environmental Protection. But on May 4, elected leaders led by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler sent letters to D.E.P. and the City Dept. of Buildings, urging the agencies to oversee the demolition and not to issue demolition permits until the site can be deemed safe from W.T.C.-related contamination.

“We want to address the possibility that there may be contaminants from the World Trade Center,” said Andrew Neale, a member of the Tribeca Community Association and Community Board 1. “The community is asking the Parker Corp. to do things properly.”

The site, which is bounded by Watts, Washington, Desbrosses and West Sts., is one mile north of the World Trade Center site. Critics fear that toxic Trade Center dust might have impacted the building and the demolition should be monitored by regulatory agencies.

The demolition is only one part of a larger project. Jack Parker purchased the buildings four years ago with the intention of developing them. Last month, the city certified the corporation’s application to rezone a four-block swath of the area for commercial and residential use. Parker vice president William Wallerstein insists the latest environmental concerns are little more than a stalling tactic on the part of angry residents.

“It seems like a ploy to delay the demolition,” said Wallerstein. “I have to question whether this level of scrutiny has been placed on every single demolition project in the past four years. It seems arbitrary.”

Some residents closely involved with the community have privately voiced doubts that the buildings pose a 9/11-related health risk and say that this is the latest move by a community angered that the city certified Jack Parker’s rezoning application, a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, without a full Environmental Impact Statement.

“This is no Deutsche Bank, this is no Fiterman Hall,” said one resident who requested anonymity, referring to two large buildings near the Trade Center that were heavily damaged on 9/11 and are facing an Environmental Protection Agency-controlled demolition.

The ULURP, which must be approved by the City Council and the City Planning Commission, would allow four blocks of North Tribeca to be rezoned for commercial and residential use and allow for 160-ft. buildings that local residents say are far too bulky for the low rise waterfront neighborhood.

Local residents would like to see the entire North Tribeca neighborhood rezoned — not just the blocks near the Parker site. The community’s plan calls for stricter limits on how large buildings could be. Residents were outraged that the city certified the Parker application without calling for a full E.I.S. to determine impacts on light, air, traffic and soil.

“Since they have not done an E.I.S., you really don’t know what it is that’s going on down here,” said Albert Capsouto, a C.B. 1 member and co-owner of Capsouto Frères, a restaurant located directly across the street from the Parker site. “It there had been an environmental study then this would be a moot point.”

The city appears reluctant to take steps to increase oversight of the buildings. “We will enforce the law as we do for any asbestos removal project in the city,” said Ian Michaels, a city D.E.P. spokesperson, adding that Jack Parker has applied for an asbestos removal permit. The corporation has not applied for a demolition permit from the Dept. of Buildings yet, but according to Wallerstein, they plan to do so soon.

C.B. 1 plans to send a letter to the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, the office overseeing the Downtown construction projects, to add the Parker site to its list of charges. The Command Center sent an inspector out to the site to look at the site “and he is in the process of compiling his findings,” said Command Center spokesperson Jennifer Nelson in an e-mail. She declined to say if her office would consider monitoring the demolition.

The E.P.A. insists the Parker buildings are out of their jurisdiction. “We’re not involved with that building and we don’t expect that we will get involved with that building,” said Mary Mears, an E.P.A. spokesperson.

Nadler’s office was outraged that E.P.A. declined to get involved in the Parker site. “They are forced to deal with those sites [Deutsche Bank and Fiterman Hall,] but they don’t want to deal with anything further away, despite the fact that they are going to start a sampling plan” to test and clean Lower Manhattan residences for any remaining Trade Center dust, Arturo Garcia-Costas, an aide to Nadler, said.

In the meantime, the Jack Parker Corp. is moving forward with its own cleanup and demolition of the North Tribeca buildings as it waits for word on its rezoning application.

“The ULURP clock is ticking,” said Wallerstein. “Whether we demolish the buildings or not the ULURP is going to happen.”

But City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the district, said he plans to vote against the application—a move that could derail it—if it arrives at City Council in its current form. “If it were to come to the city council as it stands now, yes, I would oppose it,” said Gerson, adding that he has spoken with the Parker Corp. about reducing the bulk of the buildings. “I hope they will reconsider” the proposal.


BBy Ronda Kaysen


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