New Construction Causes More Noise, Emissions and Traffic
(brooklyn, new york)
Visitor Question: We need help against having all this construction. Once these buildings are finished we will have more people looking for parking, as well as lining up next to our and our neighbors' homes waiting to get into parking facilities for a newly constructed Community Center which has its ramp adjacent to my driveway and yard. Motorists will start lining up to get into this parking lot from approximately 6:30AM to 10PM and later on the weekends, 7 days a week. There will be in and out traffic from morning to night.
We have tried to fight this but due to the political affiliations these people have we have not gotten any assistance from anyone. The Board Members from this Community Center are past and present members of our local Community Board. These people are also friends with the local politicians.
We have practically no quality of life now due to the fact that their construction crew eats, smokes, etc. by our home and throws garbage in our yard. Also due to this building we have become isolated and at night people loiter and smoke, eat, and drink, and many times I have found someone who is sleeping off booze on my steps or on the side of my steps. It is really scary.
Many of my neighbors do not speak English and do not know they have a voice in what is happening in our community. Some who speak English are fearful of making any complaints. Some neighbors have told me even if they make complaints nothing will change.
We have very little quality of life. Once this Center opens our neighbors and us will not be able to use our yards due to the fumes from the cars entering this parking lot, as well as the fact these people can see in our yards taking away our privacy. We will be forced to inhale these dangerous emissions. This will have a toxic environmental impact on our lives in this community. Unfortunately, there is much more to this story and it would take days to write.
I believe this is environmental injustice and racism. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, as I think I have done everything possible by myself e.g., contact community board, local politicians, building department, transportation department, police community team, etc.
Editors Respond: We are really sorry to hear about this situation you are facing. We agree it sounds like an environmental justice issue.
Unfortunately once construction has started in the U.S., you will not be able to stop the construction unless something extremely unusual happens.
The situation you describe, in which community center board members are past and present members of the community board, is not totally unusual, but these political connections may be keeping you from getting better service from the administrative agencies involved.
Let's concentrate on what you might reasonably expect to influence going forward. We see four things:
1. You may be able to impact the inconvenience of workers eating and smoking in inappropriate places, either through complaining to the community center board itself or to the building division. Start by asking city employees in the department of building.
2. You should become familiar with any regulations applicable to this building project through the zoning ordinance. You can probably find the text of the zoning ordinance online these days, but often you have to ask your city hall to tell you in which zoning district this project lies. Also a substantial project, which this seems to be, probably has a conditional use permit or a developer's agreement that outline additional conditions that the project must adhere to. Obtain the exact text of those items. If your city officials do not readily supply that, ask a member of the press to obtain that language for you. Then you can monitor whether the project is adhering to the terms of its agreement with the city--and by extension, with the neighborhood and the general public.
3. Talk with the police about the increased isolation of your building and ask them for ideas about what can be done to combat people loitering in your yard or doorway.
4. Work on building relationships, both with the community center board and with your neighbors who do not speak English or otherwise do not feel like they can influence the situation. You will not be able to stop the construction project, but if you can make a friend or two on the board of the community center, at least you would have a way to talk with them from time to time about operational issues, such as hours and operating procedures for the parking garage. We are sure it would not feel good to welcome the community center to the neighborhood, when you feel just the opposite, but consider what could be gained if the community center became more friendly. You could even try to get yourself elected to the community center board!
Then on the other end of the spectrum, try to organize the neighbors who do not feel empowered so that at least you are ready if (a) conditions become even worse, (b) elected officials change and you have an opportunity to plead your case with new people who are anxious to please, (c) the community center board changes, or (d) something similar is proposed in the future.
As you can see, your options right now are pretty limited, but mobilize yourselves anyway so that when any aspect of this situation changes, you are ready. Every day in big cities a development stalls, a developer falls out of favor with the city or a powerful neighborhood council, or there is a major shift in the political or economic picture that causes a development to change course in mid-stream. Be ready.
Until then, as you seem to know, you cannot stop this development, but you may be able to influence some of the most irksome conditions brought about by construction. And if something goes wrong with the community center plan, perhaps you can influence what comes next.