By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community residents were surprised by the format of the most recent meeting on the proposed sanitation garage, held at the Brookdale Campus on East 25th Street last Thursday evening.
The meeting, billed as an open house, went “exactly as anticipated,” Economic Development Corporation senior associate of public affairs Ian Fried told Town & Village, but the set-up was different from that of previous meetings on the subject and many residents at the most recent event felt that it wasn’t as constructive as meetings in the past.
“What we were expecting was something more like what happened the last time it was in the auditorium,” ST-PCV Tenants Association chair Susan Steinberg said. “(The last meeting) was a back and forth discussion. We thought we’d be shown a slideshow and more details about the project.
Instead, there were representatives from DSNY or EDC at these stations answering questions so you got one-on-one time, but there wasn’t a real format where those who were attending could express their thoughts and react to the content. Almost everybody I spoke with, it was not what we were expecting.”
The meeting was held inside the Brookdale Campus, the location for which the sanitation garage is proposed. The second most recent meeting on the topic was a more boisterous affair, during which some meeting attendees took turns yelling harsh criticisms about the plan to the representatives of the two agencies who had given the presentations.
Steinberg said that most attendees restrained themselves during the open house last week, although some were unable to resist “snarky comments” to the representatives, she noted.
Fried said that EDC planned the meeting to interface with the community and allow residents to offer input on the plan face to face with DSNY and EDC, and Community Board 6 Land Use and Waterfront Committee vice chair
Ellen Imbimbo said that she appreciated the effort but was doubtful about the result.
“You have to give them some credit,” Imbimbo said. “They were trying out the format to see if it worked, but I don’t think it did.”
The format of the meetings aside, the main point of contention for many people who attend these events on a regular basis is the focus that EDC has been putting on the bookend parcels of the site, and some Stuyvesant Town residents expressed this frustration about this most recent meeting.
The agency initially got involved in the project with DSNY because of the outcry from the neighborhood residents about the construction of the garage and has said that the community meetings are a sounding board for input on the development of the land directly around the proposed garage, but residents have said they don’t see how this is an improvement because their main problem with the project has always been the garage itself.
“It’s like asking whether we want broccoli or asparagus,” Peter Cooper Village resident Anne Greenberg said. “They still seem to be ramming (the garage) down our throats. They’re acting like it’s a done deal.”
Steinberg noted that she got the same feeling concerning EDC’s involvement and response to community concerns.
“They were showing stations with alternative possibilities (for that area),” she said. “My feeling is that’s where they’re trying to steer the community, with respect to the bookend sites.”
DSNY has acknowledged that the community is not happy with the placement of the garage but their response has been that Community District 6 needs a place to park trucks so that they don’t have to travel so far to the neighborhoods that they serve, and there is no other suitable location. In previous meetings, residents have offered their ideas, and CB6 even hired a consulting firm to come up with alternatives, but Sanitation has dismissed these suggestions.
However, at this most recent meeting, one group representing the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side made an appearance, offering a seemingly simple swap. Yorkville resident Bob Jackman was at the open house last week to let residents know that his organization is arguing in favor of a sanitation garage on the FDR between East 73rd and 74th, which is the location in which a garage was originally built and which the garage planned for the Brookdale site would be replacing. The development planned for that space instead is a Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer center in an area that Jackman said is “oversaturated” with medical facilities, so he is arguing in favor of rebuilding on the original site.
“It doesn’t make sense to force a sanitation garage on a community that doesn’t want it and to allow Sloan-Kettering to build a research center in an area where isn’t appropriate, whereas the CB6 plan wants that area to be a medical facility,” Jackman said. “It’s not a ‘Not in Our Backyard’ thing. We’re saying rebuild the sanitation garage in our community and we’ll be fine with it.”
Unfortunately for Yorkville residents and Brookdale-adjacent residents who were hoping to strike up a deal, though, rebuilding the garage in its original location seems unlikely due to the fact that DSNY was able to get funding for a new garage in the first place by striking up a land swap deal with CUNY and Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Community Board 8, which represents the area in which the new cancer center will be built, ultimately supported the plan for the new medical facility through a resolution passed in 2013. DSNY did not respond to a request for comment for more information on why the garage was not being rebuilt on the original site.
Fried noted that there are currently no more community meetings scheduled at the moment but noted that EDC will be attending the CB6 Land Use and Waterfront Committee meeting next Wednesday.