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Sounds of Construction
BY BRUCE A. SILBERBLATT

Construction can be dirty and noisy. In Turtle Bay as elsewhere in New York, it is ongoing and part and parcel of a vital city. Often it conflicts with the right to peace and quiet of those living and working nearby. This problem is obvious at two sites in our neighborhood: the Instituto Cervantes at Amster Yard and the Grand Beekman at 400 East 51st Street.

Instituto Cervantes last year acquired the landmark Amster Yard and after numerous sessions with the Landmarks Commission, got their approval to proceed. The Instituto is altering the interior to create a learning center (permitted under Landmarks regulations), and, in the process, installing a modest auditorium under the gardens. The Landmarks Commission, a zealous guardian of protected buildings and neighborhoods, consented, provided that the garden would be returned to its original condition.
Soon after work began, many neighbors of Amster Yard were alarmed when they observed that some of the rear buildings not facing 49th Street were being demolished! It was discovered that these back buildings were in such poor structural condition that their collapse was imminent. Under Commission practice, in extreme cases a Landmark can be razed to avoid danger. Demolition was approved; replacement structures match those that had been there before.

What followed for many was worse since rock in most areas in Turtle Bay lies near the surface; many excavations require jack hammering and drilling - loud and persistent but apparently legal. This is the case with the digging for the auditorium now under way. At least one business, a recording studio adjacent to the site, has had to curtail operations. The neighbors have had to put up with a barrage of noise, however, the Instituto Cervantes has kept in touch with both the community and the Turtle Bay Association, agreeing to start work later than the normal 7:00 AM approved by the Department of Buildings. TBA has also asked the Instituto to furnish a construction schedule so that those residing and working close to the Yard have at least an idea of what is to come and for how long.

While at Amster Yard the Instituto has endeavored to cooperate and keep in touch with the community, the same cannot be said at 400 East 51st Street, the 30-story Grand Beekman. Even before a shovel was turned in the ground, the developer ignored community requests to locate the entrance on First Avenue rather than on crowded 51st Street. It then exacerbated matters by mounting two huge and illegal signs advertising their project.

While foundations were under way, TBA wrote the construction manager, HRH, advising them of potential problems including blocking First Avenue and 51st Street. There was not even the courtesy of a reply. Now the concrete superstructure is rising, and about the only fortunate thing is that instead of using a huge "crawler crane" parked in the street (which would have created traffic chaos), a tower crane has been deployed within the northwest corner of the structure. There has been noise and dirt and construction trailers preempt curbs everywhere. The builder attempted to install a construction elevator without going through the required procedure of obtaining a permit for same.

In response to a growing chorus of community complaints - and correspondence from TBA on the subject - Council Speaker Gifford Miller has arranged a Community Coordinating Committee, in which TBA, the neighbors, and the builder and developer could address and solve problems as they arise. The sooner this is done, the better.

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The Turtle Bay Association is a nonprofit (501c3) community organization.

224 East 47th Street, New York City 10017
(212) 751-5465
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