The Real Deal New York

Second Avenue Subway hit with lawsuit

Co-op says enormous ventilation structures violate original plan

January 26, 2010 05:15PM
By Sarah Ryley

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Left, a conceptual rendering of the Second Avenue Subway’s ventilation structures from the MTA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, approved in 2004. Right, the MTA’s current design of the ventilation structure that would neighbor 233 East 69th Street, presented at a community meeting last November.

Residents of an Upper East Side co-op filed a lawsuit last week against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, alleging that the agency unlawfully modified the design of its massive structures that would ventilate the Second Avenue Subway (see the complaint below).

Eight permanent utility structures are planned along a 34-block stretch of Second Avenue as part of the first phase of the under-construction subway. Under the most current design, some would be as large as mid-sized apartment buildings, up to 10 stories tall. The facades would be a utilitarian mix of translucent white glass, steel louvers and ceramic tile.

The co-op tower filing the lawsuit, 233 East 69th Street, would neighbor the largest planned structure, slated to cover the entire footprint of two lots currently occupied by five-story brick apartment buildings built around the turn of last century. Once the structure is built, eight co-ops would have their easterly facing windows entirely bricked up.

When the MTA presented its renderings of the utility structures at a community board meeting last November, it was difficult to restore order, said Mark Legere, a resident of the 69th Street co-op. “There was just a complete, like a cacophony, of ‘Oh my God, not that!’ sounds.”

The lawsuit hinges on the subway’s Final Environmental Impact Statement approved in 2004, which stated that the structures “would typically be approximately the same size as a typical row house — 25 feet wide, 75 feet deep, and four- to five-stories high, although some may be wider.”

Referring to a four-story brick building with faux windows, the document says the structures “could be designed to appear like a neighborhood row house in height, scale, materials and colors.”

The MTA did not comment by press time, but spokesperson Kevin Ortiz recently told The Real Deal that the structures are needed to house the subway’s state-of-the-art ventilation and smoke evacuation systems, utilities, and emergency exits. Sidewalk grates now violate the city’s building code.

Ortiz had said the brick rendering was just an example, noting, “at that point we didn’t even have a conceptual design,” and added that the size of the current design is consistent with what a private developer could build under zoning laws.

The residents are telling the MTA to redesign the utility structures so they mimic typical row houses, as outlined in the original plan.

“Otherwise, if the MTA insists on moving forward with this design change, then it must conduct an additional public environmental review, including a full analysis of the facility’s impacts on the buildings at 233 East 69th Street, and an evaluation of suitable mitigation measures or alternatives to avoid or minimize the facility’s impacts to the greatest extent practicable,” said the residents’ attorney, Michael D. Zarin of Zarin & Steinmetz.

Zarin said the supplemental environmental review process “can take anywhere between six months to a year, if done correctly.”

The delay-plagued subway has been planned since 1929, but had been stopped by two financial crashes and one war over the decades. This most recent attempt at constructing the subway originally pegged the completion date as 2012, but The Real Deal reported in July that straphangers might have to wait until 2017.

“We would think that would be their interest [to revert to the original design]. They certainly won’t want to go through a lengthy and protracted environmental review process,” Zarin said.

The co-op residents attempted to negotiate with the MTA out-of-court, but received a letter from the agency Jan. 13 declining to modify its plans for the utility structure.
Second Ave Subway 69th St Complaint

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