If you live near 424 East 90th Street, you’ve probably had a migraine since December from the multiple hydraulic jackhammers excavating a mid-block lot, going for ten hours a day, every weekday, for months.
I was born and raised in New York City, so I am not a stranger to construction. I know the laws, and I have heard trucks and drills going at all hours since I was little. But this is not regular construction noise. This is a thunderous, furniture-shaking cacophony starting first thing in the morning and going until the evening, regularly reaching over 90 decibels indoors, making it impossible to live, work, or sleep. And since it started, I have learned how woefully inadequate and outdated the city’s construction noise enforcement is.
When the jackhammering began in late December, I did what you’re supposed to do: I reported the noise to 311 and contacted my City Council member, Julie Menin, and her office contacted the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP sent an inspector to the site on December 25, 2021 who took readings they stated revealed no violations of the Noise Code. I suspect that was because it was Christmas Day with little work being done that day. Menin’s office has since stated that ten inspections have been done, with only one showing the noise exceeding the allowable levels. Now the general contractor, P. B. Brown, may face a fine of $560.
424 East 90th is owned by a real estate company called the Parkland Group. Parkland has entered into a 99-year lease with developer InSite to build a 80,399 square-foot storage facility. Personally, I don’t care what they’re building. I don’t want to hurt their business or tell them they can’t do their jobs. However, $560 is a trivial amount of money for a project of this size, and a law that requires hundreds of complaints and months of periodic inspections to maybe catch evidence of a violation one time does not provide any meaningful amount of deterrence. We might as well not have a Noise Code at all.
I began documenting the noise on social media after the first failed inspection, which is how I learned I was not alone thinking this is unreasonable. A petition I posted online brought in over 160 signatures from neighbors demanding both short- and long-term fixes. I spoke with dozens of neighbors – families with young children and newborns, senior citizens, health care workers on night shifts unable to sleep during the day, doormen on the block – who all agreed this is unlivable and unlike any construction noise they had ever heard. Several neighbors are even thinking about breaking their leases to get away. According to 311’s service request lookup, dozens and dozens of complaints have been filed about the site.
On March 11, 2022, the site manager contacted me. He told me their noise mitigation plan was approved by the city, and that they were placing soundproof blankets on the site fence walls and installing another fence against the preschool next door. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a noticeable change in the noise levels; the soundproofed fences block off the street, where the City inspectors take their readings, but do nothing to block off apartments above the first floor. One neighbor I spoke to lives on the eleventh floor of a building next to the site and clocked them at 98.4 decibels.
The site manager offered me noise-canceling earmuffs to help me get through the day. I declined, as I work from home in a job that requires me to be on the phone throughout the day. I did not think that was a viable solution, for me or for the other neighbors who have reached out with concerns. Construction is a reality of city life, and we need to make sure that we have practices and laws that make it livable for the whole community.
The drilling is scheduled to continue until the end of April 2022. Measures need to be taken to address the noise until then, but more importantly, we need legislation that moves the city away from a complaint-driven enforcement system and towards proactive mitigation. In 2019, Council Member Helen Rosenthal introduced Int. 1376-2019 to ban the use of pneumatic jackhammers in residential neighborhoods without the use of mufflers. If pneumatic jackhammers – which are smaller and quieter than the hydraulic ones being used here – warrant legally-mandated mitigation, then these certainly do, too.
This legislation should be reintroduced and expanded to require projects using hydraulic jackhammers to have adequate soundproofing installed before work begins, to limit the number of machines that can be used at once, and to require inspectors to take readings inside surrounding buildings so that measurements on the ground do not create a misleading impression of the noise level in apartments above the site fences.
As I said before, I am not trying to stop construction at this site or anywhere else. But I believe this is a solvable problem, and in order for this community, InSite, and other developers in the neighborhood to coexist, it will need to be addressed.