Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Trump kills. . . with an assist from the city

As many have probably heard by now, an accident Monday at the Trump SoHo construction site killed one man—a married father from the Ukraine who fell some 42 stories—and injured several others. Though I live only about three minutes from the scene, I can add little to the facts reported by Jen Chung at Gothamist and Sewell Chan at the NYT’s CityRoom. Both stories are also illustrated with evocative and disturbing photos.

And I think that Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation pretty much sums up my feelings about the accident (though he is probably more polite than I would have been):

First and foremost, our thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy and their families and loved ones. But this is a tragedy that never should have happened. This building was illegal and never should have been approved by the City. But the City bent over backwards to push it through, and then the developers worked at lightning speed to get the building up while the legal challenge has been making its way through the system. This building was already a monument to greed and hubris; now, sadly, it will be a monument to tragedy as well.

What Berman alludes to and the news stories gloss over is that the developers of this massive tower (at 45 stories, it will be the tallest building between the financial district and midtown) created the sham designation of a “Condo Hotel” to get around the area’s zoning—which would have prohibited a residential building anywhere near this size. But at every juncture, the city, its institutions, and its leadership looked the other way, or, in many cases, helped push through this shameful project.

Further—while it should never have been approved, the project certainly should have been stopped once excavation began. It turns out, Trump and his backers, Bayrock and Sapir, are building on a burial ground.

Until the early 1960’s, a large portion of this site was home to a Presbyterian Church and its graveyard—one of the very first racially integrated graveyards in the country. When bones were unearthed early in the construction, the project should have been shut down, and the site should have been excavated by archeologists and preserved as a sacred and historical site.

But little is sacred in Michael Bloomberg’s New York. Little except, of course, the almighty dollar. The unprecedented and largely unchecked construction boom of this century has been welcomed and shepherded by Bloomberg under the oft-repeated excuse that he means to “revitalize” the city.

I, for one, think that NYC is pretty effin’ vital, and would be a lot more so if not for the rampant mall-ing initiated by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and perpetuated by the current mayor.

Indeed, it is Bloomberg and his appointees at the Department of Buildings and the Board of Standards and Appeals (among others) that have bent over for mega-developers like Trump, unleashing shoddy, ugly, illegal, unnecessary, and un-contextual developments on some of the city’s most treasured neighborhoods.

And things don’t look like they are going to get better anytime soon.

Christine Quinn, who is the Speaker of the New York City Council and the councilmember representing the district that includes Trump’s murderous building, has been basically AWOL on this issue. Though the community has appealed repeatedly to Quinn’s office for help in defending the quality of the neighborhood and integrity of our laws, the Speaker has stonewalled, foot-dragged, and triangulated her way through the confrontation—selling out her constituency so as not to offend real estate interests that will no doubt play a large part in financing Quinn’s all-but-declared run for mayor when Bloomberg moves on.

Take a look at Quinn’s statement on Monday’s tragedy:

I want to express my deepest condolences to the family of the worker who was killed in today’s accident at the Trump Soho construction site, and my thoughts and prayers remain with the two others who remain injured at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I continue to monitor the situation closely, and we will remain in close contact with the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Buildings, and all other relevant agencies as we work to determine the cause of this terrible accident, and to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Do you see even an ounce of leadership in that statement? It is an army of words in search of a purpose. It is fence-sitting claptrap that might even make our junior senator blush.

Contrast Quinn’s statement, if you will, with that of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

The accident at the new hotel at 246 Spring Street is another example of the dangerous conditions created by rushed construction in Manhattan. My office did an initial investigation of violations at the site and discovered that there were two Class A violations issued on Oct. 26, 2007. These violations are considered high risk. However, the construction was allowed to continue unchecked and the Environmental Control Board hearing to review the violations was not scheduled until Jan. 24, 2008.

This is unacceptable. The death and injury of construction workers and the compromised safety of emergency responders and surrounding community should not be considered the cost of doing business in Manhattan. Any type of high risk violation should necessitate a halt of unsafe work until the violation is cured. I will continue to investigate this matter and look to see rapid response from all relevant city agencies. I applaud the fire, police and other emergency responders for their bravery and for putting themselves at risk to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers.

The Times reports that the Trump project has actually accrued 11 construction-related citations since construction began last May. And yet, in every case, construction was allowed to continue. After all, there are a couple of very viable lawsuits against this project (that have themselves been repeatedly stalled by the city) awaiting their day in court, and Mayor Mike, his commissioners, and his wannabe successor can’t have the law getting in the way of another monument to their greed and hubris.

(cross-posted on guy2k)

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