Friday, September 28, 2007

Baby's Back at BBG

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) has sprouted a gigantic leaf! For more information visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens web site.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

After Hours Construction Work

After hours construction done with out a variance permit is quite common in Brooklyn. Legal hours for construction in NYC are from 7am to 6pm weekdays.
During several recent concrete pours at the Armory Plaza work continued past 7:30 in the evening. Some nights they actually went on until 8:30pm smoothing the concrete. When the workers were politely reminded that construction should end at 6:00pm, the workers said that they could not stop until they were finished. At this site, after hours construction usually means heavy machinery and noise problems.

So, I thought I might take a sound recording while video taping the violation in order to see just what kind of decibel levels were being reached while two employees operated gasoline powered concrete helicopter floats. Considering the reading was taken more than 100' away from the source, the total sound level was still more than 60 dB(A) or about 20 dB(A) above the normal ambient environmental levels reached during similar non-construction times. The noise being produced was similar to that of a lawn mower, or in this case two lawn mowers.

To put these numbers in perspective, sound construction consultants generally agree that changes of as little as 5 dB are "readily noticeable" by the public. A change of 10 dB is perceived as a "doubling or halving of the loudness" and will produce widespread community complaints. Vigorous community reaction is expected when ever dramatic changes of 20 or more dB are perceived.
The Department of Environmental Protection and the 72nd Police Precinct are jointly responsible for enforcing noise complaints in the South Slope. The Department of Buildings "responds" to after hours construction complaints... And from personal experience, their response time can be anywhere from as fast as 24 hours to as slow as 30 days after your complaint was registered by the 311 operator. Sometimes the DoB "resolves" 311 complaints by lumping separate complaints together, labeling them as duplicate or as a "previously inspected complaint". That way they don't even have to come out and make a trip to the site. This delay in inspection time makes enforcement pretty much non existent. That's why after hours construction complaints may be best remedied by reporting them as quality of life noise complaints. It depends on how responsive your police precinct is.

I like to check out "MY NEIGHBORHOOD" Statistics from time to time. My Neighborhood Statistics lets New York City residents know how City agencies are performing in their neighborhood by viewing locally mapped performance statistics using a street address or intersection. Color-shaded maps also allow for easy comparisons of highs and lows in different neighborhoods.

For some helpful information on construction related noise check out the Department of Environmental Protection web page or down load the PDFs below.


Everything you ever wanted to know about NYC noise awaits you below. Enjoy!

Noise Code (Local Law 113 0f 2005)

The City's new noise code took effect on July 1, 2007. Noise complaints continue to be the number one quality of life issue for New York City residents; however the City's old noise code was over 30 years old. The new legislation establishes a flexible, yet enforceable noise code that responds to the need for peace and quiet while maintaining New York's reputation as the "City that never sleeps".

Construction Noise Rules

The construction rules that were written in coordination with the new noise code became effective on July 1, 2007. These rules establish a unique noise mitigation plan for each construction site, offering alternatives for contractors to continue their important construction tasks while having less noise impact on the surrounding environment.

Construction Noise Mitigation Plan – Sample Form

In accordance with Section 24-220 of the New York City Administrative Code, any individual or entity performing construction work in the city, shall adopt and implement a noise mitigation plan for each construction site when any device or activity is conducted as defined in Section 24-219. The attached sample form of a noise mitigation plan is intended to inform the user of the required plan elements that a responsible party must include when the listed devices are being used on site, and the mitigation strategies and best management practices that are being employed as defined in 15RCNY Section 28-102.

* Construction Noise Mitigation Sample Form (PDF)

Construction Noise Alternative Mitigation Plan– Sample Form

When required by Section 24-221 of the Administrative Code and or 15 RCNY Section 28-104, a complete and accurate Alternative Noise Mitigation Plan ["ANMP"] shall be filed when strict compliance with the noise mitigation rules is not possible. After review by DEP's technical staff, and when approval of this plan is warranted, such plan shall be conspicuously posted at the job site. When an ANMP is required, no construction activities, covered by such plan, shall take place until such plan is filed and subsequently approved by the DEP.

* Construction Noise Alternative Mitigation Sample Form (PDF)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rear Yard Encroachment: Today's Zoning Trivia Question

A milestone of sorts. The Armory Plaza graciously accepts its One Hundredth 311 complaint this week. Special thanks given to all their workers who recently toiled after hours, late into the night finishing the concrete pour to push them over the top. We at IMBY can think of no other way to celebrate this groundbreaking three digit achievement than to spotlight Complaint #3239771. The complaint states "Building contrary to approved plans".

Let's take a look and see what we have to work with. Remember the developer may be using the 100 foot commercial overlay afforded to him by his proximity to 8th Avenue. That could mean 45 feet of additional buildable space within the rear yard's 125' length. But remember, "Quality Housing" in a R6b Zoning District does not preclude the requirement for a 30' rear yard and the consequent restrictions on rear yard obstructions, once past that 100' commercial overlay. Community Facilities, like our proposed medical health center, may encroach into the rear yard but for zoning purposes, a Facility must be in a "habitable" space which is at least a basement. (Cellars do not comply!) You can still place a Community Facility in a cellar as long as you provide legal light and air as per NYC building code....... Starting to smell smoke between your ears? Why am I suddenly craving a brain omelette from the Spanish Diner?

So as you can see in the two construction photos above, the foundation is being built out along the rear property line. The first photo shows the lowest
sub-cellar floor slab. There are two sub-cellar levels of parking beneath the cellar level Ambulatory Health Care Facility.

The second photo shows the current state of construction. This shows the completed cellar level floor slab and the iron work that will eventually support the metal decking and poured concrete ceiling slab. The rear facing residential units on this level of the building have sliding glass doors that open up on to this space.

I think what the complaint seems to be addressing is whether this cellar level structure, which looks like it will finish out some 4 to 5 feet above grade, constitutes a violation of the rear yard setback requirements. If one figures in a parapet wall the height could be 8 feet or more above the existing grade.

Or, could the complaint be targeting the apparent inconsistency in the building's approved plans, between the drawing for the cellar level health care facility that clearly illustrates the pilings being set back 30' from the rear shared property line, and the drawings for the other two sub-cellars, where there is no set back at all?

You can see in this plan for the sub-cellar level #2 that the foundation pilings have been designed to follow the rear property line without setbacks. This is more or less how it is being built. How does one explain this? The plans are stamped January 10th, 2006 and that they have been checked in regards to zoning.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this complaint is dealt with. Any guesses?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

1638 Eighth Avenue's Stop Work Order

1638 Eighth Avenue in better times.
This is the fifth year of construction. Five years of disappearing backyards. Five years of cracked patios. Five years of broken foundations. Five years of sink holes. Five years of flooded basements. Five years of piles being installed and five years of misplaced piles being removed. Five years of piles pounded back in again hopefully in the right place this time, maybe? Five years of stagnant water and mosquitoes. Five years of noise and vibration. Five years of promises. Five years of absolute quiet.
Excavation has begun and the excavation has stopped again, as the contractors failed to file the proper shoring plans with the powers that be and a Stop Work Order was issued. Neighbors were shaken from their beds at 5 am as the giant machine pictured below was "dropped off" at the site in preparation for more pile driving. The DoB was worried about the existing cracks in these same neighbors properties. How will these properties be protected during this new phase of construction? Well it looks like the contractor is not that worried about placing the senior citizens who live in this building in jeopardy. They assume that after five years of constant pain and suffering, 85 complaints registered so far, that the women's spirit would be as broken as their backyards. That does not appear to be the case.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Look up in the sky! It's a... brick.

It still amazes me that even now with Department of Buildings inspectors swarming like flies over most of the shoddy building in the South Slope, contractors still choose to gamble with public safety and use cheap-ass construction practices. A Stop Work Order has been plastered on the construction fence outside 349 16th Street. This latest architectural folly is located between 7th and 8th Avenues and just a few doors down from the nearly completed Dimora Condominiums.

Malignant Alteration Type 1 tumors can spread by invasion and have already metastasized along parts of 7th Avenue. This case is still in the early stages of what's bound to be another synthetic-stucco-like growth adhering to the roof top of an already existing brick building.

Workers had draped a blue plastic tarp over a two by four framework out front to control brick and other debris as they demolished the facade. There is no protection at all(tarps in this case) covering the sides. The building is unattached and has a narrow alleyway between the neighboring property.


This blue plastic tarp looks pretty beat now. It's been shredded in places and, during the demolition of the parapet wall, there were times when pieces of Kryptonian brick shards passed straight through the tarp's supposedly indestructible aura on their way down to the ground, ending up on the unprotected sidewalk out front. Seeing that there are innocent children playing every where on this end of Metropolis, it doesn't seem wise not to have installed a plywood shed.
In contrast to 349 16th, the new
Adamantium sidewalk shed currently shielding PS 107 on 8th Avenue is probably the most safety conscience and professionally executed installation I have ever seen in these parts. (The School Construction Authority unfortunately knows a thing or two about the destructive powers of a single loose piece of masonry.)

"They only lack the light to show the way."
There was a complaint made in reference to falling brick on July 18th which went apparently, nowhere. Another complaint made on August the 9th with a follow up inspection on the 31st, led to the subsequent Stop Work Order. The DoB has foiled them for now, restricting work from the 3rd and 4th floor front of the building.

Then again maybe they haven't. I think I'm finally understanding the contractors motivation for failure. The trick is to fuck up just enough to get slapped with a Partial Stop Work Order and not a true and total Stop Work Order. It's kind of like teenage boys having "Friends with Benefits". They get all of the rewards with very little responsibility. By dishing out these Partial Stop Work Orders it appears that the DoB is looking after the public welfare, while contractors also get a "legitimate" reason to receive a coveted After Hours Work permit. An emergency situation probably will require just a few extra Saturdays to finally get the job back under control again. After all, for them it's all work, whether it's on the front or back, first of fourth floor. If only they used their powers for good and not evil.

"Even though you've been raised as a human being you're not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason – their capacity for good – I have sent them you… my only son." --Jor-El

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Brennan Gets Two.

Brennan Reports Progress with Two New Construction and
Development Safety Laws

Assemblymember Jim Brennan (D-Bklyn) reports two bills to improve regulation and enforcement of the NYC Building Code and Zoning Resolution have become law. Over the past two weeks Governor Spitzer has signed into law Brennan’s “self-certification” bill (A7746/S4603) and “excavation and shoring” bill (A7748/S5246). The bills were sponsored in the NYS Senate by Senator Frank Padavan.

Brennan said, “These laws expand DOB’s arsenal to protect public safety. They give DOB new power to crack down on shady architects who file illegal building plans and they give DOB a way to ensure new buildings don’t go up at the expense of existing neighboring homes and properties.”

A7746/S4603 authorizes the Buildings Commissioner to refuse to accept plans from an architect who in the past was proven to have knowingly made false filings with the Buildings Department.
A7748/S5246 requires contractors doing excavating of any sort to provide protection for adjacent properties. In addition, it requires contractors to carry insurance for damage caused by construction, demolition and excavation.

A7746 is retroactive to 8/15 and A7748 is retroactive to 8/28/07.

The two bills are part of Brennan’s comprehensive legislative package to protect public safety by giving DOB more tools for enforcement and regulation of construction. The legislation has won wide support from community advocates, civic groups, community boards and borough presidents. Two other bills, the DOB Community Accountability Act and a bill by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi which allows the City to issue tax liens for hazardous building violations, passed only the Assembly.

The package grew out of lengthy city-wide hearings Brennan held in the Fall of 2006 on the subject of the regulation of construction and development in NYC. Brennan introduced six bills in the NYS Assembly in April of 2007 and another was Hevesi’s. Companion bills were introduced in the NYS Senate by Senator Padavan.

Last week Governor Spitzer vetoed one of the bills in this package, A7800/S5223 - which required re-inspection and correction of hazardous violations if a developer failed to answer a summons. Brennan said, “I plan to work on crafting a version of this bill that still has real force. I am optimistic that we can work together with the Governor and the Mayor to achieve what we all want: safe construction, solid development, without harm to people or property. I look forward to seeing the entire package becoming law.”


Wouldn't it be wonderful if these laws could be retroactively applied to the Armory Plaza? I think Assemblymember Brennan had us personally in mind when he wrote them. What does this mean for all the future "Henry Radusky Juniors" out there?
Who would have thought that excavation/foundation contractors were not required to carry insurance?
Probably the most dangerous part of the entire job when the worst is to be expected. Does anyone know exactly how much insurance coverage will be required? $10 million? $20 million? $100 million? To put it in perspective, most co-op /condo boards in NYC now even require a simple painting contractor to have $3 million in coverage before they let him step foot in their building. Come to think of it, I don't think anyone of the residents on 16th Street ever received the insurance information they requested from the developer of 406 15th Street. Better check up on that. Now let's pray they actually have the ability to enforce these new laws.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Retro Sink Hole Footage from April 2006

This video goes way back to the Spring of 2006, before the fecal matter really hit the fan later in July. Notice the giant sink hole where the concrete foundation wall is cracked and sinking? The developer got a Building's violation and an Environmental Control Board violation, that interesting enough, is still pending after more than a year. Mr. Mayor, are you listening? An ECB violation for "failure to protect surrounding properties" collecting dust.

On a positive note, I love BLOGGER. They now let you download your Quicktime movies directly. So long YOUTUBE.