Developer's Plans Sparking Fears Among West St. Residents

288 West Street stands between two development sites.

CARL GLASSMAN/TRIBECA TRIB

After their Tribeca building shook for two terrifying hours in late Sep­tember, residents of a 12-unit co-op on West Street are still wondering: What’s coming next?

The 156-year-old former warehouse at 288 West Street near Canal stands alone, flanked on each side by lots slated for development. To the south is planned a sprawling 10-story apartment building, developed by the Related Company, that will extend the entire block along Watts Street, from West to Washington.

It was the demolition of a structure on that lot on the morning of Sept. 28 that rocked 288 West Street and rattled the people inside. One mother, certain that an earthquake was striking, ran to fetch her child from school. The fire department was called and the city shut down the work, by Waldorf Demolition.

A long vertical crack on the south side of the building that residents say was caused by the work serves as a visible reminder of the incident.

Since then demolition has resumed and been halted several times. (As of Nov. 5 a stop-work order had been lifted.) Residents of the building say they want to know what else could be awaiting their building, not only from the demolition but from the excavation and construction that comes later.

“We know we’re an old building on landfill,” said Brent Kinetz, the co-op’s president. “We’re not a building on bedrock and the risk of damage is there. We’re trying to protect ourselves.”

In response, Related lawyers told residents that the Buildings Department is aware of the conditions in the lot, high water table and all, and approved the plans.

“Related’s professionals, some of the best in the business, have safely demolished buildings under similar circumstances,” a Related lawyer wrote to the residents’ lawyer, Carol Sigmond.

Along with Sigmond, the residents have hired engineering consultants to find out what the future holds for demolition and construction. They claim they have hit a wall with Related, who they say is unwilling to give them the information they need to make sure their building is protected.

“Our lawyer and engineers have written to their lawyer and engineers saying, ‘Come on, let’s talk now,’” Kinetz said. “‘You guys have damaged our building with your first effort at demolition and we want to know what you’re planning on doing so we can effectively monitor our building together.’”

Emails have been flying back and forth between the two sides since August. Related claims that it was being unreasonably denied access to the building in its attempt to establish and monitor the building’s condition.

“As a consequence of your denial, your belief that new cracks have ap­peared at 288 West Street as a result of the demolition cannot be substantiated,” Jesse Masyr, a lawyer for Related, wrote to the co-op’s lawyer. According to Masyr, vibration monitors, placed as close to the property line as  possible, showed “de minimis vibrations” and therefore the company denies responsibility for any damage.

But it is not just the residents of 288 West Street who have a problem with Related’s planned new building.

Those who live next door to the site at 466 Washington St. see their southern views—and light—drawing to an end. They acknowledge that the developer can legally block their lot-line windows. But Barbara Siegel, an artist and 33-year resident of the building, asked the developer to be a “good neighbor” and allow a 30-foot clearance between the two buildings so that she and her neighbors can still open bedroom and living room windows and get some light.

“We moved in 1979 so we put our windows there not even thinking of the possibility that this kind of development would become rampant,” Siegel said.
What came back, in a recent letter from Related lawyer Jesse Masyr, was a polite but firm “no.”

“We hope that you will find the future building to be an asset to your neighborhood and the larger community,” he wrote.
Masyr did not respond to a request for comment.