Gary Oliver probably had enough on his mind heading into the holidays. But things took a turn for the worse when the city took a blade to the street in front of his Greystone Avenue building.
As superintendent for Greystone Manor across the street from Fieldston Lower School, Oliver tends to the building’s 124 apartments. He took extra care to keep the place clean and tidy leading up to Thanksgiving. But the city was making a royal mess in front of the building Nov. 20, Oliver said, cutting into the street in preparation for upcoming water mains and sewer upgrades.
Several inches of mud already had piled up in front of the Greystone residence, Oliver said, thanks to workers using a wet saw to slice into the asphalt, creating what he compared to a “a cement paste,” a grimy, sludgy mess of asphalt, dirt and water.
“To be doing this before Thanksgiving and Christmas, and to have three or four inches of mud and no one cleaning it, all that water gets cut into the blacktop and it’s going to come into the building” from people tracking it inside, Oliver said. “It’s going to make it a nightmare to come into the building.”
What also irks Oliver is why the city chose to start cutting what appears to be weeks before its actual water main work commences. “All I know is they’ve left a mess.”
Yet, squalor and poor scheduling weren’t Oliver’s sole beefs. Residents claim they were blindsided with parking tickets in early November for violating altered restrictions they received insufficient notice for. Not to mention construction vehicles’ presence exacerbated an already tight daily competition for spots.
Kristina Ward, who’s lived in the building for more than a year, claims she and several dozen others were issued tickets between Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, barely an hour after no-parking signs went up.
The contractor — New Jersey-based J.R. Cruz Corp. — “were contracted by local government to do work, and their behavior was absolutely reckless,” Ward said. “They didn’t do their due diligence, which is post signs, give people notice.”
“They have no regard for the people living here,” Oliver added, pointing to the muck splattered onto sides of parked cars. “They have no regard at all for the neighborhood and for the maintenance of it.”
The company’s project supervisor declined to comment, referring a reporter to the city’s design and construction department.
DDC has done what it can to make the experience less unpleasant for residents, asking J.R. Cruz to contain slurry that results from water-lubricated cutting with a circular saw, said spokesman Ian Michaels. The $16.4 million construction — to replace water mains and sewers — is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. It affects two separate areas, including streets east of Riverdale Avenue and south of Manhattan College, as well as a smaller section of North Riverdale.
“It will be less messy going forward,” Michaels said.
“We try to get contracts done as quickly as possible. If projects are delayed, people are not happy.”
DDC tries to avoid unnecessary parking restrictions, Michaels added. “To the average person on the street, it may not be apparent why the restrictions are in place, but we try to make them as least restrictive as possible.”
DDC also provides a community construction liaison — more than 100 citywide — whose job is to address resident concerns, give multiple updates ahead of utility shutdowns, and updates residents throughout the project on what’s being accomplished and whom to call if there’s a problem.
“We know that construction is hard to live with and we want to make it easier for people,” Michaels said.
DDC’s infrastructure division is cranking out more than 600 projects at the moment, Michaels said, some for more than $100 million, while others are much smaller, depending on what needs to be fixed or upgraded.
As for parking tickets, J.R. Cruz did in fact give very short notice before imposing restrictions on Greystone between West 238th and West 242nd streets, Michaels said.
Not only that, but the no-parking signs went up after some residents already had legally parked there, prompting DDC to issue a letter ticketed residents could take to a judge pleading for clemency as a “gesture of goodwill.”
While Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz acknowledges the work is necessary, he called the parking snafu “egregious.”
“Tickets were issued by predatory traffic agents,” Dinowitz said. “There is no way it didn’t dawn on them that if everybody on the block is parked illegally, maybe there’s something else going on. They have discretion not to give out tickets.”
This is far from the first time residents have grappled with the bane of onerous utility work, including streets torn up weeks after they’d been repaved, as happened last summer on a section of Johnson Avenue. Still, DDC — and other agencies, including the city’s transportation department and Con Edison — could do a better job, Dinowitz said, not just giving ample notice about parking restrictions, but mopping up messes and being a little friendlier.
“There is absolutely no excuse for anybody to be nasty,” Dinowitz said. “This (is) all work that needs to be done, but it should be done with the least impact on people as possible. Parking is much harder when all those spots have disappeared. It’s already very frustrating for people.”
But residents also need to realize upgrades come with a sacrifice, said a J.R. Cruz worker who identified himself only as “Dominic,” refusing to reveal his last name or title.
“These people want new pipes and new streets, but they don’t want construction,” he said while appearing to be overseeing the job. “We can’t come from the sky. If you get the benefits, you have to suffer a little. The only thing (residents) care about is the service.”
And to J.R. Cruz’s credit, when Oliver begged Dominic to clean up Nov. 21, his crew complied.
“At least they flushed out the curb,” Oliver said. “It’s as good as we’re going to get it. (J.R. Cruz) got the message that we’re watching them.
“They needed to clean up, and they did. I’m glad about that.”