SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — Hundreds of residents living near the Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment project are petitioning the city to ban construction work on Saturdays.
Developer Jed Walentas told residents last week that his company, Two Trees Management, plans on seeking permits from the city to work on Saturdays throughout the process, surprising and angering residents who felt that they were already being heavily impacted by construction.
"We're ready to make phone calls to stop this," said Mark Brinda, who started the petition, which already boasts more than 320 signatures. "It's half your weekend for a decade. That's crazy."
Walentas told neighbors last week that construction companies and their unions often ask to work on Saturdays. He added that many people also want Saturday work because it would allow the entire project to finish earlier.
"Listen, for us, it’s certainly more efficient and more expedient," Walentas said of Saturday work. "And some folks would rather it go faster."
But Brinda and about a dozen neighbors who attended a Community Board 1 Land Use committee meeting Monday said almost nobody they spoke to wanted weekend work.
Noise, traffic, pollution and dust were all cited as issues residents worried about. Adding Saturdays wouldn't shorten the lengthy project enough to justify the pain, they said.
"We are supportive of expanding the stock of affordable housing and for creating additional construction jobs," the petition reads. "However, we feel that the community has already been asked to sacrifice a great deal during the Domino construction and should not be asked to give up half of the weekend as well."
A Two Trees spokesman said in a statement that not working on Saturdays would reduce construction hours by 16 percent, "add years to the project and of course delay its benefits, which include 700 units of affordable housing, acres of waterfront public open space and community facilities."
"Additionally, we’ve been doing demolition for more than a year and have had very few complaints, so it’s clear many construction actions don’t make significant noise," the spokesman, Dave Lombino, added.
Community Board 1 has previously sent letters to the Department of Buildings saying that it wants no construction to occur on Saturdays outside the Domino project.
To many residents' dismay, the department has been issuing multiple variances for developers to do work on Saturday anyway, locals claimed.
The committee's meeting Monday was held in part to discuss a motion made by board member Rob Solano to revisit the issue of developers with affordable housing units working on Saturdays.
Solano, who works as executive director of nonprofit Churches United for Fair Housing and was not at Monday's meeting, said he's sympathetic to the quality-of-life issues but sees getting affordable housing more quickly as a bigger need.
On Monday, he was at a separate Domino meeting where some 800 people gathered to learn about how to live in the development's affordable housing, he said. Units need to be built faster, he said, and that could mean Saturday construction.
"It’s a constant complaint in our office," Solano said. "They say, 'Rob this is great, but we need it right now. We need it really soon'."
However, the committee did not want to give developers with affordable housing in their buildings blanket permission to work on Saturdays.
The committee opted to not take any action on the motion and instead recommended writing a letter to the DOB saying it was "outraged" the city has been issuing after-hours work permits in spite of the community's stance.
The committee will also be asking for a DOB representative to meet with the board to explain why the after-hours work permits are being granted in different cases.
Councilman Stephen Levin's chief of staff Rami Metal, who attended Monday's meeting, said that the office has been trying to set up a meeting with the city to express residents' concern about Saturday construction.
"You’re on our radar," he said of the residents' concerns.
DOB spokesman Alexander Schnell said the city determines permits for Saturday work on a case-by-case basis, often based on safety issues that would require work to take place on Saturday. He added that the agency will consider neighbors' concerns about Saturday construction at Domino in making its decision.