Neighbors fed up with construction disruption

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Jim Grossman stopped to observe the broken cement pieces and uneven asphalt in front of his co-op at 525 W. 238th St. in Riverdale. There were no city construction crews on the street that day, but there was plenty of evidence they’d been there recently, like the hastily cemented-over holes in the sidewalk and stacks of equipment all over the block.

Neighbors have tolerated intermittent construction in the area since September, when the city’s design and construction department began replacement of a century-old water main. While major projects like this one rarely go off without a hitch, this one seems fraught with headaches.

“Look how they’ve left this,” Grossman said, wiggling a piece of the broken curb with his foot like a loose tooth. “It’s like this all over. What happens if they just leave it like this?”

When it all ends and how the street will look afterward has been a major concern for neighbors since construction began, co-op president Peter Beitchman said.

“It started with Con Edison moving the electrical utilities out of the way in September. And then in November, the water project started,” Beitchman said. “So since Labor Day, we have been living in this wasteland here.”

Some of the hassle is unavoidable. Because work crews are skipping around the neighborhood, they work for a while on one street and skip to another a few days later, according to a DDC spokesman. They’ll be back in a few weeks or months, so it’s not feasible to do a curb-to-curb repaving. Because of that, the work area is patched up and left in a safe, drivable condition.

“We understand that this was major construction, but it was not done in a coordinated fashion, and it’s been done in a way in which we never knew during this period when our street was going to open to traffic and when it was going to be closed to traffic,” Beitchman said. “Eight-and-a-half months is a long time. We have people who have bought apartments in the building and been trying to move in. They bring their moving trucks here and the street is closed off.”

Some problems, he added, are down right unnecessary.

Nearby work has cut off the building’s water without notice. When it’s turned back on without careful preparation, sediments flood the system which then damages the building’s aging plumbing system, Beitchman said, causing extensive damage that cost thousands of dollars to repair.

“They put up parking signs. Signs that were completely contradictory of one another about construction zone parking, but leaving alternative side parking signs on part of the block,” Beitchman said. “The result was many cars were ticketed. We pointed out to the crew that there are contradictory signs up here. People don’t know what to do.”

Although signage is usually handled by the city’s transportation department, authority to place “no parking” signs can be delegated to construction companies with a work permit, said Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee chair Dan Padernacht. When contractors JRCruz Corp., began work on the street, workers added many signs forbidding parking, but they were so close to the old alternate side parking signs, many drivers didn’t know where they were allowed to put their vehicles.

The 50th Precinct relaxed enforcement, but not the police department’s traffic enforcement division, Padernacht said, which continued ticketing. CB8 and elected officials asked the sanitation department to relax alternate side parking. Those officials agreed, sending traffic enforcement a letter informing them the rules would be suspended until construction was finished.

And although the tickets stopped for a month or so, traffic enforcement recently began handing them out again. Co-op resident Gerald Gleason said he got a ticket just two weeks ago for parking in an area he believed was within the legally allowed space.

“I pleaded not guilty to it,” Gleason said. “I wrote a letter and provided photos of the parking spot showing the contradicting signs, but it didn’t do any good.”

Neighbors, CB8 committee members and elected officials believed traffic enforcement understood the rules were suspended through the summer. But traffic enforcement agents were not made aware the construction period was extended, an NYPD spokeswoman stated in an email. Agents were instructed to stop issuing tickets until Sept. 1.

But what about those already fighting tickets? The spokeswoman recommended they reach out to the city’s finance department.

CB8 can help, too, Padernacht said.

“If residents want to bring findings to the traffic and transportation committee, perhaps we can get a better grasp on the situation to help residents with these parking violations,” he said. “Even if the administrative law judge fines them or sustains the parking violation, they have 30 days to appeal it. And certainly we would recommend, based upon the fact that the rules were suspended, to appeal any of these violations that were sustained.”

An end is in sight for construction work in the immediate area, according to Ariana Collado, Councilman Andrew Cohen’s chief of staff. According to the DDC, work on West 238th Street at Riverdale Avenue is complete.

“When DOT issues a road permit, part of the permit time frame is that they must return the road to the condition in which it was found,” Collado said, in an email.

“It is the contractor’s responsibility to restore the street condition.”

Because both DDC and ConEd have done work between Johnson and Riverdale avenues, both will be responsible for the restoration.

News the work is done hasn’t alleviated Beitchman’s worry.

“We’ve just been in this wasteland, this battlefield, and we’re continually hit with new inconveniences and new problems,” he said.

“Our fear is that all there remains to be done will either never be done, or only ever be done if we stay be on top of this and be diligent and make them do it.”

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