By Maria Rocha-Buschel
In their recent monthly meeting on September 10, Community Board 6’s Land Use and Waterfront committee members were blindsided by news that the city is trying to move forward with the plan for a sanitation garage that has been proposed for East 25th Street and First Avenue, in the middle of what is known as Bedpan Alley.
Community members and local elected officials have been fighting against the plan since it was announced by the Department of Sanitation the end of 2012 and although former Mayor Bloomberg seemed intent on pushing the proposal through before he left office, it has mostly been on hold since the change of administration.
However, that hiatus is seemingly over, as committee chair Terry O’Neal announced that the department has aggressively been trying to put the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) proceeding through to assess the area’s land use and even tried to get it done during the community board’s summer recess.
He noted that DSNY had informed local elected officials during the summer that they would be submitting two ULURPs and are attempting to submit them by the end of this month. The area on which DSNY is attempting to build the garage is not currently zoned for industrial use and if the ULURP goes through, the city will have one less obstacle for the proposal.
Committee members were frustrated that an emergency meeting had not been called during the summer to address the issue, and O’Neal noted that the executive committee had met to discuss the proposal and consider a possible course of action.
As in the past efforts in opposition to the sanitation garage, the committee is primarily working on coming up with alternative uses for the space. The community board has formed a separate steering committee with representatives from the communities surrounding the Brookdale campus, which is the intended garage site, including Stuyvesant Town and Waterside Plaza. In light of the recent push from DSNY to move the plan forward more quickly, Community Board 6 is seeking an outside opinion from consulting firm BPJ Planning to come up with an alternative proposal.
Jonathan Martin, a lead urban designer at BPJ Planning, is the project manager for the study, which will offer a detailed analysis of the context and background of the plan, including the plausibility of DSNY’s proposal, as well as two alternative schemes for the site.
Martin, along with members of the Community Board and representatives from local elected officials, took a brief tour of the Brookdale Campus facility last Friday. Stuyvesant Town resident and Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who went on the tour on behalf of the committee’s Stuy Town representative Dawn Davis, said that there seemed to be some miscommunication about what the point of the facility tour was.
“They didn’t realize it was going to be a bunch of people,” Steinberg said, adding that she herself didn’t realize that the trip would include going inside the building. “I thought we were just going to walk around the outside and get some ideas on what they might do,” she said.
Community residents who attended the tour had their own suggestions for what they feel the space should be used for. Peter Goodman, an East Midtown Plaza resident and public education advocate, is pushing for the property to become a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech), which is an early college high school program that allows students to complete two years of college. There is currently one P-Tech in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
“This would be a perfect place for another P-Tech because it could focus on the medical sciences,” Goodman argued.
Steinberg agreed that using the space for medical-related purposes would be ideal and if not that, residential space, or a combination of the two.
“Some of the ideas are housing for doctors or housing for people who are visiting long-term patients at the nearby hospitals,” she said. “It could also be affordable housing for seniors. We generally want to keep it medical-related or residential.”
Martin confirmed that the tour on Friday was mainly a fact-finding mission, noting that it was important to see the area around the outside of the building for context on the surrounding neighborhood.
“It was mostly to gather information from the people who know about this issue and connect everything together for them,” Martin said. “We’re also working out schemes for adaptable reuse or new construction, or a combination of both. And it’s helpful seeing the space and to see what might be more beneficial, to know what can be sacrificed and what can stay.”
Land Use and Waterfront committee chair Terry O’Neal said that there will be another steering committee meeting in about a week but the meeting will not be open to the public. Martin is planning to present a preliminary presentation with themes and concepts by next month’s Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting.