By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Almost 200 residents living in the area around the Brookdale Campus where a sanitation garage has been proposed expressed their frustration on Monday night when the Department of Sanitation and the Economic Development Corporation continued to move forward with the plans, hosting a public scoping hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Statement.
While some of the aggravation stemmed from the lack of notice for the recent hearing, as well as the location on East 17th Street and Second Avenue, an inconvenient venue for the many Waterside Plaza residents who wanted to attend, many residents were primarily concerned that plans for the garage were going ahead with little consideration for the community’s objections.
Terence O’Neal, who is chair of the Community Board 6 Land Use and Waterfront committee but who submitted his testimony at the hearing as an individual and not a representative of CB6, said he was frustrated that the draft EIS failed to mention any of the work the community board has done in looking at alternate sites and alternative solutions.
“While the working group from EDC is prominently mentioned, the city planner that the community board hired is glaringly left out,” he said. “When a community takes its time and energy and its own funding, it’s telling that the city agency doesn’t even mention the study. One would hope this oversight doesn’t reflect their opinion of the study and we hope our comments given tonight are taken seriously.”
Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal said she felt that even the location of the meeting indicated that DSNY and EDC were not taking the concerns of the community seriously. The hearing was held in the auditorium at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in which the elevated seating required attendees to climb stairs to any seat higher than the second row.
“If you look at the space, this is not a suitable venue,” she said. “People are walking into the space with canes and have to go up the stairs. I have people who are 90 who struggled to get here because they were so concerned. This just adds to the feeling of us being steamrolled.”
Steve Brautigam, Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Affairs for DSNY, noted that there was a vehicle designated for shuttling residents back and forth from Waterside to the meeting, but numerous residents who attended said they were not able to find this shuttle.
Residents at meetings on the proposed garage within the last year have expressed frustration that their original concerns stated at another hearing in 2013 were never addressed. Gary Baurer, treasurer of the WTA, said that the tenants association collected over 1,200 signatures on a letter with 14 points they were concerned with.
“It’s two years later and we have heard nothing,” he said. “It’s a sense of everything I’ve heard: Why am I asking these questions and not getting answers? It seems like they’ve decided this is what it’s going to be.”
Michael Colangelo, a resident of Second Avenue and East 25th Street, said that he and other residents feel that DSNY and EDC think people in the neighborhood are most concerned about what happens to the two parcels adjacent to where the proposed garage would be.
“That’s a falsehood,” he said. “Most people in this community feel that the garage itself is the problem, not the bookends. This is one of the most congested neighborhoods with some of the highest pollution rates in the city.”
After another resident from East Midtown Plaza asked if there were any possible scenario in which the garage would not even get built, Brautigam insisted that nothing was definite yet.
“We need to hear from you,” he said, referring to the public hearings. “I wish this were already a done deal. It would make my life a lot easier.”
One resident of Peter Cooper Village, Lola Franco, was able to offer her perspective as someone who lived next to the previous iteration of the garage when it was on East 73rd Street.
“There is a stench that happens when you live near a garbage station,” she said. “It’s counterintuitive to have this here when they just redid a park. The rats around the garage were more like the size of small piglets or cats. The traffic near 73rd street was horrific. I could never find parking. These are really serious matters.”
A court reporter was at the hearing to take down testimony and DSNY and EDC also accepted written testimony from residents. The next hearing for the proposal is scheduled to be on Wednesday, July 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Brookdale Campus. CB6 Chair Sandro Sherrod said that the date and place of the meeting are tentative and have not yet been finalized with DSNY and EDC.