“The status quo is not acceptable,” Windsor Terrace resident June Reich said and looked out at a small crowd gathered on the pews of the International Baptist Church’s sanctuary Monday evening, attendees of which nodded their heads in agreement: The flooding and sewage backup, they said, that has been a disturbance in Windsor Terrace for years, has intensified in recent months, leaving residents to feel a sense of a dread every time storm clouds darken above.
“We have the current problem of sewage coming up through the basement bathroom,” Reich said at Community Board 7’s Parks and Environment Committee meeting Monday. “We haven’t been successful in our attempts to stop that – we put in check valves; I put a stopper in the shower. It’s a difficult and untenable situation, and my neighbors can testify to the extent of the problem. We’re worried the infrastructure can’t handle the increase in inclement weather we’ll be getting, and the new apartment buildings and the new school.”
The new apartment buildings and school to which Reich refers are the incoming developments at 22 Caton Place and 23 Caton Place (which its developer is now calling 33 Caton Place) and PS/IS 437, located at 701 Caton Avenue. The seven-story development at 22 Caton Place, slated to be finished next March, is expected to have 73 residential apartments. The plans for 23 Caton Place are not as well defined, but it will likely include about 126 residential apartments. PS/IS 437 is slated to open to students in September 2015.
Officials from The Hudson Companies, which represents 22 Caton Place, members of the city School Construction Authority, a speaker from the city Department of Environmental Protection, and Councilman Brad Lander were present at the meeting of the CB 7 committee, which convened to address the sewage issues that residents are urging city officials to to finally squelch. Representatives from 23 Caton Place were invited but did not attend – something which community leaders noted happens every time the developer is invited to a community meeting.
Image via The Kestrel
Much of the problem, residents said, centers around the area at Kermit Place and Caton Place in Windsor Terrace.
“We’ve lived on Kermit for three years, and we’ve had it back up three times now,” Farhan Khan said. “This isn’t in the streets, water pooling in the streets – this is water that’s coming back from the city sewer systems. Those main lines weren’t built to support the type of rain we’re getting – and equally not built to support the infrastructure that’s in place now.
“It’s probably for small density population, and now we have these two apartment buildings coming and the school coming,” Khan continued. “The main city sewer lines aren’t large enough in diameter.”
While residents said the sewage problems have been an issue for about a decade, the problem is snowballing.
“When I call professionals to clean it up, they say they can’t because it’s a biohazard – so we’re cleaning it up,” Khan said. “There’s a city system that wasn’t built for this and can no longer handle what’s going on here… Historically this has happened once to twice a year – we’ve had it happen three times this summer.”
Photo of flooding on Kermit Place in July.
Mario Bruno, the assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs at the city DEP, told residents that the city is looking into the issue and noted that the backup could stem from a variety of causes, including grease buildup from restaurants situated along the sewer line.
“Neither (the School Construction Authority) or DEP gives the building permits to build in areas – that’s the responsibility of the Department of Buildings,” Bruno said in reference to residents’ worries that the incoming development will further tax the sewers. “They determine that if the sewer capacity is there, they allow building. But I understand why it’s a concern of yours.”
Bruno said that while the city typically cleans catch basins on a three year schedule “because there’s more than 300,000 catch basins in the city,” he said they’ll conduct more frequent maintenance in areas that receive a high volume of 311 complaints – which he said has not been the case in the area covered by CB 7 (which includes Windsor Terrace and Kensington).
Both the representatives from the SCA and 22 Caton Place said they are working hard to address concerns about the developments’ impact on the neighborhood. At PS/IS 437, the SCA said it will be adding a catch basin on Caton Avenue to collect water and will implement four storm detention tanks on the site.
“Within our site, we’re doing all of the standard moves to maintain the proper limited flow into the city system,” an SCA representative said.
Additionally, the city said will implement planted areas on Caton Avenue, East 7th Street, East 8th Street, and Kermit Place, noting that there will be street tree pits and permeable paving strips on the same roads.
Alison Novak, of The Hudson Companies, said the development at 22 Caton Place will be a LEED certified building, which she stressed means requirements for water efficiency.
Image via The Hudson Companies
“They say that a sink should have a flow that’s no more than two gallons per minute – ours will be no more than 1.5 gallons per minute, so that’s pretty good,” Novak said. “For toilets, we’re doing dual flush toilets. We have roof retention. There are drains on the roof.”
The planned landscaping too should help to absorb water, Novak said.
“We’ll have gardens on our roof for tenants of the building” she said. “For the street we’ll have tree pits.”
Thanking the DEP, The Hudson Companies, and the SCA for attending the meeting, Lander pointed out that “22 Caton has come every time we’ve asked them to a meeting, and 23 Caton has not come once.”
“It’s helpful to have a dialogue and hear the complaints,” Lander said. “We’ll work with you as best we can to figure out what’s going on here.”