Battered Nerves

Excavation creates a site for sore ears

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Bang. Bang, Bang. Bang.

It’s like a powerful drumbeat reverberating through the neighborhood as construction crews break up a series of rocks that once made up stone ledges at 3482 Fort Independence St. And neighbors are angry.

Stagg Group — the developer already under fire for suddenly turning apartments at 5731 Broadway into a transitional facility for the homeless — is clearing away rock to build a six-story apartment complex.

The constant noise has ruined the quality of life in the vicinity, residents said, and they’re calling on Stagg to lower the volume, or find some other quieter way to clear out the rock.

“It’s this constant hammering,” said Bob Drake, whose apartment sits directly in front of the site. “One time I measured it in my bedroom and it was the decibel level of having a motorcycle in the room.”

Drake, who lives on the seventh floor of 3489 Fort Independence St. said the noise from the site is louder on the higher floors of his building because there is no wall or covering to muffle the sound. Stagg has something like that already at ground level in front of the construction site that muffles the sound. Drake would like to see something similar placed to the same height as his apartment to lessen the noise coming from the site.

Or, Stagg could simply reduce the number of breakers — also known as hoe rams — used to cut up the series of rock ledges.

When Drake measured the sound from the sidewalk using a pair of smartphone apps, he got a reading above 85 decibels — equivalent to traffic noise in midtown Manhattan, according to a city noise guide. When he’s tested the noise levels in his apartment, the readings have come in as high as 96 decibels, or similar to a train.

Because of the change in decibel levels from the sidewalk to his seventh-floor apartment, Drake questions how the city measures the sound since he is finding such disparity between both locations.

Drake is a chemistry professor at Fordham University. When he’s not teaching a class, he’s working from home. However, because the construction noise is so loud, he cannot open the window to get fresh air because it means even more noise, he said. Also, it’s difficult to have a telephone conversation.

Jeanette Cordero, who lives near the construction, said she wears earplugs and headphones — like the ones construction workers wear — to muffle the sounds of the constant hammering, which happens between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays. It’s even affected her when workers aren’t there, she added, struggling to get a decent night of sleep since work began last May.

At 78, Cordero said the loud noise, the continuous banging and the resulting stress are just not healthy.

“This is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Dart Westphal, who lives approximately 500 feet away on Orloff Avenue “There was the construction of a building on Cannon, which is going to be turned into a library. That was also a lot of rock drilling. And the pile driving when they built the B.J.’s (Wholesale Club) was difficult to live through. But, this was the first time right in the middle of the neighborhood there has been anything this big that I can remember.”

Rey Rosa, who lives on the second floor of Drake’s building, said he’s in a tough spot at the front of the building where the construction noise is loud.

“I don’t know if they could do much about it unless they put barriers,” said Rosa, who retired from the city’s buildings department in the 1990s. “To me, on a construction site, it would be normal. And … I’ve been on many construction sites.”

Stagg does not have a lot of fans in the area, especially when it comes to leaders like Community Board 8 land use committee chair Charles Moerdler.

“If I had to give an award to the worst neighbor in this community, (Stagg) would win it hands down,” Moerdler said. “We have been in constant communication with the buildings department, the department of environmental protection, who handles noise complaints, with a variety of city agencies. They come. They give a summons. (Stagg is) back at it next day.”

But the city’s environmental protection department says the work at 3482 Fort Independence is above-board. Agency spokeswoman Tara Deighan told The Riverdale Press by email that backhoe hammer readings are within the legally allowable 85 decibels. DEP has been to the site “several” times, she added.

Stagg, through a limited liability company 3069 Cannon Place, purchased the Fort Independence property in December 2014 for $3.5 million, according to city property records. The company is using a construction loan of more than $15 million to finance work there.

“We have taken aggressive measures to mitigate the noise by using sound-muffled hammers and wrapping them with sound-attenuating blankets,” said Jay Martino, the company’s senior vice president of construction, in a statement. “We are also using a drill to facilitate the excavation of the hard rock and minimize the vibration telegraphed when hammering this hard material.”

“The scaffolding meets (the city’s) requirements for sidewalk safety and protecting the public from debris,” Martino said. “The scaffolding is not meant to, nor can it mitigate noise levels.”

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for residents, who likely will have to suffer through construction noise for at least another year — Stagg is scheduled to finish 3482 Fort Independence in January 2019.

“It’s completely unbelievable that we have to live through this for all of these months,” Westphal said, “and it’s not over yet.”

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