New Extell building is wrecking the hood, in many ways: Locals

Lewis Barnes, a volunteer with NMASS, right, speaking at Wednesday’s protest at the One Manhattan Square project site, which his group organized.   Photo by Yannic Rack

Lewis Barnes, a volunteer with NMASS, right, speaking at Wednesday’s protest at the One Manhattan Square project site, which his group organized. Photo by Yannic Rack

BY YANNIC RACK | Lower East Siders gathered near the Manhattan Bridge on South St. once again this week to protest against the 80-story apartment tower — dubbed the “Building from Hell” — that is currently rising there, and whose construction they say is damaging neighboring buildings.

“This is not about gentrification, this is about extermination,” said Maggie Martinez, who lives nearby at 55 Rutgers Slip. “We need to make sure that the structures of these buildings have not been compromised.”

Foundation work at 250 South St., where Extell Development Company is erecting an enormous residential glass tower called One Manhattan Square, has nearby residents worried that it is slowly destroying their own dwellings.

“People’s apartments are sloping and walls are cracking,” Martinez said. “That is not a safe environment for anyone.”

Residents at 82 Rutgers Slip next door first complained about vibrations in their building caused by the new project’s foundation work more than a year ago, which prompted the developer to install seismic monitors within the building, as well as around the construction site’s perimeter.

The project currently has a partial stop-work order in place, as well as two open violations dating from mid-January, according to Department of Buildings records.

According to the D.O.B. Web site, inspectors responded that month to complaints that cracks had appeared in the walls due to the construction next door. The entry notes that the order was issued because the construction company failed to notify the city of the damaging conditions.

Extell did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but company representatives previously addressed the concerns at a community meeting last year.

“We are aware that there’s been some cracking, some issues with doors sticking,” Anthony Abbruzzese, Extell’s senior vice president of construction, told residents back then.

“We inspected all the conditions and we’ve committed to repair anything that was caused by our construction,” he said, adding that engineers regularly inspect the neighboring building.

In addition to the new super-luxury tower, Lend Lease — the construction firm overseeing the project — is also building a smaller, affordable component right next to it. Both buildings are scheduled for completion in 2019.

But protesters who gathered in front of the construction site on Wed., March 2, said the next-door building continues to suffer from the effects of the foundation work.

“The land is sinking, it’s dangerous for the people who live here,” said Louise Velez, who has lived in the neighborhood her entire life. “Are they waiting for the building to collapse onto the people?”

To many in the neighborhood, the building also symbolizes a larger problem — the displacement of longtime tenants from the area.

“This is going to be an 80-story building for the 1 percent,” said Lewis Barnes, a volunteer with National Mobilization Against Sweat Shops, or NMASS, which organized the rally and operates a Workers Center on Grand St. nearby.

“Look around at the people here — we are not the 1 percent,” Barnes said, pointing out that a large sign on the project’s construction fence was ironically advertising the mayor’s housing plan. “Why are they building this in our community?” he asked.

The development, which will tower over the Manhattan Bridge, is advertised as a “vertical village” with private gardens, romantic fire pits and a covered dog run, where apartments will reportedly sell for between $1 million to $3 million — absurdly expensive for the people currently living all around it.

“There’s a lot of low-income people living in this neighborhood,” said Velez. “We’re poor people. We need them to get the hell out,” she said of the high-end builders.

Residents like Velez still lament the loss of the Pathmark supermarket that stood at the site and was closed in 2012 to make way for the development. (Last year, Extell said it was committed to including an affordable supermarket in one of the new buildings’ retail spaces.)

Rallies against the project have previously drawn hundreds of locals, although Wednesday’s crowd was more humble.

Michael Lalan, another NMASS organizer, reminded everyone to come to the group’s monthly picketing of Gracie Mansion, which will take place next on Wed., March 16, at 4:30 p.m.

“He’s ruining our community? We’ll come to his house,” Lalan said of the mayor.

Apart from getting the work at the project to stop permanently — which may seem a futile undertaking — the protesters hope they can garner enough attention to force the city to adopt a rezoning plan that was drafted over the last seven years, which they hope would stop similar developments in the future.

However, the Department of City Planning last year dismissed the plan, created by the Chinatown Working Group, which calls for protections similar to the 2008 rezoning of the East Village and part of the Lower East Side, which now safeguards that area from overdevelopment through strict height caps on new buildings.

Chinatown and the Lower East Side below Grand St. were not included in the rezoning, and critics argue that this, in turn, has driven luxury residential and hotel development into these areas, causing rents and property taxes to skyrocket.

“We have our own rezoning plan because we know what we need in this community,” Barnes said. “We need supermarkets, we need schools, we need parks, we need low-income housing. We don’t need this,” he said, pointing at the construction site behind him.

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