By Sabina Mollot
At a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting that was held on Sunday afternoon, while those in attendance were briefed on numerous issues such as coastal resiliency, the looming L train shutdown and Beth Israel developments, it was the ongoing issues of noise from construction as well as major capital improvements (MCI) that residents seemed most concerned about.
At the meeting, held at the auditorium of Simon Baruch Middle School, Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg spoke about recent MCIs for exterior restoration work, hot water heaters and video intercoms in Peter Cooper Village.
“These things are coming out so fast we can hardly keep up,” she said, but added that while the Tenants Association has “carefully vetted” each challenge, the housing agency still often sides with the owner.
“The DHCR (Division of Housing and Community Renewal) will approve them even if there are challenges and they will ignore our objections without explaining why they have done so,” said Steinberg. “Which,” she added, “is against their own regulations.”
Steinberg then called on the two state legislators sitting on the stage, Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh to investigation the situation.
“The DHCR needs to be looked at very closely to find out why they are not following their own process,” she said.
When landlords apply for MCIs, buildings are filed for separately and some of the façade work MCIs have already been approved, with the TA having filed a challenge against those. Costs vary per building and most (including the intercom and hot water MCIs) are $1-3 per room per month. Intercom MCIs have been approved and are being challenged, and with some hot water MCIs having been approved, the TA is preparing to challenge those.
Town & Village reached out to the DHCR about the MCIs and the reasoning behind the agency’s decisions to approve them but did not hear back.
One resident, who introduced himself as Michael Hersch, blasted MCIs as “a dangerous thing” and asked the elected officials present what they were going to do about it.
In response, Kavanagh mentioned his pending legislation that wouldn’t allow landlords to double dip by applying for MCIs if the project is also being financed by a state subsidy. Kavanagh, who will soon become a member of the Senate for the district covering Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront, said he intends to continue to focusing on this issue.
“We need to strengthen the law so that MCIs are not as generous to landlords,” he said.
As for the noise complaints, Steinberg said she’d heard from a handful of tenants about the reconfigurations of 115 apartments in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village.
“We’re hearing complaints of noise and cracks in the walls as a result of vibrations,” she said.
In response, Council Member Dan Garodnick said he thought management should offer something to tenants in apartments next to ones being reconfigured. “It happens too much,” he said.
T&V later reached out to StuyTown Property Services on this issue and spokesperson Paula Chirhart said management would “take Councilman Garodnick’s suggestion under consideration.”
Last summer, the owner began experimenting new apartment reconfigurations that will give most of them an additional bedroom.
However, it was noise surrounding the property, including construction of nearby developments as well as MTA preliminary work for the improvements along the L train line, that was brought up by a few residents who’d attended the meeting.
“I’m not here for a love fest,” declared one resident, Angela de Souza, during the meeting’s Q&A period. (Her comment was likely in reference to some earlier praise on the stage for the accomplishments of Kavanagh and Garodnick, who were attending their last TA meeting as Assembly and Council members.) De Souza also recently wrote a letter to this newspaper complaining of noise from construction sites along 14th Street, comparing it to “an ice pick jabbed in the ear.” She addressed the elected officials present at the meeting, when saying, “It has been a horror, in particular for those who face (14th Street).”
While she didn’t think anything could be done about noise from jackhammering, she wondered about the need for the loud beeping emanating from trucks as they back up. “They don’t have to tell someone two blocks away they’re backing up.”
In response, Garodnick said he’s aware of ongoing noisy projects, but added that the backup beepers “are for protecting people here and safety and they need to be loud enough so people can hear them.”
However, he added that he thought the Department of Buildings has been too lax about allowing work during evening hours.
“They are far too sympathetic in my view to the views of the developers and not sympathetic enough to New Yorkers,” he said.
He mentioned that Council Member Rosie Mendez has a bill aimed at limiting when such work can be done. He also has a pending bill calling for more transparency of construction sites’ noise mitigation plans.
Another resident, who said she lives at Avenue A and 14th street had similar concerns to de Souza, adding that it’s hard to distinguish which ongoing projects in the area are L train related, Con Ed related, development or something else. ”I’m not getting a lot of sleep these days,” the woman said. “And I don’t even live on the corner. I live one building back and it feels like they’re right in the room with me.” She added that the MTA work has made the 14th Street service road, now partially boarded up, difficult to navigate.
Another pedestrian obstacle to be brought up was e-bikes.
Though both the city and Stuy Town management have recently announced they’re cracking down on the electric bikes, Stuy Town resident Arlynne Miller said she thought e-bikes need to be registered considering they zip by at 20 miles an hour. Miller, who’s a bike rider herself, added, “I don’t want to be in a bike lane with them.”
In response, Kavanagh said this wouldn’t work since the electric bikes are illegal to ride in the city to begin with. He added that he has a bill that if passed, would make it mandatory for retailers to inform people buying e-bikes that they are illegal in the city, even though they’re legal to sell. He added that he wants to make businesses whose delivery people use them accountable. But, he admitted, “That’s been a fight for a while.”
Garodnick suggested that those who order food using an app-based service “vote with your dollars” by asking ahead of time if the food would be delivered via e-bike. “This is an issue that can be tackled a variety of ways,” he said.
Another resident, Harvey Barakas, said he was concerned about contaminants under the property that have remained since Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village were known as the Gashouse District. “In my building, three tenants have died of cancer,” he said. “It could be a coincidence, after 9/11, students at Stuyvesant High School, a disproportionate number of people were getting ill.” Barakas added that he thought there should be some sort of survey done.
Later, Steinberg told T&V she would like to see Con Ed do additional air sampling “just to make sure nothing’s changed. They did it in 2006, but that’s already 11 years.”
The utility has previously said air sampling would continue, when announcing its proposal to place contaminant recovery wells in ST/PCV. T&V reached out to Con Ed to ask when this would happen and how often and a spokesperson for the utility said those decisions would be up to the agencies overseeing the planned remediation project, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health.
Another resident of Stuyvesant Town, Michael Alcamo, also asked about possible exposure to remaining contaminants in a letter he sent to the DEC that he also sent to Town & Village. In the letter, Alcamo asked if air testing equipment could be put it Stuy Town’s Garage 4 that could also be accessible to the public.
T&V asked the DEC about this as well as the other resident’s concerns and spokesperson said that Con Ed has been performing regular air monitoring in the buildings with normal results.
The spokesperson added that air monitoring within the garage spaces wouldn’t produce data that would determine if users of the garage are being exposed to the subsurface contamination because the same chemicals are emitted from automobile exhaust in much greater amounts.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the solar panels planned for Stuy Town. While management has said the cost of the project would not be passed onto tenants via an MCI, a few people at Sunday’s meeting seemed skeptical. Meanwhile, one resident asked if tenants would be getting a rent reduction, since the project is expected to reduce energy use in buildings.
At this, Stuy Town General Manager Rick Hayduk, who was at the meeting, stated that there would be “no impact” on rent. “We made an investment in the environment. That’s what we did,” said Hayduk. He added that the project is projected to cost $12 million, with the owner recouping $3 million through incentives. But, he added, “The return on investment is 10-15 years (away). I would hope this would be seen as a good project for the environment.”
Others in attendance at the meeting included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Brewer discussed her new bill aimed at making supermarkets located from Chambers Street up to 96th Street exempt from paying Commercial Rent Tax.
“There are 132 grocery stores in that area and they are going to become an endangered species,” she said, adding that for many of the stores, the tax alone costs them $30,000-$40,000 a year.
Stringer pitched a proposal to have tenants’ rent history included in their credit scores, much like homeowners’ history of paying their mortgages gets factored in.
City Council member-elect Keith Powers, who spoke briefly, said more than once that he knew he had “big shoes to fill,” and brought up affordability. “We all have to continue to find ways to give families an option to stay here,” he said.
Senator-elect Kavanagh added that while he will no longer be representing the Stuyvesant Town area as a senator, he’d still be fighting for tenants. “The fights we need to win are going to be won or lost in the Senate,” he said.
On Mount Sinai Beth Israel news, Steinberg noted that demolition is expected to begin soon at the site that will become the new, smaller hospital’s emergency department on Second Avenue. Meanwhile, the Mount Sinai-run urgent care center on 20th Street in Stuyvesant Town is set to open for business soon.