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Developer Will Halt Sugar Hill Jackhammering at 9 P.M. Amid Outcry

By Jeff Mays | September 21, 2012 9:31am | Updated on September 21, 2012 9:37am

HARLEM — Following an outcry by residents who live near a Sugar Hill affordable housing and museum construction project that was granted permission by the city to jackhammer for up to 17 hours per day, the developers have agreed to halt work at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than normal.

"Today we worked out a plan with the contractors so that, starting Monday, drilling will not continue past 9 p.m.," Melissa Benson, director of development and communications for Broadway Housing Communities, said in a statement Thursday.

The changes will end all "drilling, excavation and the use of heavy machinery" after 9 p.m., according to a letter from the company read aloud at Thursday night's Community Board 9 meeting by City Councilman Robert Jackson. The changes are possible because workers have already completed the worst of the excavation and rock removal.

The news came after DNAinfo New York first reported Tuesday that residents near the project at 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue said the near-constant jackhammering was driving them mad. The agency says the size of the jackhammer and drill at the site has been reduced.

Additional drilling will be necessary for the elevator pit and to install 14 rock anchor bolt sockets but will include "much lower levels of noise" than the neighborhood has been experiencing since Aug 6. The work is expected to continue for another three weeks, according to Broadway Housing Communities' letter.

Jackson called the new 9 p.m. jackhammering curfew reasonable.

"9 p.m. is more sensible than 12 a.m.," said Jackson. "They have to finish the work. If they lose million of dollars of tax credits the project won't be built."

However, work will still technically be allowed to continue at the site until midnight under the plan.

Patricia Ju, chair of the Sugar Hill Block Association and a member of Community Board 9 who helped organize protests said the move was a "good start."

"From a sleep standpoint it is more acceptable," she said.

But many in the area say they would still like to see more done to tamp down on noise.

Residents say Broadway Housing Communities has used the project's good intentions to abuse noise-abatement rules. They called the work schedule a "lack of respect" for the neighborhood and its residents as they did the failure of anyone from Broadway Housing Communities to show up at the meeting.

"This is an emergency," said Lawrence Jordan, who lives across the street from the project, while pleading with the community board for help. "How can a project be given 16 to 17 hours to drill in a residential neighborhood?"

Aisha Scott, 35, a PhD. student in social work at Fordham University, said she hasn't been able to get any work done.

"They are killing me. I can't study because it goes on all day for 16, 17 hours per day," she said.

Broadway Housing Communities officials have said the project will help revive the Sugar Hill neighborhood and many residents strongly agree.

The $80.2 million project will include 124 units of affordable housing and the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling.

Designed by British architect David Adjaye and located atop Coogan's Bluff, the development's studio to three bedroom apartments will be filled by 70 percent of tenants who qualify as very low income. The project will also offer early childhood services to 100 pre-school children onsite and another 70 offsite.

The developer was granted permission to have a double construction shift was because they need to complete the building by December 2013 before the tax credits used to finance the project expire. In order to remain on schedule, drilling work to attach the foundation to the bedrock must be completed before winter.

Broadway Housing Communities also argued that the double shifts would decrease the length of time the work was being performed.

The financing on the project was finalized late and the bedrock has been much harder to drill through than expected, a rep for developers said Thursday.

The Department of Buildings granted the site a weekly variance to work from 7 a.m. to midnight. After area residents complained, Broadway Housing Communities asked the contractor to stop drilling at 11 p.m. The change did little to assuage residents' anger.

The students at P.S. 28  Wright Brothers, located across the street from the construction site, are also suffering, area residents said. Some in the area wondered a loud if the situation would be allowed to happen downtown.

Many in the neighborhood would still like better sound barriers than the current plywood in place, for all work to cease at 7 p.m. and for the Department of Building to end the variance allowing after-hours work.

The Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9, said she has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with Broadway Housing Communities founder and executive director Ellen Baxter who is currently out of the country, according to staff.

"We want to make sure Broadway Housing sits down at the table and comes up with some options," said Morgan-Thomas.

Those who live near the development just say they want the peace, quiet and respect they deserve.

"Until 7 p.m. are the normal working hours," said Tal Klausner, a financial consultant who lives on 154th Street. "I would like work to stop at 7 p.m."