Sleepless nights full of pile-driving and jack-hammering have turned into some frustrating days for residents of the Fenway area dealing with around-the-close construction impacts for the Parcel 12/Boylston Street air rights project – a situation that has boiled down to a game of finger pointing between state and City government entities, they said.
The situation erupted after construction started in earnest on the air rights office/retail/lab space building brought by Samuels & Associates that is the first to be built over the Mass Pike in decades. With a building permit being granted in July 2020, and construction starting late last year, this spring season the real work began – and it hasn’t stopped long enough for residents of Fenway Studios, and several other abutting buildings to get a wink of sleep or respite.
Few knew that work would be so intense and throughout the night, neighbors said, and even fewer have been able to get answers and solutions to help mitigate it.
Ellen Haiken of the Fenway Studios lives and works on the top floor of the building facing Boylston Street and Mass Ave. She said she is “Ground Zero” for the noise 24/7.
“I went without a full night’s sleep for almost three months, with the noise not only during the day, but all night also,” she said. “The only lull was during the shift change, from 4 to 7pm. From 9 pm on, the noise – from pounding, pile driving, banging, backhoe beeping, and crashing – got worse and worse, loudly peaking at 1am and continuing until 4 a.m. The lack of sleep has impacted my life, my health, and made me unable to work, since where I live is where I work. I feel that my home has been invaded, and I have no escape. The developer offered me nothing more than acrylic over my window and a very noisy air conditioner to replace my brand new one. And a head wrap. And a white noise thing.”
Dido Thayer, also of Fenway Studios, said many members of their community attended project review meetings and construction planning meetings, and no one mentioned there would be night-time work to such an intensity.
“We have now become a neighborhood under siege by overnight construction, which started roughly nine months ago,” he said. “We are being woken up by the constant intermittent overnight noise, various pounding, dragging, scrapping of barriers, equipment being loaded or moved, beeping trucks as they back up The ill effects of lack of – and interrupted – sleep are well documented.
“We need to know who is responsible for deciding that the residents of our Fenway neighborhood, or residents of any other Boston neighborhoods do not matter, and that our health and well-being are of no concern when it comes to moving forward with development and construction projects in Boston, especially any involving overnight construction,” he continued.
Ed Stitt, also of Fenway Studios, said his workspace is primarily just a work space, though he and his wife have used it in the past for a live-work space. Not long ago, they decided to move back in full-time in order to reduced commute times for his wife and himself. Soon, he said, they noticed jack-hammering close to 11 p.m., and then heavy machinery and then intensely-loud noise all night long.
They soon were in despair, he said.
“One morning I woke up to find that my wife had left in the middle of the night to return home, the prospect of a few hours’ sleep being more palatable than a shorter commute,” he said. “We eventually abandoned any hope of trying to sleep at the studio. Yet, we had the luxury of going to a place where we could get sleep. My heart goes out to those in our building, more, our entire neighborhood, who have no other place to retreat to…The level of noise is unacceptable, especially during the early morning hours. This has been going on for months and this cannot continue.”
The City Inspectional Services Department (ISD) has heard resident complaints from Fenway Studios and from buildings on Newbury Street and Ipswich Street. Spokesperson Lisa Timberlake said ISD and Councilor Kenzie Bok have met with neighbors, and all the concerns were noted, but ultimately they are not in charge of the project. She also said it has been deemed that it would not be practical to do such construction in the day when traffic volumes are just too heavy.
“It’s not under our jurisdiction,” said Timberlake. “At the end of the day, the project is solely overseen by MassDOT and the MBTA. We listened and took notes, but had to refer them back to the state at the end.
“This issue at hand is the practicality and timing of it with heavy traffic during the day,” she continued. “It more practical for that work to take place overnight.”
MassDOT Spokesperson Kristen Pennucci said they carefully permitted the project with the City, and took into account the effects on neighbors. She said after the recent complaints, they will go back and review field data and sound measurements.
“Parcel 12 has advanced with permits from both the City of Boston and MassDOT, with the MassDOT focus primarily focused on the activities on and around I-90,” she said. “From the beginning of the planning process, MassDOT has worked closely with the City to approve a strategy that limits impacts to the neighborhood and I-90 as much as possible. The permit issued by MassDOT has many protective provisions – like noise and vibratory limits. We are in the process of reviewing the complaints and field data, including sound measurements. As this review advances, we will continue to work with the City and the developer on any mitigation strategies that are identified.”
Eric Chivian, who has lived and worked in Fenway Studios for two decades, said they’ve tried all avenues and gotten nowhere. The noise never stops, and quality of life has plummeted.
“I have lived in Fenway Studios with my artist wife for 21 years and have loved living here until now,” he said. “The night-time construction being carried out by Samuels on Parcel 12, which has been going on for several months, and we are told will be going on for several months more, has made life here intolerable. I share the experiences of my colleagues jack-hammers, pile driving, trucks loading and un-loading heavy material and beeping all the time they are backing up all night, almost every night, making sleep difficult, and at times, impossible. This problem is worse during the summer with windows open, or with air conditioners in them unable to block out the noise.”
As a practicing physician and professor at Harvard Medical School, he said the health risks for such noise and sleeplessness are very serious. It leads him to wonder if the Boston building boom is the best thing for those living in Boston.
“Boston is not New York City; it is a small, old city with narrow streets and an inadequate public transit system,” he said. “It is a city of gridlock much of the time, and no place to park. But it is a city where one can see the sky, where you are not walking down wind tunnels like in New York City, like next to the Samuels Pierce Building across the street from the Landmark Center. Is this what the people of Boston want? If not, they should make their voices heard.”