While the neighborhood has been labeled by the press as NIMBYS for protesting a proposed homeless shelter at the Park Savoy Hotel, that is far from the truth. In fact, this community offered to work with the City to make a family shelter a better one with resources for an all purpose room, library or computer lab, and with local residents offering to mentor individuals to help them become more independent. That was all thrown back in their faces when the City moved ahead to put a shelter in an unsafe building, landlocked by residential buildings, on a narrow and densely populated street. Forget for a minute the geographics, and think about the fact that any building used for a homeless shelter should be, first and foremost, safe. The building the City proposes a former Park Savoy Hotel on West 58th Street is not safe and should not be used for a homeless shelter, regardless of the population it serves.
There are many fire safety issues at the Savoy that CANNOT be rectified, thereby putting not only the participants but employees and the community at large in jeopardy. I wanted to make sure that all of the stakeholders have this information because communities count on all of you to protect them, even when you are protecting them from a City agency that has embarked on a reckless path to change the optics of the homeless in our City. The Park Savoy homeless shelter is a fire trap and disaster waiting to happen. The small, narrow, winding staircase (only one staircase in the building, which is illegal), dead-end hallways (illegal) and no sprinklers in the rooms (illegal), could spell the end for many residents in the event of a fire and smoke. The attached pictures are all major city code violations. The floor plans, affidavits from retired firefighters and retired police (along with pictures) are all attached. How could any competent individual or agency approve such a facility and deem it safe?
You have an owner of the building, who will make millions from the city, that has bucked the system by operating a hotel illegally for years and couldn’t even get a permit to be a legitimate hotel from the City because the building had only had one means of egress (illegal). He also ran two restaurants illegally, without sprinklers (illegal). Now the NYC DHS is trying to open this proposed shelter, knowing the safety issues at hand, but choosing to ignore them in order to open a shelter in this location.
I submit the following to support our claim that the Park Savoy proposed shelter plan should be abandoned, and the NYC DHS seriously consider the alternate location that this community put forth, a building deemed safe, based on current building codes, and where a shelter can prosper:
8. The owner of the Park Savoy even removed all of the A/C units. The new residents don’t deserve to be housed in a comfortable environment?
9. There are NO sprinklers in the individual rooms.
10. The narrow dead-end hallways, narrow staircase, the security equipment blocking the doorway, winders on the staircase, tiny elevator, all violate city codes.
11. This is one of the most dangerous buildings in NYC to house the homeless.
12. Smoke would fill the staircase so quick that many panicked residents would trip all over each other and potentially fall to their death. The firefighters would also be in great danger.
13. In order to make this building safe, an additional stairwell would need to be added which exits directly to the street, larger elevator, wider hallways and new staircase without winders. The owner of the building who will make millions from this project does not want to do what is right to make the building safe.
14. The City has tried to argue that this is all grandfathered in. NOT TRUE (see below argument about grandfathering). Also, even if there were such a grandfathering close, should we put lives at risk?
15. When there is fire and lots of smoke, there is very little time to safely exit a building. All of the above makes it almost impossible.
Please read the affidavits attached from fire experts, which are public record.
Lastly, the City’s “grandfathering” argument is meritless for at least five reasons:
First, the law on grandfathering states that where owners of old multiple dwelling buildings affirmatively elect to be bound by the current Codes, they are bound by that election. That is exactly what the building owner here did on multiple occasions in its recent filings with the Department of Buildings.
Second, the law requires a building to comply with modern safety Codes when it undergoes a “change in occupancy,” which occurs when the building will be utilized for a different purpose from its former use. Here, the building owner has admitted that their alterations to the building would constitute a “change in occupancy,” as the building is being converted from permanent apartments to a homeless shelter.
Third, grandfathering is not allowed when a building has undergone a “change in use” under the City’s zoning laws. This building was previously zoned for long-term residences, but homeless shelters are classified under a different zoning group, and thus the building must meet current safety laws.
Fourth, the law has a broad carve out that disallows grandfathering when it the building’s current configuration under the old Codes would endanger “the general safety and public welfare.” Here, multiple fire safety and buildings experts, including a former FDNY Captain, have sworn that this building is a “fire trap, and a disaster waiting to happen.” As the former FDNY Captain (Robert G. Kruper (Ret.)) explained, “the plain and incontrovertible fact is that outdated codes allow for what we now understand are structurally unsafe buildings from a fire safety perspective. This Building has many such features that any responsible fire safety expert would conclude make it dangerous to the safety of its future residents and neighbors, including a single means of egress, lack of direct egress to the street, too-narrow hallway and stairwell exit routes, a winding exit stairway, and inadequate sprinkler systems.” As the neighbors’ experts explained, in! the event of a fire, 150 residents, plus staff, would have to rush down the single staircase (which itself is illegally winding and too-narrow—barely wide enough for one person), all while firefighters struggle to go up the same staircase to fight fires. The City has never even attempted to counter these expert witness statements.
Fifth, the grandfathering laws clearly state that certain fire safety laws must be followed, regardless of the age of the building, especially where there has been work done on the sprinkler system. Here, the building’s sprinkler system does not comply with the current Codes, and the City has argued that only one apartment on each floor needs to have sprinklers—needlessly endangering the lives of residents not lucky enough to be placed in those rooms.
The City has embarked on a reckless plan and hedging their bets hoping that there won’t be a fire at the Park Savoy. Are you willing as decision makers and stakeholders to take that chance with even one life?