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Hold Agencies Handling After-Hours Construction Permits Accountable: Pols

By Shaye Weaver | December 23, 2015 3:59pm
 Residents around Citizen360 on First Avenue have been frustrated about the late-night work that has been going on there.
Residents around Citizen360 on First Avenue have been frustrated about the late-night work that has been going on there.
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Suzette Jacobs

UPPER EAST SIDE — The city should end "debilitating" after-hours construction work and slow down the rate it approves permits, politicians said.

Roughly two dozen electeds wrote a letter to First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris on Dec. 16 urging the mayor's office to create a construction liaison who would be responsible for overseeing coordination between the Department of Buildings, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection regarding construction happening in their neighborhoods.

Upper East Side residents have long been complaining to officials about noise, bright light and air pollution stemming from building sites that operate late into the night and even on weekends.

Though it's disruptive, they say there's nothing that can be done because the DOB continues to issue contractors the necessary permits.

A recent boom in construction in the Upper East Side area has angered a lot of people, according to Councilman Ben Kallos who said that his office gets more complaints about after-hour construction work than any other district in the city.

Many complaints that come in concern developer Anbau's Citizen360 luxury condo project on First Avenue and East 89th Street, he said. 

"The DOB is granting after-hours variances as a right, so this is just something that is happening — people don’t get to rest of a weekend or get to sleep late," Kallos said.

"Developers are building without any regulation or oversight, which the DOB should be doing."

In November, Anbau was granted after-hours variance permits and was allowed to do work well into the evening, frustrating residents living across the street from the site who said the noise and lights kept them up at night and disrupted day-to-day life. 

But Kallos said the number of grievances has gone down because the flood of complaints forced the DOB and Anbau to compromise and set the after-hours permits to end earlier and push back drilling to an hour later in the mornings.

The letter — which was also signed by Councilman Dan Garodnick, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright — also demands that the city reexamine how residents report construction complaints.

Currently the only way for residents to flag issues to the city is to call 311, but complaints often don't get addressed or are sent to the wrong agency, according to the letter.

"The Department of Buildings is wielding a giant rubber stamp and approves these variances far too often and for unreasonable hours," Garodnick told DNAinfo New York.

"When residents call to complain, everyone just points fingers and noone is held accountable for unreasonable or illegal construction."

By creating a liaison in the mayor's office, the permitting process could be checked by someone who has direct connections to the community, the letter explains.

The liaison would have full access to the permitting and complaint review processes of all three agencies involved and would be able to coordinate between them to make sure that issues are handled together. They would also have the authority to decide whether specific applications are reasonable or not.

"What we want is someone who can say, 'The buck stops here,'" Garodnick said.

"We want someone who can balance the need for construction to progress with the quality of life of area residents. We also want to streamline the process on all fronts. It is unwieldy for builders and it does not work for residents."

Garodnick, Kallos and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez are sponsoring a bill that, if passed, would streamline and clarify the process for granting these variances and add protections for residents, according to Garodnick.

The bill calls for better notification to the community of after-hours work and setting new standards for when variances can be granted, he said.

The mayor's office said that it plans to address the issue, but would not comment on the letter's demands specifically.

“We take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring construction sites are safe and present as little disruption as possible to the public," said Wiley Norvell, the deputy press secretary for the mayor's office. 

"New York City is in the midst of a historic construction boom, which is delivering more jobs, housing and opportunity for New Yorkers. We’ll work closely with all concerned officials to make sure this unprecedented surge in activity is managed in the safest and least disruptive way.”

Kallos urges people to contact his office if 311 doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

"We need somebody ultimately to be held accountable," he said.

A request for comment from the DOB was referred to City Hall.