Every New Yorker knows the sound: the metal-on-metal clang, the hollow boom, the piercing beeps of a truck moving in reverse. A glance at the alarm clock and you can hardly believe it: it’s the middle of the night, and yet construction carries on full-tilt.
You can call 311 or your local police precinct, but chances are the work is being done legally -- thanks to a boom in the number of after-hours construction permits throughout the city.
Over the past three years, the number of after-hours work permits granted by the city’s Dept. of Buildings has jumped 30 percent, according to DOB data provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The city classifies any construction work between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., or on the weekend, as after-hours.
The surge in permits has generated millions of dollars in fees for the city agency, and left some residents convinced that the application process is a mere formality for developers looking to complete their projects quickly.
“They pick out their own hours,” said Mildred Angelo, who lives on the 19th floor in one of the Ruppert Houses on 92nd Street between Second and Third avenues. She said there’s an ongoing all-hours construction project nearby where workers constantly make noise transferring cement from trucks. “They do whatever they want. They can come and go as they please. They have no respect.”
The increased issuance of these variances has led to a corresponding increase in revenue for the DOB. In 2014, the department made $16,628,530 off the issuance of after-hours work variances, a 33 percent increase from 2012. A DOB spokesperson denied the variance increase is tied to any budget initiatives, and said money earned from permit issuance is put into the city’s general fund. The DOB’s annual budget in 2014 was $107 million, an 11 percent increase from 2012.
According to DOB’s website, variances cost anywhere from $100 for a one- to three-day permit to $500 for 13-14 days of work. Applicants can extend a variance based on their needs.
“When an applicant files for an after-hour variance, they are making the justification based upon the specific type of work they are doing,” said a DOB spokesperson. “This means, they must provide a public safety or need, or similar type of justification for the variance.”
According to the spokesperson, reasons for DOB granting an after-hours work variance include work done at schools outside of regular hours to insure student safety, high-risk work done adjacent to public spaces, work that could adversely affect traffic if done during normal waking hours, and projects where expediency benefits a public good.
None of those justifications are likely to matter to Jane Bonia, who says that noise from the all-night project near her home on East 51st Street and 2nd Avenue kept her up all night long. “It started around 8 p.m. and went until 6 a.m,” said Bonia. “They would bang on metal all night long, and there was no way I was able to get any sleep.”
Bonia recently returned home after an extended stay in the hospital, and hasn’t heard any overnight construction for the past week or so, but she said that it made her “damn mad” when the noise was keeping her up.
“I don’t they should be building overnight,” said Bonia. “I think these buildings should have a certain schedule and stick to it and get the job done during people’s waking hours, and not work past 8 or 9 p.m.”
On the Upper East Side, the DOB increased its approval of after-hours work applications 35 percent between 2012 and 2014, with the most significant increase found in residential construction.
According to the New York Building Congress, a trade group, the DOB authorized construction of 20,329 residential units in 1,513 buildings in 2014, an 11 percent increase (in units) from 2013. In the same period, the number of after-hours work variances went up 15 percent for all types of construction, including commercial and public construction.
The uptick in after-hours construction has not escaped the notice of local elected officials. Last year, Upper East Side Councilmember Dan Garodnick introduced a bill with Councilmember Rosie Mendez designed to cut down on the number of permits that are granted. The bill would also make more transparent the city’s reasoning when a 24-hour work permit is granted and would notify residents sooner when after-hours work is slated to begin.
On the Upper West Side, the DOB has increased the issuance of its variances by 31 percent from 2012 to 2014, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Informationn Act. The increase in residential construction is also apparent in the neighborhood, with 637 after-hours work variances being granted in 2012 compared to 1,107 in 2014, according to DOB data.
In Lower Manhattan the trend is even more pronounced. In TriBeCa and the Financial District, the DOB granted 4,144 after-hours work variances, a 38 percent increase from 2012. In Chinatown, the East Village and the Lower East Side, DOB granted 1,207 variances, a 26 percent increase from 2012. In Greenwich Village, the West Village, SoHo and NoHo, the DOB granted 2,655 variances, also a 36 percent increase from 2012.