Construction at Columbus Avenue between 97th and 100th Streets continues to rattle windows and ruffle its neighbors’ feathers this week after city inspectors lifted an order that stopped some of the work in late July when a retaining wall at the site collapsed.
The site of the future Columbus Village commercial strip and residential complex, which is slated to include a Whole Foods Market, was deemed safe by the Department of Buildings on Sept. 3—a little over a month after the collapse forced the evacuation of the building next door on 97th Street.
The developers, Lawrence Gluck and Joseph Chetrit, came together with the Community Board for the first time to apologize for the collapse and to listen to community concerns this August.
But area residents still fear that the site is unsafe, according to Sheldon Fine, the chair of Community Board 7. CB7 is investigating the cause of the collapse with the borough president’s office, and the city council introduced a bill to limit the use of explosives and blasting at construction sites.
Nearby residents are also coping with day-to-day frustrations of living next to a huge hole in the ground. “Lives have been under siege for months,” Fine said, as drilling, digging, and excavation for the 320,000 square feet of retail space and residential towers can be heard and felt down Columbus Avenue for three continuous blocks.
Many are also upset that the development will change the architectural character of the neighborhood. “It will stick out like a sore thumb,” said long-time Park West Village resident Maria Watson, about the 29-story tower proposed for the west side of Columbus Avenue.
The developers of Columbus Village had to wait 40 years to make big changes at the site, as a Federal slum-clearance program from the 1950s locked the configuration of the buildings in what is now known as Park West Village.
The clause of the program expired, and storefronts along Columbus Avenue were razed last summer.
This June, Whole Foods catered a public meeting at an elementary school cafeteria in an attempt to extend an olive branch to Upper West Side residents who were already voicing concerns about the store’s location in the neighborhood.
They looked to reassure attendees that the company is socially and environmentally responsible—even if the developer it was working with had not met with neighborhood residents at this point in the conversation. As the crowd munched on fresh fruit, wraps, cookies, and asparagus hors d’oeuvres, spokespeople noted the starting wage for any job at Whole Foods is $10 per hour, 85 percent of workers are full-time, all workers receive health benefits, and they use wind credit power.
“Are we perfect? No. Because we’re human,” said Otto Leuschel, the regional vice-president of operations, at the meeting
Whole Foods presenters were interrupted by people who began shouting to begin the public comment portion of the night.
Many were concerned that the store’s loading dock would be right next to an elementary school on 97th Street, and that delivery trucks would add to traffic on the block which already gets congested with cars spilling out of Central Park from the East Side. The suggestion was put forward that the store locate at 100th Street, a wider block with less traffic, and that it could hold sway with the developer to make this kind of demand.
Leuschel said that Whole Foods could work on scheduling deliveries to minimize risk to students. However, as to convincing the developer they should set up shop at 100th Street or relocate the loading dock, he said, “We do have power, I don’t know if it is the power you believe we have.”
Sara Vogel can be reached at Sara.Vogel@columbiaspectator.com.