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Chelsea Now: Leery Locals Say Something’s Off at Target Site; City Agrees

July 27, 2017

By: WINNIE McCROY
July 26, 2017

The dust went flying and so did the fur, at a Midtown West construction site currently in its excavation phase.

Locals say XIN Development is not doing enough to clear the air and control the noise at the future home of a luxury apartment building with a Target store on the ground floor.

“As soon as excavation started several weeks ago, we had dust pouring out into the street, with three machines working simultaneously, but only one hose man. But when we spoke to them about it, they just said they were within DOB [New York City Department of Buildings] guidelines,” said Tom Cayler, president of the 517-525 W. 45th Street Tenant Association.

XIN Development, the US arm of Beijing-based Xinyuan Real Estate, secured permits from the DOB in May to start excavation work at 615 10th Ave., between W. 44th and 45th Sts. The full-block project came with a $108 commercial loan from Bank of the Ozarks, who also provided a $27M bridge loan in January 2016 to help Xinyuan purchase the former Speedway gas station for $57.5M.

The company intends to build a 29,000-square-foot Target retail store, with seven stories on top featuring 82 units of residential housing (with four large apartments on the top floor). By July, they had filed permits for the mixed-use condo and began excavation for the foundation.

Once the dust started flying, neighbors began contacting Community Board 4 (CB4), elected officials, the DOB, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to complain, with the city’s 311 Service Request Map indicating that about 25 complaints were submitted in July alone from residents adjacent to the site.

“I personally try to avoid walking near the construction site on Tenth, but I inevitably have to bike past it on my way to the Greenway, and have smelled and seen what feels like toxicity in the air,” said Chana Widawski, co-chair of the West 45th/46th Street Block Association. “Neighbors that live closer share daily photographs of the billowing dust; their vantage point indicates minimal dust abatement measures. Some of the restaurants have even had to close outdoor seating because of it.”

Local residents have reported that construction work on the site begins at 7 a.m. every weekday and goes on until almost 6 p.m. at night (after CB4 rejected XIN’s requests to work seven days a week). But Cayler said that their single hose man disconnects from the fire hydrant at 4 p.m., letting the dust fly where it may, creating problems.

Apparently, the DOB and DEP agreed. On July 11, the DOB inspected the site and issued two violations, one for concrete work that ran contrary to approved plans, and another for high vibration readings. And the next day, July 12, inspectors from the DEP issued a violation for “failure to control dust.”

“Frankly, whenever you make complaints as a citizen, no pun intended — you just hold your breath that some inspector will show up and see what you see,” said Cayler. “So last week when the DEP issued a violation for work outside of the scope, I was just like ‘Thank God!’ For these guys, until the DOB or DEP shuts them down for a couple of days, they could care less. We have to assume they are going to continue to be this way until elected officials put pressure on city agencies to get a stop work order and clean up their site.”

“My office has been in direct communication with XIN Development to ensure they take steps to minimize the impact that this construction project has on the community,” said Councilmember Corey Johnson in an email statement to this publication. “Developers have a responsibility to mitigate the impact of construction on the community, especially dust created during the summer months when air quality suffers most. While I appreciate that XIN Development has taken steps like installing sound deadening blankets to reduce noise and more personnel to spray down dust to address these issues, we will continue to work with our city agencies to ensure their compliance.”

In a July 19 letter to DOB Manhattan Borough Commissioner Martin Rebholz and DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine expressed the “sincere concern and frustration with the lack of environmental mitigation plans” at the site, and urged them to put all current excavation permits on hold for the location.

Bodine spoke of a year of good-faith talks with XIN Development, during which time CB4 repeatedly highlighted the communities’ concerns regarding the environmental impact the project would have on neighboring schools and residents. XIN Development had “repeatedly stated the project would meet city regulations and work with the agencies to follow best practices,” but Bodine, in his July 19 letter, expressed disappointment with the current mitigation efforts, saying, “This was not done and it is clear that only the bare minimum in terms of mitigation is being done currently.”

After noting site visits by representatives from the DOB, DEP, and NYPD, who reported minimal mitigation techniques, and pointing to violations issued by the DOB and DEP, the CB4 letter noted they “do not believe that work on the site should continue until XIN Development and its contactor enact a complete alternative mitigation plan that addresses dust, air quality, noise and vibration and that plan be reviewed by the enforcing city agencies, the elected representatives, and the community.”

In a July 20 email, Hana Kolarikova of XIN Development said the company is taking measures to minimize the impact on the community, assuring that “we have had several visits from DOB and DEP’s representatives and if a violation was found, it was cured immediately.”

On the recommendation of the DEP inspector, they installed sound-deadening blankets on the two sets of chain link gates to deal with noise decibel readings exceeding the allowable range. They spoke to the excavation company about the dust issue, and added another hose man.

“They confirmed that they added another water cannon, so there are two of them now and we requested they added the second man, which they confirmed they would do,” said Kolarikova. “Finally, we have five line-drilling machines onsite. We only run one or two at a time and each machine has a water hose connected to it, so there is no dust being generated by this operation.”

Kolarikova said that there are now no open DOB violations, adding that they were still looking for additional actions they could implement to improve the situation. She also noted that the project was a month ahead of schedule, saying, “Hopefully, we can finish sooner and expose our neighbors to the construction work for a shorter time period.”

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