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Luxe High Line Condo Residents Want to Chase Ambulance Depot Away

By Mathew Katz | April 10, 2012 8:06am
Residents say this EMS Station under the High Line is ruining quality of life in their pricey Chelsea apartments.
Residents say this EMS Station under the High Line is ruining quality of life in their pricey Chelsea apartments.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — In West Chelsea, $5,000 a month can get you a one-bedroom apartment next to the High Line, access to an exclusive patio and sweeping views of the Hudson River.

But now, neighbors say, the pricey real estate also includes exhaust fumes and loud sirens at all hours of the day.

A plan to keep ambulances serving the West Side at a station underneath the High Line on West 23rd Street has residents of the expensive condos next door fuming over the idling vehicles and screeching sirens that they claim make it impossible to enjoy their homes.

The FDNY established the EMS Station 7 depot on a privately owned plot at 512 W. 23rd St. in November, allowing ambulances to provide critical emergency services to the West Side after St. Vincent's Hospital and its own ambulance station closed in 2010.

Now, the Fire Department wants a land-use change that would allow for an extension of the station's month-to-month rent agreement at the site to a longer-term lease.

Owners of the property, which is a former parking lot, are agreeable to the land-use change that would permit longer-term ambulance use in the residential area because it would let them ink a more permament tenant, FDNY officials said without identifying the owner.

However, local residents see the station as out of place.

"We have nieces and nephews that come to visit, and it was a nice day and they had problems going outside on the terrace because of the fumes," said one angry resident at a recent meeting on the issue.

The 3,656-square-foot station directly beneath the High Line allows ambulances to re-stock and clean up after each emergency trip. Without it, FDNY officials said that rescue vehicles would have to travel all the way to a station at Bellevue Hospital on the East Side after emergency runs, forcing ambulances to wait a full two hours until they can return to the streets, compared to just 30 minutes at the Chelsea station.

"My first quality-of-life issue is life itself," said David Harney, chief of staff for the Deputy Fire Commissioner, appearing last week at a Community Board 4 meeting to ask for support for the land-use change, which will be decided on by the City Planning Department.

"Not having a facility on the West Side of Manhattan is detrimental to our operations," he added. "Right now, the landlord could evict us with 30 days notice."

The FDNY is still looking for another, permanent site for the station, but that process could take years, and it wants to feel secure at the location it already operates, Harney explained.

"The Fire Department could not wait three years to identify, go through a land-use review, design, and build a permanent facility to service this critical area," he said.

Harney said cars pulled in and out of the space all day when the station used to act as a parking lot, noting that currently only seven vehicles come in and out of the station three times a day.

The EMS vehicles often need to idle to keep power supplied to specialized medical equipment, such as computers and refrigerators that keep medicine cool, according to fire officials. Like any other vehicle, the ambulances need to be turned on to prevent that equipment from draining their batteries.

Frustrated neighbors said that fumes from the idling ambulances get trapped under the High Line and then seep into their apartments. 

"My apartment gets filled with exhaust at 7 a.m. in the morning. It gets filled with exhaust at 11 at night," said Patrick Proctor, who lives at the Marais at 520 W. 23rd St., where a one-bedroom apartment is currently renting for $3,500 a month.

"I don't think anyone's questioning the necessity of having ambulance service on the West Side of Manhattan, but the fact of the matter is this station is surrounded by five residential buildings."

Those buildings include The Marais, Ten23 at 500 W. 23rd St., the Spears Building at 525 W. 22nd St. and HL23 at 515 W. 23rd St.

Representatives of the companies managing those buildings did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Capt. James Foley, the commanding officer of Station 7, pledged to work more closely with the neighborhood but said that the current fleet of rescue vehicles has to idle because the ambulances are unable to plug into nearby power sources.

"We're working to reduce the time the unit has to idle," he said. "We are reminding our crews that this is something that affects the neighbors."

The full CB4 board ultimately voted to ask the the City Planning Department to deny the FDNY's application for the land-use change unless the FDNY agreed to enclose and ventilate the area, investigate alternative fuels such as natural gas for their vehicles, and ramp up their search for a new location outside of a residential area.

The board also voted to alert Speaker Christine Quinn about the ongoing resident complaints regarding the station, asking her to intervene if things get worse.

"When they chose this site, they must have been aware that there is nothing but residential buildings around it," said board member Sarah Desmond.

"They better be looking somewhere else, because this ain't forever."