A Kumbaya moment earlier this year between frustrated Southenders and City Hall on a policy for weekend and after-hours construction work has been spoiled for many in the neighborhood by what they say is a reversal of that perfect harmony.
City officials, however, including ISD Commissioner Buddy Christopher said nothing has changed and no precedent has been set by recent work approvals at The Smith (formerly Harrison Albany Block). He said recent approvals are only part of the special circumstances detailed in the policy.
The Smith had requested after-hours work until 10 p.m. through April last month to do concrete pours that need to go beyond the regular workday, but the community pushed back strongly. Christopher said they compromised and will pour half of a floor instead of an entire floor. He has approved the after-hours permit for them, he said, until 9 p.m. three days a week through December. At some point in December, he said they would assess the situation and see if the after-hours permits are appropriate to continue through the spring.
“Based on what they’re doing and what else is going on, I will allow some of these to take place,” said Christopher. “They are discretionary. They are based on my experience and the knowledge of others I talk to. At no time is it precedent setting.”
Others disagree, such as South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox and several abutters.
Fox said in his discussions with abutters, they felt that Christopher did not follow up on what was said at a contentious and packed meeting last month on the issue. The consensus from that meeting was that weekend work and after-hours work should be rare, and certainly not several times a week.
With the recent approvals for The Smith, many neighbors wondered just what it was that was agreed to last month.
“We think the decision making process allowed a commitment that no after-hours permits would be granted without community support – and there is none here – and to grant it now is a bit of a slap in the face,” said Fox. “That’s the way many in the South End tell me they feel about this. We feel it’s important to revisit this and find out if this is the way the decisions will be made going forward.”
Christopher said he is still in line with the policy set up earlier this year with the South End that would require any weekend work or after-hours work to be approved by him under emergency circumstances or extraordinary circumstances – along with community notification. In the meeting last month, where more than 100 residents attended, Christopher said as much, but he also alluded to circumstances surrounding monolith concrete pouring, which can take longer than one work day.
He said that is what has happened here at The Smith. He said in order for the concrete pours to be effective, it can take more than a regular work day. The contractor, Suffolk Construction, said in last month’s meeting that they would like to have finishers stay on the job late using three machines that operated at the sound level of a lawnmower.
That wasn’t a popular plan with the neighborhood, and remains unpopular now as well, neighbors said.
“They’ve looked at it and they know what they’re doing,” he said. “As opposed to a weekend permit, I’ve let them work to 9 p.m. Their goal is to be out of there by 6 p.m., but concrete is unpredictable. The latest buffers will work is 9 p.m.”
Meanwhile, Christopher said Suffolk is looking at using a finishing machine that runs on propane, which would cut the noise substantially. They are also installing sound screens to help keep the noise contained.
Christopher said they would be notifying everyone one week in advance of any permits issued after-hours or on the weekend, as per the policy. He also said that many of the problems he hears about comes from illegal work.
“We put a lot of resources into this,” he said. “In the South End, there isn’t a lot of weekend work going on, but there is a lot of illegal work, and we do whatever we can to catch that and stop it.”