Residents close to construction site on First Ave. Loop fed up with delays

A view of the  future management office on September 2 (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

A view of the future management office on September 2 (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

By Sabina Mollot

Residents on Stuyvesant Town’s First Avenue Loop, who’ve been dealing with construction noise for months, are now asking if the new management office will ever be finished. Along with the noise, other gripes from residents have included dust and debris blowing into their windows, the walkway between several buaildings being off limits and the continued closure of the nearly Playground 8, which is also getting a facelift. Residents at 272 and 274 First Avenue also recently saw flooding in their storage rooms.

However, “The biggest concern at this point is the timetable,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, who, in response to the complaints, wrote a letter to CWCapital Managing Director Andrew MacArthur to ask about the holdup. “It looks like there are a bunch of loose ends,” he said.

In the letter, Garodnick mentioned how he’d previously been told by CW that the construction on the office would be complete in August and that the playground would be done in May.

In mid-August, however, a newsletter from CompassRock emailed to tenants said there would be delays, with work on the office building expected to continue through the month of September. An explanation wasn’t given on the delay, but CompassRock said the final phase of construction had begun. The work included infrastructure being put into place and the space being wired. This week, a resident in a surrounding building said skylights were recently installed. In August, CompassRock said the next phase would be work on the green roof. As for the playground delay, management said the reason for that was “abandoned underground infrastructure encountered during excavation.”

But the end of the month deadline now seems unlikely since a photo, snapped by a resident in a building overlooking the construction shows that the project doesn’t look too close to being done.

Garodnick referred to the photo in his letter and also suggested that CW compensate tenants in the affected buildings with a one-month rent abatement for the inconvenience.Garodnick had brought up the possibility of a rent abatement to CW earlier in the year, though apparently, the owner didn’t agree. In the letter, Garodnick said he thought CW should “revisit the issue” due to the extended construction.

“Alternatively, (tenants) may be entitled to a rent reduction claim before the state housing agency,” he said. The letter was dated September 3 and Garodnick said so far there’s been no response. A spokesperson for CW also didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment.

Still, the resident who’d taken the photo from his apartment on September 2, Michael Alcamo, said he appreciated Garodnick’s quick response to the issue. “All of us who face this construction site have experienced dust, dirt, exceptionally high cleaning costs and noxious construction smells,” he said. “We have not had access to our courtyard for nearly nine months.”

Additionally, said Alcamo, who heads an organization devoted to local tree planting, the work has led to the removal of healthy trees.

“CompassRock destroyed ten mature and healthy pin oak trees, in order to make room for its construction equipment.”

Another neighbor, who’s been having trouble walking, said a big inconvenience for a while had been how the gates put up on different sides of the Loop was confusing to the car service drivers she relies on, with them not knowing they were allowed in.

“I also had the use of benches taken from me for the summer outside Playground 8,” said the resident, who didn’t want her name used. “We were told construction would be completed months ago. The next set of benches are too far for me to walk to. It was a beautiful summer and I missed being out because I don’t feel ill enough to be in nor want to be in a wheelchair yet can’t walk far with or without the help of a person to hold on to.”

Another resident in an impacted building said that she’s been dealing with the noise by keeping the windows closed and the air conditioner on. She’s had to change the unit’s filter pretty frequently though due to all the dirt flying in despite being on a higher floor. The noise from the work was audible as she spoke on the phone.

But, she said, “It’s nowhere near as bad as it was over the summer. I’d say they’re in the last stages, but who knows what that means. They have a tendency to take a Pollyanna approach. You’ve still got a lot of uncovered dirt and a lot of banging and hammers going on.”

Dangerously low branch cut from tree at Stuyvesant Square Park

A tree branch that at its lowest point hovered six feet away from the ground was cut off on Tuesday, following a tragedy earlier in the week when a woman was killed by a falling tree in a Queens park. The left circle shows a weakness in the branch while the right one is the tree's lowest point. Photo by Michael Alcamo

A tree branch that at its lowest point hovered six feet away from the ground was cut off on Tuesday, following a tragedy earlier in the week when a woman was killed by a falling tree in a Queens park. The left circle shows a weakness in the branch while the right one is the tree’s lowest point.
Photo by Michael Alcamo

By Sabina Mollot

Following a horrific incident of a tree falling over in a park in Queens, killing a pregnant woman last Sunday night, on Tuesday, the Parks Department cut down a large branch on a tree in Stuyvesant Square Park that had been hanging dangerously low since the winter.

It was local tree advocate Michael Alcamo who’d noticed that the branch, which was around 30 feet long and on a tree that’s located near one of the park’s east side entrances, was becoming a potential hazard.

Two weeks ago, Alcamo, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, reported the problem to the Parks Department, where a rep thanked him for the heads up and said the alert had been sent to a forestry director. However, as of Monday, the park branch remained hanging lower than ever, Alcamo said.

After being contacted by Town & Village for comment, a rep for the department, Philip Abramson, responded the following day to say that the tree limb had been removed. Abramson added that some other pruning work was also done in the park.

Meanwhile, Alcamo, who’s convinced the city to plant over 300 street trees around the Stuyvesant Town and Stuyvesant Square areas in recent years, has also always been vigilant about checking on the status of street and park trees, seeing if they need water or attention for other reasons like pedestrian safety.

In his letter to Parks Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, dated July 25, Alcamo made mention of the fact that an incident not too dissimilar from the tragedy in Queens had also occurred in Stuyvesant Square Park. It was six years ago, he noted, when social worker Alexis Handwerker, who’d been sitting in the park, was badly injured when an oversized tree branch came crashing down on her. After five years of litigation, in February, 2012, Handwerker finally reached a settlement with the city for $4.1 million.

“We ask the city to dedicate only a small portion of the amount it paid in that settlement to tree care and preventive maintenance in Stuyvesant Square Park,” said Alcamo. “We must do everything we can to prevent accidents, and make the park safe and enjoyable for all patrons.”

As for the tree in Queens’ Kissena Park, when it came down, it almost immediately killed 30-year-old Chinese emigrant Yingyi Li. In a New York Post article on her death, park goers and State Senator Tony Avella put the blame on a lack of maintenance for the park’s trees.

Alcamo suggested that Parks employees make it a monthly task to check which park trees could use pruning, specifically for safety reasons. In response, Abramson told T&V that the park is inspected “regularly for any potential tree concerns.” There was no response to a question of how the tree ended up falling in Kissena Park.

Alcamo said he believes the tree in question at Stuyvesant Square, an American elm labeled number 162, was weakened over the winter due to having snow and ice pile onto the branches. The low hanging branch was not far from the entrance that’s close to the emergency room at Beth Israel. It’s heavily used by hospital employees as well as parents walking their kids to the nearby Jack & Jill nursery school.

Stuyvesant Square Park, located between 15th and 17th Streets and separated into two sections by Second Avenue, is maintained by the Parks Department. The Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association members as well as other volunteers also help oversee the park. Recently, Alcamo founded a group he calls Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park, and said he plans to recognize groups and businesses that support the park along with other local efforts.