Mary Serri is frustrated.
Like many at 2727 Palisade Ave., she is not happy with two sidewalks the city’s transportation department constructed back in 2019. Not that she doesn’t want space for the community to walk, but because she blames those very sidewalks for flood after flood her co-operative is experiencing in recent months.
“We became frustrated our voices went unheard,” she said. “We’re taxpayers. The DOT just plowed ahead with this (and) ignored our request to please stop construction.”
At the time, Serri and others warned DOT if they removed drainage-necessary culverts from the street, the area is going to flood. And it appears those admonitions came true earlier this month after the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered New York, and flooded not only 2727 Palisade, but other properties, too. On top of that, some residents lost their Verizon landline and cable services, because of how the underground wiring was affected.
But while some might point out Ida’s rain was record-breaking, so what should some living in low-lying areas expect, it’s actually the second time the building has been flooded in as many months.
Original DOT work two years ago was meant to address a stop sign issue, Serri said. But city officials decided it was either go big or go home, building what she described as two plaza-like sidewalks.
“The DOT took a very safe corner where there hasn’t been a pedestrian accident or traffic accident in recent years,” Serri said. “It did not warrant the kind of over-scope it received.”
DOT did not return a request for comment.
The moment construction trucks arrived, Serri and husband Robert Harrington joined a grassroots effort called the Coalition to Save the Neighborhood in an effort to stop it. And it wasn’t hard to get support.
“Everybody was really frustrated at that point,” Serri said. “DOT tried to say that we were notified of this project. Residents in all six buildings in the area said they actually weren’t notified.”
In fact, it wasn’t until outlets like The Riverdale Press started airing the group’s views that DOT decided to finally sit down and meet with community members, Serri said.
“It was a meeting that (they) listened to our concerns about the project,” she said. “‘Let’s see what we can do to come to a solution.’”
This work was important, DOT told the group, because it was part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan.
“This is a very safe intersection,” Serri said. “Everybody was really appalled in the lack of transparency in this and community involvement.”
Ultimately, the DOT ignored their request, Serri said — even after her neighbors convinced some of the local electeds to make on-site inspections.
“Elected officials also tried interceding and asked them to stop until the community could get involved and give its input,” Serri said. But instead, “they escalated the project.”
When DOT first presented its plans to Community Board 8, Serri said, the project didn’t appear to be anywhere near as extensive as it ultimately was.
“It just morphed into this monstrosity,” she said.
Serri later joined a working group formed by CB8’s traffic and transportation committee to address the issues they feared would result from this work. The hope was to develop a compromise with DOT before the work moved forward. It never happened.
The problems at 2727 Palisade since are no surprise to Lewis Wunderlich.
“We’ve never experienced rain like this,” he said. “We’ve never had significant flooding like we recently experienced.”
Wunderlich, who has a background in engineering, has lived in the building since 1986. He believes the problem could be the height of the sidewalk, causing rainwater to flow in a curve toward his building as opposed to flowing straight into a catch basin that is designed to collect runoff.
In addition, the sidewalk on the co-op side seems to be lower than that of the newer sidewalk.
Creating even more potential problems with flooding are two transformers Con Edison maintains near the sidewalk. Wunderlich believes they can short circuit in floodwaters, causing the building to lose power.
In video shot by one of 2727 Palisade’s board members, flooding could be seen all along the sidewalks, the building’s entrance, and even streams of water flowing into the lobby.
Water itself is inconvenient enough. But after the June 24 collapse of a residential condominium building in Surfside, Florida, structural integrity has become a big concern for many. But none more than those at 2727 Palisade.
It’s still not confirmed what caused the Surfside collapse, killing 98 people, but Wunderlich says the floodwaters have caused new concern for himself and others who live there.
“We found that water was seeping into our foundation walls into our garage,” he said. Some believe that water intrusion could threaten 2727 Palisade’s structural integrity.
“We’ve never had any water breach this building,” Wunderlich said. “Ever. Not even during Hurricane Sandy.”
When the sidewalk was first under construction, then-DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg visited the site, following similar oversight from Bronx DOT commissioner Nivardo Lopez.
Many thought such attention would bring action. Instead, the transportation department proposed alternative solutions, but has not followed up since May.
Trottenberg has since taken a new job with the Biden administration as the deputy transportation secretary under Pete Buttigieg, while back home, nothing is happening except a fear of another bad rain storm.
“That’s where we stand,” Wunderlich said. “They’ve basically blown us off. Now we’ve had two floods, we’ve lost phone service, and (have) other issues.”
Co-op residents are footing the bill for repairs, but many believe this is a check DOT should be forced to pick up.
“It’s not right what they did,” Serri said. “Now we have to pay for the damages done to our building that’s been caused by their negligence.”