Second Ave. coop files suit over ventilation structures


The planned ventilation structure at 69th St.is now the subject of a federal suit. (Image courtesy of MTA Capital Construction)

After months of wrangling with the MTA over changes to the planned Second Ave. Subway ventilation structures along the Upper East Side, a group of residents has filed suit against the authority in an effort to overturn allegedly illegal modifications to the design.

As Sarah Ryley of The Real Deal reported earlier today, the coop at 233 East. 69th St. has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the MTA did not follow proper environmental review procedures in changing the design for a ventilation structure on the neighboring lot. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against work on this structure and ask for the court to order a proper environmental review, a process that could take up to a year. (For your reading pleasure, the full complaint is available here as a PDF and embedded below.)

Ryley has more on the lawsuit:

The co-op tower filing the lawsuit, 233 East 69th Street, would neighbor the largest planned structure, slated to cover the entire footprint of two lots currently occupied by five-story brick apartment buildings built around the turn of last century. Once the structure is built, eight co-ops would have their easterly facing windows entirely bricked up.

When the MTA presented its renderings of the utility structures at a community board meeting last November, it was difficult to restore order, said Mark Legere, a resident of the 69th Street co-op. “There was just a complete, like a cacophony, of ‘Oh my God, not that!’ sounds.”

The lawsuit hinges on the subway’s Final Environmental Impact Statement approved in 2004, which stated that the structures “would typically be approximately the same size as a typical row house — 25 feet wide, 75 feet deep, and four- to five-stories high, although some may be wider.” Referring to a four-story brick building with faux windows, the document says the structures “could be designed to appear like a neighborhood row house in height, scale, materials and colors.” …

The residents are telling the MTA to redesign the utility structures so they mimic typical row houses, as outlined in the original plan. “Otherwise, if the MTA insists on moving forward with this design change, then it must conduct an additional public environmental review, including a full analysis of the facility’s impacts on the buildings at 233 East 69th Street, and an evaluation of suitable mitigation measures or alternatives to avoid or minimize the facility’s impacts to the greatest extent practicable,” said the residents’ attorney, Michael D. Zarin of Zarin & Steinmetz.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to block the MTA’s planned modifications under federal environmental impact review laws. If successful, this challenge would result in more studies for the Second Ave. Subway. The MTA would have to prepare another Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to “study and mitigate the new significant environmental impacts of the modified 69th St. facility.” This study could take six months to a year to complete.

Despite this suit, construction shouldn’t be delayed along Second Ave. Based on its current schedule, the MTA will not begin soliciting work for the 72nd St. station and its ancillary structures until April 2012, and construction is not slated to begin there until December of the same year. Pending the outcome of the suit, there will be plenty of time to conduct further review.

As of press time, the MTA has yet to comment. I’ll update this post when I hear from them. In the meantime, the full complaint is available after the jump.

Second Ave Subway 69th st complaint

28 Responses to “Second Ave. coop files suit over ventilation structures”

  1. E. Aron says:

    These ventilation structures are really stupid.

    • In what way? They exist all over the city already, but people just don’t notice them. They’re also a needed part of the subway infrastructure.

      • E. Aron says:

        If I remember this correctly, Phase I calls for 8 of these structures. Now if there are 4-5 floor ventilation structures for every 3 miles of subway line, I’m completely wrong on this, but here goes – I believe the idea behind the structures is that they provide climate control on subway platforms? This is completely unnecessary. Passengers can deal with discomfort for a few minutes until their air-conditioned train arrives; we do it every summer.

        The costs for these things is enormous. I don’t have the dollar figure, I’m assuming it’s in the hundreds of millions, but there’s also the cost of displacing people and businesses who, as you’ve covered, aren’t getting comparable living or commercial situations in return.

        Additionally, replacing apartment buildings or whatever is currently in the way of these hideous things will create dead space at the intersections on which they stand, which are already vibrant and promise to be even more lively after the line is built. This is not a good use of prime real estate.

        I understand that ventilation structures are necessary, but if building 8 of these things for subway platform climate control to extend the Q train to 96th St. is really what’s going on, I say save the money and the invaluable asset of a vibrant intersection and build only the amount of structures that are necessary for traditional subway ventilation.

        • Christopher says:

          See this is the argument against all kind of improvements to subway — this idea that NYers are SUPPOSED to suffer. Supposed to not know when our trains arrive. Supposed to swelter in the heat. It’s a horrible argument, especially as our subway system looks further and further behind the best the world has to offer.

          If we really are the greatest city in the world, our subway system should be built to that standard.

          Now, I don’t doubt that these buildings are probably not the best answer to creating climate controlled platforms. And you are right that they deaden the corners.

          But I think it’s okay to say that you know? Maybe our system could be a small step above the very best the 19th century had to offer.

          You know?

          • E. Aron says:

            To me, the benefits pale in comparison to the costs, both for this project and especially countdown clocks. It’s not like there’s plenty of money to go around these days; the money available should be spent prudently.

            Also, I never said anyone is supposed to suffer anything. While we’re on the topic of suffering, how about the hundreds of people that are being evicted to make way for future non-sufferers (for 4 minutes on average) on subway platforms?

            Improvements can and should be made to take the subway out of its current state. The costs of climate controlled platforms and countdown clocks don’t seem worth it. How about cleaning the stations every once in a while and pretty much rebuilding every mile of above-ground tracks for a start?

            • Josh K says:

              The countdown clocks are a side benefit of a larger signals system upgrade for both subways and buses. The main purpose of these systems is to better manage the locations of vehicles. Currently buses work on the “call them on the radio and ask” system, while subways work on the “well we know its somewhere near here because that zone’s track circuit is hot”. These aren’t the best or efficient way to manage a transit system. They were several decades ago.

              The physical countdown clocks are just a small added benefit that uses the data from this new signaling system. In a way, the clocks are what lets the public know that the MTA is making upgrades.

              If the MTA does not upgrade now, it will only cost more in the future. Imagine if the SAS had been built in the 1930’s as originally planned, when the subways made money, before the need for EIS’s, before businesses were well established and before labor costs skyrocketed. These costs are not going to decrease. Let’s get it done now, so that in the future we can spend that money on future expansions.

              • E. Aron says:

                That’s a good argument for the countdown clock system. I’ll tone it down on my arguments against that one.

                Do we really need 8 4-5 floor ventilation structures for every 3 miles of subway track, though?

                • Scott E says:

                  I don’t have the data to say how many we need, but here’s why we need them:
                  1) Climate control is just a small part
                  2) Exhaust of smoke in the event of an emergency. If there’s a tunnel fire, it prevents smoke from entering the stations (causing panic) and clears out the tunnels (aiding firefighters and evacuations).
                  3) They eliminate sidewalk grates, which are a tripping hazard and a huge cause of subway flooding. A tremendous amount of air pressure is generated just by the movement of trains, and it has to be relieved somehow.
                  4) They serve an alternate function as emergency exits from stations. In some cases they are also primary entrances which, unlike present-day entrances, don’t bottleneck sidewalk traffic trying to squeeze around the staircases.

                  Granted, they don’t resemble the rowhouses proposed in the original FEIS. I don’t know the reason for that, nor do I know how many are required or how large they need to be. But there are a number of benefits that you seem to not recognize.

                • AK says:

                  I’m not as charitable as E. Aron re: countdown clocks. They are not a “small added benefit”. In fact, they cost $171 million– the signalling system (which is far more necessary) cost $213 million.


                  It’s not “an add-on”– its a massive project with massive costs in a budget that lacks sufficient dollars for operating expenses.

                  As for the structures, I am also unsympathetic to Christopher’s point. New Yorkers are not “supposed” to suffer, but we should be smart enough to realize the costs/benefits of our civic decisions. Climate control on subway platforms is an enormous luxury. Sure, some of you will say, “But [enter city name] has it!” That’s great. We DON’T HAVE THE MONEY for it. And if we magically did have additional funds, I would much rather those funds go toward structural improvements in the system rather than luxurious items like climate control.

                  And lets not forget that the costs of the above-ground ventilation structures keeps on coming in the form of lost tax revenue. These structures take up some of the most valuable real estate in the City. Say what you will about the Big Dig in Boston, but the ventilation structures for that project (a much larger endeavor than SAS) were placed on the outskirts of the City’s CBD (or, alternatively, worked in as additions to existing structures). Now I realize the structures in the UES can’t be “moved” to a more convenient location, the question thus is whether we should have them at all, or should use sidewalk grates. Of course, as Ben has mentioned in the past, sidewalk grates now violate the city’s building code. The question is why that is so. If they are banned because of leggitimatte safety concerns, then ok. But my suspicion is they are banned for largely “annoyance/aesthetic” reasons. Does anyone have any concrete data on the risks of grates or the legislative history behind the change in teh CIty’s building code to eliminate them?

                  • We DON’T HAVE THE MONEY for it. And if we magically did have additional funds, I would much rather those funds go toward structural improvements in the system rather than luxurious items like climate control.

                    I’m not sure about that point. SAS isn’t lacking for funds. It has a major federal contribution and will be fully funded once the MTA resubmits its next five-year capital plan. A few of you have mentioned that the project doesn’t have the money for climate control and auxiliary structures that, due to more stringent safety requirements now than in the early 20th century, would have to built anyway. That’s simply not the case though. The money is there.

                    • AK says:

                      I like your optimism Ben, but I do not share it when it comes to SAS’s budget. The federal contribution will make Phase 1 a reality, but Phases 2-4, which have no funding commitments will be cast to the wind. Given the state of the federal budget (and the fury over existing debt), it is far from clear that those funding commitments will be forthcoming, even if MTA is brutally efficient in its construction of Phase 1. It is all but certain that lawmakers in the middle of the country will not be able to tell their constituents with a straight face that NYC needs $10 billion additional for a subway line that has air-conditioned platforms.

                    • All we’re doing here though is talking about Phase I structures. Anyway, there’s enough logrolling and pork with the appropriations bill that if mid-country Senators are sending billions are way, their constituents are definitely getting something in return. I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

                    • AK says:

                      I know we’re talking about Phase 1 structures, but my point is that I would much prefer to cut Phase 1 spending to ensure Phase 2-4 completion (or to simply cut costs on the project, which would show people that the MTA actually thinks about the money it spends and never takes taxpayer dollars for granted– can you imagine the public relations opportunities MTA could take advantage of if they returned taxpayer dollars, the agency’s lack of a PR department notwithstanding). Second, while you are realistic to think pork spending will continue, NYC is always under a more powerful microscope, especially now when the angry eyes of the public are focused directly on some of its most powerful institutions.

                  • Andrew says:

                    Sidewalk grates are irrelevant for a line this deep.

          • petey says:

            “See this is the argument against all kind of improvements to subway — this idea that NYers are SUPPOSED to suffer.”

            well some new yorkers, like those at 83rd and 2nd, are getting their homes destroyed for this. are they SUPPOSED to suffer? oh i forgot, it’s for “the greater good”, the nabobs tell us.

            • NIMBYs vs. Nabobs. I’ll side with the latter. We can’t not build stuff any longer just because a handful of people are going to have to be relocated. That’s no way to run a city trying to compete in a global economy.

              • AK says:

                I’m with you on that, Ben, but I am also afraid we are in the minority, as evidenced by the incredible outpouring of anger that occurred in the wake of Kelo (a Supreme Court case invovling eminent domain use in New London, Conn. for the transit, but non-legal nerds in the audience) and the recent Atlantic Yards case that was heard by the New York Court of Appeals.

                The echoes of Moses still distort the public’s views about development in this grand City of ours.

                • Andrew says:

                  I think the concerns many had with Kelo and Atlantic Yards cases were with eminent domain being used to transfer property from private hands to private hands. Eminent domain is always somewhat controversial, I think, but I suspect that a lot more people find its use acceptable for, say, transit facilities.

        • Kai B says:

          You have to remember too that the SAS is mostly being built deep underground, not open cut like most of the rest of the system. If you rather have all of Second Avenue entirely dug up for a few years than maybe a few of these could be removed.

  2. rhywun says:

    I guess deep-tunnel boring was chosen to lessen the impact on the existing structures, so… we have to take these awful things too, whether the platforms have AC or not. BUT for heaven’s sake can’t they at least put some shops or something on the ground floor?? The dead walls these things present to the street is the worst thing about them. Displace people can always be paid to find somewhere else to live. But once you put these blank walls on the street, you cannot replace the lost activity.

    • Russell Warshay says:

      “BUT for heaven’s sake can’t they at least put some shops or something on the ground floor??”

      Exactly. Some retail would take the edge off of these monolithic structures.

  3. Jonathan D. says:

    Woah people, woah! Let’s calm down a second.

    1.) These are being built because the tunnel is bored, not cut and cover, and because there will be no sidewalk grates. They also serve a variety of safety purposes including emergency exists and smoke removal.

    2.) There will be retail in the ground floor of a number of these ventilation structures. This is far more than can be said about many of the other vents/substations now in the city, so I’m not sure I follow the complaints. These other structures are not hidden, but they’ve been around forever, so I guess people just don’t notice. Think about how much you notice the one on Greenwich next to 1 Jackson Sq. for what these “do” to a vibrant neighborhood.

    3.) Very few people and businesses have actually been evicted from the premises (far more were booted with far less assistance for the Fulton St. Trans. Center), and all of them received assistance to move. While you may argue with the quality of the assistance provided by the subcontracted relocation firm, we’re now splitting hairs in a way that is poorly thought out. No one is now on the street because of this.

    4.) This condo in particular has an entire wall of illegal lot line windows. While I feel for the residents who will be losing their illegal windows, I maintain that real estate is the biggest investment almost anyone will ever make in their lives. Not only is it expensive, but it’s your home. You really need to look into these things.

    5.) Compared to the tunneling and station construction/finishing, these structures are designed to be incredibly cheap. It will certainly allow them to be replaced cheaply in the future if necessary, or if a developer offers to buy the site and build incorporating the exhaust. I wouldn’t worry about them being “forever.”

    Thanks for tuning in everyone!

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the clarifications.

      To further clarify on your first point – these structures are being built first and foremost to comply with safety (smoke ventilation) standards. Sidewalk grates won’t cut it for a line this deep – in fact, sidewalk grates might not be up to modern safety standards even for a shallow line.

      Whatever else might be included – emergency exits, air conditioning facilities for stations, retail – are bonuses. Drop them if you like, but the building can’t go away.

      • Christopher says:

        Wow the clarifications here have been astounding and well above my defensive rant. I’d like to note additionally about the sidewalk grates is that I’m fairly certain they are now illegal. The ones that exist are there, but zoning rules now forbid them. So these have to be built.

        Also for all the complaints from the condo board, those buildings next to the example shown above, aren’t particularly attractive condos. And I’m the first to defend contemporary forms of architecture, but honestly? There’s nothing too exciting about the surrounding buildings. In fact that design for the structure is appears to be a nice complement.

  4. herenthere says:

    Personally, I think it does blend into its surroundings with its color scheme and design, but I guess it is a little taller than it was mentioned in the EIS. But let’s reason it out: why would the MTA spend more money to build something bigger than it should be when they don’t have the money to do it? There must be a reason to build it tall-maybe for future expansion of systems, or maybe if this weren’t built, then you might have 2 more smaller structures along the line, creating even more problems.

  5. Think twice says:

    Maybe there would be less opposition if they had half-way decent looking exteriors. And they need to be honest…the rendering is missing giant billboards (A jail-bate American Apparel ad on 69th St and a not-too-subtle homoerotic Calvin Klein one on 2nd Ave).

  6. LOLcat says:

    This is the exact type of project eminent domain should be used for. One that benefits the masses at the cost of a few. The people suing the city should be ashamed that they are holding this project up.


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