By Daniel Krieger
The residents of 255 West 95th Street have been living in an olfactory environment dominated by the odors of hamburgers and french fries and grease.
This began in April, when the rooftop exhaust fan of the McDonald’s next door to them was pointed at their building after being turned away from 96+Broadway, a 23-story building that is adjacent and cantilevered above it. (The vent had been too close to the new building.)
Like many denizens of the Upper West Side, the residents of 255 West 95th have had to learn to live with the effects of the luxury high-rise construction boom that has swept across the neighborhood in recent years — bringing constant noise and disruption. But this particular effect has been too much to bear.
WSR recently spoke to some of the residents of 255, a six-story co-op built in 1908, who shared how that single decision has impacted their lives.
“When they first pointed the vent at our building in April, it was horrendous,” said Kety Huberman, 59, a scientist who has lived there for 29 years and is the co-op board president. “Even if you like McDonald’s, it was horrendous.”
Everyone in the tight-knit community started complaining about the fumes that were wrapping around the building and seeping into it and them. Eugene McMichael, a 70-year-old semi-retired RN who has lived there for 27 years, took one of the leadership roles in the campaign to get the vent moved.
“Sometimes you can identify the food,” he said. “Some mornings I wake up to the smells of Egg McMuffins and sausages, and at night if my bedroom window is open, I can sometimes smell grease.”
“This morning I smelled fries,” said his partner, José Londono, 57, a landscape designer. He explained that though he does not have a keen sense of smell, the unwanted odors still hit him. “If I can smell it, it has to be potent,” he said.
This McDonald’s operates 24 hours a day, but the effluvium fluctuates depending on what’s happening in the kitchen as well as which way the wind is blowing.
“We’ve intermittently been inundated with the smells, and we suffer,” said Terry Edmonds, who has been active along with McMichael in the effort to solve this. A 73-year-old retired speech writer who has resided there for six years, Edmunds put together a package of materials with McMichael that includes photos and a list of complaints from neighbors, describing the need to keep the windows closed; the nauseating stench; and how the odors have permeated their apartments.
They filed a 311 complaint to no avail. They contacted Gale Brewer’s office in June, and her director of communications, Edward Amador, took up the cause and reached out to McDonald’s, the developer and city agencies, without success. The residents contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Buildings, and the Department of Health, all of which said there was nothing they could do. They learned that it’s legal in New York City to engulf a building with noxious exhaust fumes as long as the building code is followed, and they were told that in this case the code was followed. But the residents feel that it still isn’t right.
“One of the roles of our office is to ensure that businesses, be it a small business or a chain franchise like McDonald’s, are being good neighbors,” said Amador in a recent phone interview. “And we believe that there’s a serious quality of life issue here.”
In early summer, a half measure was taken when the angle of the vent was tilted roughly 45° so that it doesn’t hit 255 directly. McMichael called this “a partial solution but not the solution. It was reduced, but even this morning I opened the window and I could smell the McDonald’s odors.”
This is why the residents’ steadfast request is to move the vent away from them, doing what McDonald’s neighbor, the pizza joint, La Vera, does. La Vera runs its vent pipe up its taller building to the roof where the exhaust gets released to the open sky, which is where McDonald’s vent used to point before 96+Broadway altered the landscape.
Kety Huberman, the board president, has been speaking with a representative of the developer, JVP Management, who she said has been responsive. From their conversations, she got the impression that the developer is in charge of dealing with the vent matter.
“I don’t get the feeling that this is a resolved issue for them,” she said. “I think there’s something in the works, but I just don’t know what it is.”
WSR reached out to McDonald’s, but the company declined to comment on the record. JVP Management and the builder they hired, Leeding Builders Group, did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment.
The 255 residents are frustrated with the glacial pace of this process. “This should be easily resolved,” said Jack Stoerger, a 59-year-old paralegal who has lived in the building for 12 years. “This should not be a complicated matter.”
In his view, whoever is making the decisions about the vent has not made a good faith effort to solve the issue that he believes will not even cost much.
“You’re neighbors, for God’s sakes,” he said with exasperation, addressing McDonald’s. “You’re neighbors!”
He added that he didn’t think that potential buyers of 96+Broadway’s multi-million dollar condos would appreciate the stench of McDonald’s exhaust that now could possibly be reaching that building as well. “It’s based on the airstream,” he said. “If it comes from the north we get the exhaust, but if the airstream comes from the south, they get it.”
Since 96+Broadway’s units have just gone on sale, Stoerger’s hope is that that might bring about a quick resolution. Asked if the problem gets fixed to his satisfaction whether he would go back to McDonald’s, he said he would end his boycott.
“I will make the peace with a Big Mac and fries,” he said.