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John Street Residents Rail Against Noisy Construction

By Julie Shapiro | March 7, 2012 10:16am

LOWER MANHATTAN — Jackhammers have replaced alarm clocks on John Street.

Furious residents, tired of being awoken by construction noise at all hours of the night, gathered at a community meeting Tuesday night to criticize the multiple projects, which have been going on simultaneously.

Five major construction projects have put the narrow block of John Street between Broadway and Nassau Street under siege, with a cacophony of machinery punctuated by workers' shouts and the high-pitched beeping of trucks backing up, residents said.

"The noise is outrageous," said Loretta Shapiro, 69, who lives nearby at 176 Broadway. "I think they're in bed with me. It's louder than my husband's snoring, and that's loud."

The special meeting, organized by Community Board 1 and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, drew dozens of angry residents, along with representatives of each of the John Street projects.

The construction jobs include a new 24-story dorm for Pace University at 180 Broadway; a 21-story, 90-room hotel at 24 John St.; the restoration of the historic Corbin Building at Broadway and John Street; the replacement of a leaking cast-iron gas pipe beneath John Street; and the installation of new water mains at Nassau and John streets.

"How can you have five projects going on in one particular area?" asked Tina Posey, a John Street resident who said her 4-year-old daughter has been bothered by the noise and dust.

"It's ridiculous," Posey continued. "Nobody knows what anyone else is doing."

The sleep-deprived residents slammed the Department of Buildings for giving out special permits that allow contractors to work late at night and on weekends. Normal construction hours are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but SL Green, the developer of the Pace dorm, often starts getting noisy deliveries at 6 a.m. and has permits to work until midnight.

In response to the concerns, a Buildings representative agreed to review all the after-hours variances issued on John Street.

The Department of Environmental Protection will also work with the contractors, particularly at the Pace dorm, to come up with ways of mitigating the noise, said Gerry Kelpin, head of the DEP's noise unit.

"We can't coordinate all these projects," Kelpin acknowledged. "Someone approved them and they're all happening at once and it's an issue."

In response to residents' complaints that Con Edison frequently places poorly fitted metal plates over the street, which they say bang all night long each time a car drives over them, a representative from the utility promised it would do its best to secure the plates.

The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, will try to shut down overnight traffic on John Street when the metal plates are in place, a representative said at the meeting.

The projects, however, are scheduled to be completed anytime soon. The new Pace dorm is scheduled to be done by the end of the year, the new hotel will open in the third quarter of 2013 and the Corbin Building work — which is being done by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as part of the new Fulton Street Transit Center — will finish in the late fall.

Underground, the Con Edison work could finish as soon as a few weeks from now, but the Department of Design and Construction's water main replacement won't be done until September.

Barbara Minsky, one of the first John Street residents to begin voicing noise complaints last spring, rallied her neighbors to speak out and led them Tuesday night in demanding accountability from the private contractors and the government agencies that oversee them.

"I can't open my windows because of the dust," said Minsky, who compared the air quality to the weeks and months after the September 11 attacks. "We've had enough of it — enough!"