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After hours construction noise becoming problem for thousands of NYers

Posted: 11:04 PM, Nov 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-13 23:05:17-05

Screeching metal.

Walls crumbling.

That isn’t exactly the most soothing way to go to sleep; after hours construction noise – particularly in Manhattan.

It’s a real problem for tens of thousands of residents, including Google lead researcher Michael Riley.

Riley leads a team working on speech recognition… the same technology powering the Google Assistant in your smartphone.

He recently experienced a big problem with construction noise next door from his Manhattan apartment.

“Demolition would sometimes go up to midnight," said Riley. "I had trouble sleeping, had trouble reading."

Riley says he did what any other New Yorker would do.

He called 3-1-1. But Riley says his own complaint call to 3-1-1… was met with silence.

“Somebody comes a month later and says it's no problem,” said Riley.

City Department of Buildings officials tell PIX11 they’ve logged several thousand after hour construction noise complaints over the last 12 months.

But city data shows most of the work - from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. is completely legal.

For the last few years, the Department has issued roughly the same number of “After Hours Variances”, or AHV permits, and is on pace to do the same this year.

Department of Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca says the agency is working to be more transparent about approved after hours construction work, and points to a new online tool, which offers a live look at approved AHV permits.

“We certainly think responsible development is healthy for this city," she said. "We're issuing the variances judiciously. Our job is to make sure that the work that is allowed to happen takes place and that people are not working outside of their allowed hours."

But there’s at least one other major factor in play; money.

The Buildings Department says AHV permits generated more than $30 million in revenue for the 2017 fiscal year… and more than $33 million last fiscal year.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera is the co-sponsor of a bill that would drastically reduce after hours and overnight construction.

She is well aware real estate developers are not happy with the bill.

“What this bill is really aimed at is quality of life," she said. "We're going to make sure that we are bringing a balance, that we're responsible with the language. I think they'll understand, because they appreciate a good night sleep too."

Reggie Thomas of the Real Estate Board of New York, says developers are indeed sympathetic to the concerns of noise fatigued residents.

“In a city that is growing, where we need to provide schools, affordable housing, subway construction... trying to get all of this done between 9 and 5 is virtually impossible," he said.

Back in Michael Riley’s mid-century modern styled apartment it ultimately took a call Councilwoman Rivera’s office to bring a halt to the late night demo work.

But he’s aware his next sleepless night is likely just another demolition project away.