New York Times:
On a Site With a Past, a Battle Goes On
By JAKE MOONEY
WHERE the Gristedes supermarket used to stand on Broadway between 99th and 100th Streets, there is a large hole in the ground, big enough to hold a few dozen workmen, an earth-moving machine and a hulking vehicle with a shiny metal pick in place of a scoop. Heavy trucks pull in and out on a ramp, which sits on the former site of two brownstones.
The property caught the city's notice in July, when the supermarket collapsed as workers were demolishing it, injuring 10 people, including a 7-month-old who was briefly buried inside her stroller but rescued when her nanny screamed for help. The demolition crews are long gone now, and workers are busy laying the foundation for a 32-story glass tower known as Ariel West, companion to a similar but taller structure rising across Broadway. Both towers are the work of the Extell Development Company, and both have been targets of neighborhood opposition.
The buildings are allowed by right under the current zoning. Still, a group called West Siders for Responsible Development has been expressing its concern about the project, via a Web site, a petition with about 2,000 signatures and regular meetings at local apartments and in the Metro Diner on 100th Street around the corner. Last week the group's president, Miki Fiegel, and its treasurer, Toni Cindrich, stood on the sidewalk next to the hole and laid out their objections, their voices raised over the rumble of the trucks.
"It's really quiet right now," said Ms. Fiegel, a real estate agent who works from home less than a block down 99th Street. "Wait until the drilling starts."
Ms. Fiegel has discovered that nothing, including playing "Tosca" at high volume, drowns out the noise. "This is a neighborhood full of people in the arts, people who work late," she said. "And when they start at seven in the morning, you can hear it for blocks."
Kenny Ziomek, the barrel-chested Teamster foreman for the site, ambled over. "Oh, they love us here," he said with a sarcastic smile. As if on cue, a thunderous pounding started behind him.
Mr. Ziomek, a Long Islander who said he often chatted with passers-by, wondered aloud if the towers wouldn't improve the neighborhood by bringing a touch of luxury to a stretch of Broadway that is generally grungier than the areas to the immediate north and south.
But Ms. Fiegel says that what residents prize about the neighborhood are the buildings, including brownstones on some side streets and prewar apartment buildings, few of them taller than 15 stories, along the avenues. "You can see the sky," she said. "It gives the neighborhood a more human scale, and when you start putting these buildings up, you lose the scale of the neighborhood, you lose the character of the neighborhood."
One of the group's main goals, along with fighting the Extell project, is to prevent other tall buildings in the area. Residents fear such structures because the neighborhood contains so many low-rent buildings and single-room occupancy hotels that are tempting to developers.
At the Metro Diner, Ms. Cindrich brandished artists' renderings of the buildings that she had picked up at one of Extell's promotional champagne brunches, and recalled the community board meeting where residents first saw similar sketches. "People in the audience just gasped," she said.
Extell's senior vice president of development, Raizy Haas, said the group did not speak for the whole neighborhood. "You're always going to have people oppose development," she said, "but I think a lot of the people on the Upper West Side are pleased with what we're doing. Our buildings are definitely not going to be an eyesore; they're very beautiful glass towers."
Ms. Haas noted that Extell's president, Gary Barnett, was responsible for renovating the Belnord, the Renaissance Revival apartment building on 86th Street, after a long dispute between residents and the previous owner. "He's beloved by all the tenants in that building," she said. "He's sort of a hero to them."
And the noise from the drilling? It should be ending, she said, "pretty soon."