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Residents Battle West 15th Street Tower

By DNAinfo Staff on June 13, 2011 7:16am  | Updated on June 13, 2011 10:16am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

FLATIRON — Union Square residents are ramping up their fight against a new mega-tower they say will be a "monstrosity" in the neighborhood.

With demolition underway, residents say they are consulting with lawyers and lobbyists and filing complaints to stop the construction of the 300-foot tower at 31 W. 15th St. It will overwhelm the quiet residential stretch between Fifth and Sixth avenues, they claim. 

"It's just a pretty catastrophic thing to have happen to a block," said Risa Fisher, who lives across the street from the site.

She believes the new building will destroy the character of the neighborhood, adding traffic, obscuring views and creating construction hazards.

While zoning restrictions would ordinarily block such a tall tower, developer Alchemy Construction was able to secure an agreement for air rights from the neighboring Xavier High School, an elite Jesuit school for boys, that will allow it to rise to its roughly 30 stories. In return, the school will be expanding into the new building's lower floors, which will be used for classroom and event space.

Just what exactly Alchemy intends to build is not completely clear. The company refused to return nearly a dozen calls for comment placed over the course of several weeks. Plans are not yet public because they have yet to be approved.

The company submitted its plans to the city on Feb. 3., but they were rejected March 23, according to Department of Buildings records — a relatively frequent occurrence, a department spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, the company has moved forward with demolition at the site and has also filed new plans for mechanical, plumbing and boiler work as they revise their main proposal.

But neighbors, who have been left with little legal recourse, say they'll fight the work each step of the way. A website, Bird's Eye View NYC, has even been launched to monitor construction from a window overhead.

Already, demolition has been stalled because of complaints, including one filed May 6 that resulted in a partial stop-work order after hazardous conditions were observed at the site, according to DOB records.

Last week, a caller filed a complaint about alleged demolition work "occurring without proper safeguards for neighboring properties," which again put work on hold, neighbors said.

There have also been a handful of complaints to 311 about a putrid odor coming from the site and construction noise from both sides of the block, city records show.

"People are on high alert. They're very concerned," said neighbor Allen Mohr, 52, a member of the Lower Chelsea Alliance, which was formed to fight the project.

Sherrie Levy, whose fifth floor apartment on West 16th Street overlooks the site, said she was among those who filed complaints to 311 because of concerns at the site.

The smell was so bad at one point, she said, she bought a mold kit at Home Depot to test it herself. She also complained of homeless people gathering under the building's scaffolding on Memorial Day weekend.

"People are concerned about the safety," she sad.

But the majority of the complaints registered with the DOB since February were later dismissed by investigators.

The residents unsuccessfully sued to stop the construction of a hotel on the site back in 2008.

Years of battle have left many on the block feeling abandoned by their representatives, especially members of Community Board 5.

"It has really been a struggle to get the elected officials and the community board to pay attention to this," said Mohr.

Residents who came to CB 5 meetings to voice their opposition were told they could not speak until the end of hours-long agendas because their concerns were "old business."

"They really have turned their back on the residents," Mohr said.

CB5 District Manager Wally Rubin declined to comment on the project, which the board has told residents it can't do anything about.

Mohr said that that block association is now in consultation with a number of lawyers as well as lobbyists so that they're ready to act as soon as Alchemy's plans are revealed.

"We are working on different game plans so [that] once we know exactly what the plans are, we'll know what to," he said.