Volume 17, Number 45 | April 1 — 7, 2005

2nd Tribeca project may be louder than the first

By Ronda Kaysen

The construction plan for Site 5B, a 1.1 million sq. ft. residential project in Tribeca, sets the stage for more overcrowding at neighboring P.S. 234 and noise pollution that may affect the elementary school children once the construction gets underway.

Construction on the development — flanked by Warren, Murray, Greenwich and West Sts., directly across from the Warren St. school — is expected to begin in the fall, after developer Edward Minskoff completes the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which should begin by the end of April.

Site 5B will include about 440 rental and condo apartments and 170,000 sq. ft. of retail space, including possibly a Whole Foods Market, as part of an agreement City Councilmember Alan Gerson signed with Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff last September.

The noisiest part of the construction — digging the foundation — would occur in the fall and the company will know in two months if pile driving, a notoriously loud digging process, will be necessary, Carlos Olivieri, S.V.P. for construction and development for Edward Minskoff Equities, said in a telephone interview.

If pile driving does occur, it will continue for three or four months of the seven-month-long foundation phase, Olivieri said. Pile driving, he added, is inescapably noisy.

Sandy Bridges, P.S. 234 principal, couldn’t agree more about the disruption pile driving would cause to her school. “Pile driving creates a significant amount of noise, which we are already experiencing from the Goldman Sachs building and World Trade Center 7 and they’re not even next to us and they’re annoying,” she said, referring to two nearby developments.

The bulk of the school’s windows face directly onto the site, which Bridges expects will compound the problem.

Nearby Site 5C, another development in the agreement that is currently in the excavation phase of its construction, has created less of a noise issue for the school, in part because it is located on a windowless side of the building and also because developer Jack Resnick & Sons agreed to forgo pile driving for variable frequency hammers that use vibration, a quieter alternative.

At a recent P.S. 234 P.T.A. meeting with Minskoff representatives, some parents suggested replacing the school’s windows with double-paned, soundproof glass, an alternative Olivieri said his company would consider.

Just who would pay for the windows and whether they could be approved by the Department of Education and adequately installed before construction begins (without further disrupting the students) remains to be seen.

Olivieri indicated that Minskoff Equities would consider footing the bill, although because the windows would mitigate Tribeca noise long after construction is complete, the cost might be the city’s responsibility.

Regardless of cost, Bridges is skeptical that any windows will abate the problem. “There are some noises that you cannot keep out no matter how the thick the glass is,” she said. “If there is somebody pounding a pile 40 feet from your building, you are going to hear it.”

She would rather see the developer find a way to avoid pile driving entirely, as the developers of Site 5C have done.

The city recently reached a favorable construction agreement with Resnick for Site 5C. In the agreement, Resnick agreed to meet requirements for city developments. All construction vehicles will use low sulfur fuel with vehicles retrofitted with exhaust filters to minimize air pollution in the area, and follow conditions that meet requirements proposed in new city legislation currently under consideration by City Council.

Gerson who helped broker the construction agreement with Resnick, expects to reach a similar construction agreement with Minskoff who is in a precarious position because Site 5B has yet to be approved by ULURP.

“I made it very clear that Minskoff would have to follow the same type of restrictions that Resnick agreed to,” Gerson said, noting that he would block the ULURP if the problem was not resolved favorably. “At the end of the day, I don’t think he’s going to have that much of a choice.”

Also, Community Board 1 has yet to approve a proposed height increase to the Warren St. building of the Site 5B development, although members of the board’s Tribeca Committee have indicated they will support the addition. C.B.1 has the power to veto the increase as part of last year’s agreement. If the increase is approved, one third of the additional revenue, between $1 million and $2 million, will go to a planned youth recreation center on the Resnick site.

Olivieri was unaware of the new legislation that Resnick’s development is following, but insisted his company would use low sulfur fuel on the equipment at the site and the staging area would be primarily on Murray and West Sts., a good distance from the school. Although during the construction of the West St. tower, the staging area may be on Warren St. if the New York State Department of Transportation does not sanction placing it on West St.

Once construction on Site 5B is complete, the problems associated with the new development will be far from over. The neighborhood will have an additional 438 units of housing from Site 5B alone. Coupled with about 260 residential units expected for Site 5C, Tribeca can expect a significant increase in its school-aged youngsters a full year before a 600-seat K-8 on the East Side opens its doors.

“It is terribly disingenuous to sanction the construction of these big residential units and not give any thought to where these kids in them are going to go to school,” said John Jiler, a P.S. 234 parent who attended last week’s P.T.A. meeting with Minskoff Equities.

A new P.S. 234 annex being built in conjunction with Resnick’s Site 5C project will open in time for the start of the 2007 school year and add space for 150 more students. However, the school is already 130 students above capacity this year.

“Conservatively, if you get 50 kids from each of these buildings — that’s conservatively — that’s 100 kids, that’s a whole grade and that’s the annex. And that’s not considering all the other projects going on,” Kevin Fisher, P.S. 234 president, said.

The School Leadership Team, a panel made up of P.S. 234 parents, teachers, the principal and P.T.A. chairperson, recommended on Tuesday to remove the school’s pre-K program next year to save room for the school’s art program. Referring to the decision as Hobsian, Fisher added, “Between two bad choices that was the less bad choice,” he said. If District 2 approves the decision, it would hopefully be temporary, and could be revisited again next year, added Fisher.

Site 5B is only one of many developments planned for the Downtown area — the city expects 13,000 new residential units for the C.B. 1 district in the next five years — and not the primary source of the overcrowding, Olivieri said.

“We are a pimple on the elephant’s tale in terms of the number of units that we are adding,” Olivieri said. There is little his company can do to abate P.S. 234 overcrowding or to deter potential residents from enrolling their children at the school, which has one of the best reputations in the city, he added.

The city sold Sites 5B and 5C to the residential developers, noted Bridges, and it is the city’s responsibility to address the issue of where the new children will go to school. “This requires the [school] region or the Dept. of Ed to recognize the crisis and to divert it before they destroy their wonderful gem Downtown,” she said. “They can’t just keep pouring kids into a school that doesn’t have the capacity to have them.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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