BY NICOLE LOCKWOOD
There’s too much building going on.
Such was the prevailing sentiment of downtown residents and elected officials during a forum addressing the ongoing construction boom within Community Board 1’s boundaries.
“There’s 90 projects within one community, and that is just a lot,” said Manhattan Borough President and event sponsor Gale Brewer. “Maybe it’s legal, but it’s hell.”
Brewer’s comments were largely reflective of the attitudes of residents at the Sept. 22 forum, held at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Attendees raised questions about noise disturbances, health concerns, pedestrian safety, lack of regulation and the unsightliness of the projects. But one of the most pressing concerns is the seeming ubiquity of temporary scaffoldings and sheds on lower Manhattan streets. Though put in place to keep passers-by safe from the debris and materials resulting from the construction, the fixtures are often kept in place for longer than necessary, some said.
“There is a longstanding frustration in this community board with scaffoldings that don’t seem to disappear ever,” said state Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a co-sponsor of the forum. “These sheds never seem to go away with no evidence of any work getting done for months and months.”
“Try years and years” said one attendee under her breath.
In response, members of the New York City Department of Transportation and Department of Buildings several times said that although the sheds may be inconvenient and bothersome, they are necessary for pedestrian and traffic safety.
“We’re very much familiar with this concern,” a DOT representative said. “The sheds are certainly in place for longer than necessary.”
Residents argued that they force pedestrians to walk in streets and create spaces that attract homeless. They also questioned enforcement of rules regarding legal construction hours. Though contractors are generally allowed to work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., there are exceptions and several attendees expressed frustration with excessive noise late at night.
“There isn’t a street that isn’t under construction in lower Manhattan,” Glick said. “These people have families, it’s just unacceptable.”
Although several agency representatives encouraged the use of the city’s 311 system, several residents said they were dissatisfied by the city’s lack of response to their complaints.
“I’ve used 311 to the point of no return, and occasionally things have been resolved but it’s not common,” one resident said. “311 strikes me as being very well designed to insulate the public from the agencies, rather than being an effective way to get anything done.”
The rest of the forum was punctuated by questions over the effectiveness of 311 and the competence of its operators. Residents as well as Brewer and Glick offered suggestions to improve the service.
Pam Frederick, a Tribeca resident, left the meeting reconciled but nonetheless frustrated. “I’m amazed that you can close a sidewalk for a private project indefinitely,” Frederick said. “If that’s the way it is, then that’s the way it is, but I think that’s a flaw in the permitting process.”
The meeting concluded, but residents still had much to say. The moderator urged residents who still wanted to have their voices heard to attend a meeting of CB1’s Quality of Life Committee, which is generally held the third Thursday of each month.