A plan to build a new two-story school building for autistic children with parking in the cellar has been unanimously voted down by Community Board 8. The building would have sat at 680 West 232 St. at the corner of Independence Avenue.
Board members and local residents had several concerns ranging from traffic congestion in an already busy area, protection of top soil and potential runoff damage.
The excavation of the cellar would have been 8 to 10 feet, with the first floor at 188 feet and the garage at 178.5 feet, Hal Dorfman, the architect for the proposed school, said at CB8’s Land Use Committee Oct. 18 meeting.
When asked by CB8 land use committee chair Charles Moerdler what Dorfman had done to deal with stormwater impacting the topography at the site of the excavation, he answered they had a civil engineer design a storm drainage system. However, while that application has been filed, he said, it has not yet been certified by the city.
“The fees have been paid. The drawings have been done. It’s been through many reviews and it’s in the process of being approved,” Dorfman said at the meeting. “And that is not what I’m here to answer questions about. I’m here to direct you to answer questions if you have any about the Special Natural Area District features.”
One resident brought up how on a regular morning it is already difficult for families to leave their driveways as parents are dropping their kids off at P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. In addition, construction on Henry Hudson Parkway has necessitated rearranging bus lines and commuter pathways that have led to traffic increase and incidents, the resident said in a letter read by Moerdler. Having a new school would only further increase accidents, the resident feared.
Destruction of trees was another topic discussed, with Dorfman saying one large pin oak tree would have to be removed in the construction process.
“It’s the chicken and the egg,” Dorfman said, referencing an earlier analogy from Moerdler. “I can’t design a building unless I move the tree but we are mitigating it by planting 10 new trees on the site.”
However, that oak tree wouldn’t be the only tree potentially destroyed, said Sura Jesselsohn, a Riverdale resident with a property in the backyard of the proposed school. Since she moved there in 1981, she has giving routine care to a large red oak tree. She warned that construction in the backyard would destroy the tree’s critical root zone and would almost guarantee its death.
The tree is about 125 years old, an arborist told her, with it potentially being able to live to about 300 years. The prospect of losing the beloved tree “willy-nilly” to construction devastated her.
“I used to joke with people that the tree is the true owner of our property and we’re just renters,” Jesselsohn said. “That’s how magnificent and wonderful it is and I invite anybody, including Hal Dorfman, to come and see that tree and see the condition it’s in so that is an issue that really really really should not be sort of casually ignored.”
Dorfman acknowledged the tree was on Jesselsohn’s property, however was not certain whether construction would destroy the tree or not.
“Please don’t treat us as fools,” Jesselsohn told Dorfman. “You know quite well where the position of the tree is and, if you don’t, you should. You know enough about construction; you’re a licensed architect. You know exactly what you can and cannot do in the proximity of a large tree. I’m sorry to be so pointed but please don’t tell me it’s on my property and therefore of no concern to you.”
The architect told Jesselsohn if she’d like to put something in writing and submit it to the board as part of the comments to city planning, he’s sure they’ll address it with their staff. Dorfman said he would ask his client about whether he’d be interested in working with Jesselsohn on protecting the root structure of the tree.
When asked about what efforts had been made to ensure adjacent properties were not damaged by potential runoff damage during the building, Dorfman said contractors are required to put up silt containment fences during construction. He also mentioned the building having a water retention roof to capture water and a detention tank to control and release water to the adjacent sewer.
The lack of an approved engineering plan for that system did not give much hope to Moerdler. In addition, as brought up in the prior land use committee meeting, there exists a restrictive covenant that limits the use of the property to a one-family residence. For that, and the many reasons listed by Moerdler and community, the application did not pass muster.
A proposed two-story school dormitory on 4800 Independence Ave. and the corner of West 249th St. was also not approved by the board due to Dorfman’s failure of notifying adjacent property owners and tenants within 200 feet of the property line.
, despite being requested to at a prior meeting.
On Oct. 24, CB8 held a meeting to discuss a proposed 547-seat public school at the site of Van Cortlandt Motel, which is currently being used to house migrants. The school is supposedly to be built by 2028.