chapin school faces another hurdle

| 08 Feb 2016 | 05:53

A condo building in Yorkville is suing the Chapin School over an expansion project that would add three floors to the school’s building at 100 East End Ave.

The board of directors at 90 East End Ave., which sits across 84th Street from the Chapin School, filed a proceeding Jan. 27 against the school, the Department of Buildings and the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The suit seeks to rescind the BSA’s awarding to Chapin variances it required to move forward with the expansion and the DOB’s issuance of after-hours work permits to the school.

Chapin is looking to add three floors comprising a glass-encased gym on the top level, and floors for locker rooms and performance art space beneath that, to its existing eight-story building. Last summer the school worked overtime on its basement-level cafeteria space, with nighttime construction hours that locals said caused disruptive noise and cable and phone outages.

Community Board 8 rejected Chapin’s application outright last January, citing concerns with the construction schedule and increased traffic congestion. The board also cited its apprehension at how the building would look upon completion. But the school forged ahead with its application to the BSA, which granted permission for Chapin to move forward with the project as long as it complies with certain requirements, such as installing a sidewalk shed to reduce noise from construction work.

The condo board’s Article 78 action – a proceeding used to challenge decisions made by a city or state agency – alleges Chapin disregarded public review processes “at every turn in order to pursue the construction and meet its self-imposed schedule,” and that the DOB and BSA enabled them to do so by making “irrational and unlawful determinations that should be overturned.”

At issue is whether the city should have considered Chapin’s cafeteria work on the lower floors, which the school maintains is as of right and outside the scope of any public review, as part of their larger application to add three floors to their building.

The condo board’s lawyer contends that BSA improperly excluded the cafeteria work on the lower floors from the larger application, and in so doing illegally circumvented environmental and public review regulations, thereby depriving the wider community of protections provided by the public review process, known as the State Environmental Quality Review and City Environmental Quality Review.

“The purpose of [the review process] is the identification and disclosure of potentially adverse impacts so that alternatives or remedial steps to protect the environment may be taken if necessary,” the suit says. “[The city and state reviews] are implemented through specific procedures and regulations that must be strictly followed, but were not followed, depriving petitioners of the protections that [the reviews] are intended to provide.”

The suit also says DOB improperly granted Chapin after-hours work variances, and cites the city building code that says construction may only occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. for emergency work, public safety, city construction projects and for construction activities with minimal noise impacts.

Chapin has said previously that last summer’s after-hours construction was necessary to get the new cafeteria completed before the school opened for the year.

The suit argues as well that Chapin’s application to the BSA does not meet the requirements for obtaining the variances they eventually received from the agency, which concern unique physical conditions of a given building and an owner’s ability to earn a reasonable return on their property.

The suit says that quality of life for residents at 90 East End Ave. has been “greatly diminished” since construction began. “The residents are dealing with an increase in noise, vibrations, dust and traffic.” Ron Jacobs, who is named in the Article 78 as a petitioner and board member of 90 East End Ave., said he could not comment on the case before speaking with the board.

A spokesperson for the Chapin School said the condo board has no case.

“This litigation is without merit, and the school continues to coordinate closely with our neighbors to make sure the project proceeds smoothly and with the least amount of inconvenience,” said the spokesperson.

A BSA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation and referred inquiries to the city’s Law Department, which did not return the request for comment. The DOB did not return a request for comment.

Late last year a coalition of Yorkville residents attempting to stop Chapin’s expansion, efforts that included testifying at BSA hearings and CB8 meetings as well as writing letters to the BSA and DOB, were dealt a blow when the BSA granted Chapin the needed variances. In November, the coalition, which is separate from the board at 90 East End Ave., indicated they were shifting their efforts to finding ways they can limit the disruption caused by the expansion.

The coalition’s main objective now, according to local resident Lisa Paule, is securing a guarantee of no weekend or evening work from the school. They also want guarantees of proper hazardous waste removal, limited idling by work trucks and a quiet construction elevator. A noisy construction elevator was a constant nuisance during a 2008 expansion at Chapin, according to Paule.

A construction advisory group, headed by the offices of Councilman Ben Kallos and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, is being organized to work with the school and surrounding community.

“A CAG meeting has not yet been put on the calendar, but we are being told that the first meeting will likely take place in early- to mid-March,” said Cali Madia, a spokesperson for Seawright.

Chapin officials have signaled their willingness to participate in the construction group, and a spokesperson said the school expressed publicly a desire to meet with the community on these issues since the process began.

“The school is committed to being a good neighbor, working with Councilmember Ben Kallos, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, Community Board 8 and its Chair Jim Clynes and other key stakeholders to develop the most effective structure to ensure meaningful community engagement as this important project moves forward,” the Chapin spokesperson said.

Paule said she welcomes Chapin’s involvement in the CAG but wants to see substantive concessions afforded to the community during construction.

“If it’s not action-oriented that I don’t know what we’re doing here,” she said. “We don’t want to talk if it’s going to be about the scope of work or how great Chapin is. We welcome Chapin’s involvement but we’re looking for results.”

Paule also applauded the proceeding filed by the condo board.

“[It’s] important,” she said. “It demonstrates that residents have rights, that there are laws in place to protect these rights and quality of life of community members, and that the BSA cannot willfully disregard the rights, safety and security of residents in making decisions that compromise the community.”