Garodnick, Mendez echo residents’ concerns at meeting
By Sabina Mollot
Residents of buildings located near the planned sanitation garage on East 25th Street took turns ripping into city officials last Wednesday at a raucous meeting that was aimed at getting public feedback.
Over 150 people attended the scoping session, which was at the garage site, the current CUNY Brookdale campus. Many of them were leaders of local tenants associations and co-op boards who’ve joined the recently formed Brookdale Neighborhood Coalition, which opposes the garage. The garage plan has been deeply unpopular since it was announced in 2013, and, just like at previous meetings, tenants voiced their concerns about potential impacts on air quality from truck fumes, odors, vermin and added traffic congestion that could delay ambulances at local hospitals. Many also argued that a garage for 180 sanitation trucks just seemed out of place on First Avenue’s science/medical corridor.
This time, however, a few elected officials also showed up to the meeting, and two City Council members, Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, called on the city to be more responsive to residents’ concerns.
In his testimony, Garodnick brought up the topic of air quality.
“It’s on you, Sanitation, to show how this will improve service and not have impacts,” he said. “It’s on you to show how this garage will not impact air quality. Many of us are skeptical. This community wants its garbage picked up, but frankly things are working pretty well (as is). It’s on you to study any site that could serve as an alternative.”
He also suggested having multiple, smaller garages rather than one large one, which would be serving the Community Board Six and Eight areas.
Mendez also gave testimony, noting she had “pages” of questions, especially about air quality and community character. The impacts, she said, “need to be further studied and mitigated.”
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh was also in attendance though he didn’t give testimony and reps from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and State Senator Brad Hoylman were there to gather community feedback.
Several neighborhood residents, meanwhile, accused officials in charge of the plan from the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of only pretending to listen to their suggestions. Adding to their ire was that the meeting, the second meeting aimed at hearing neighbor comments, had started a half hour late, and the next half hour was taken up by reps from the two agencies discussing the garage plan for those who hadn’t been to prior meetings.
Of the audience members, one of the first to speak was Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association. Handal used charts to demonstrate how the Gramercy area has a higher toxin level than the Manhattan average as well as “three times the traffic density” of the Manhattan average.
“Accidents in this area have gone up from 2009-2014 by 30 percent,” said Handal, adding, “Guess who has the most crashes of every city agency? Sanitation.”
Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, said neighbors have been worried about fuel and “whatever toxins that will be emitted into the air.
“Particulate matter can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The coalition calls for a zero percent air quality impact,” she said.
Another speaker, East Midtown Plaza Co-op Board President Eleanor Goldman, said she was concerned after hearing that fuel tanks would be stored underground.
“A minor hurricane is going to damage them and cause potential contamination to the entire neighborhood,” she said.
Peter Cooper Village resident and Tenants Association board member Anne Greenberg also got up to blast the event’s hosts for disregarding alternative site suggestions made by Community Board 6.
“Your bad judgment compelled Community Board 6 to spend money to conduct its own study, which you ignored in your draft scope,” said Greenberg.
The EDC and DSNY had said at a previous meeting that the proposed sites wouldn’t work for financial reasons and others.
A few CB6 members were at last week’s meeting though the ones that spoke stressed that they were speaking as individuals and not on behalf of the board. One of the speakers wanted to deny a rumor that the board supported EDC’s plan to get the site rezoned to accommodate new development at the bookend parcels on both side of the garage.
“That is just not true,” said Kathleen Kelly. “We never even shook our heads yes to anything involving rezoning.”
Earlier in the event, EDC Vice President for Decelopment Kate Van Tassel had brought up the subject of rezoning. This was when the audience was shown a rendering on a screen of what could potentially become of the location’s two bookend parcels. The rendering depicted a residential tower on one end and a commercial one on the other side. Later, a spokesperson for DSNY told Town & Village the entire block “will be rezoned this fall in accordance with the city’s uniform land use review procedure.” When asked if this was a done deal, the spokesperson, Belinda Mager said zoning changes are subject to the ULURP process and are not final until the ULURP is approved.
At the meeting, the garage plan was also discussed by Steve Brautigam, assistant commissioner of environmental affairs for DSNY. He had, early on in the event, told the audience that studies were being done on the area’s air and traffic conditions and that “If we do find an impact to traffic we will try to mitigate it.”
Mike Friedlander, who’s the department’s director of new garages, discussed the look of the garage, which is to have a green roof, a glass wall for the lobby entrance, plantings alongside a pedestrian walkway, and ideally retail space. He indicated he’d personally love to be able to get his coffee there and has also previously mentioned the possibility of something like a Starbucks going in. Later, a few meeting attendees responded to statements made by the event’s hosts.
One was Jonathan Linfield who said a glass wall is not going to make the garage appear any less-garage-like and he doubted retailers would have any interest in leasing there.
“Who’s going to want to put a coffee place next to a garage?” he said. He sarcastically added, “Oh, look at that garbage truck. Oh, look at that rat running after it.”
Another comment came from Peter Goodman, who said he lives “down the block” from the site. Goodman said he thought in a few years, the garage and its trucks could be obsolete — “a white elephant.” He went on to say, “Solid waste management has changed dramatically. You should plan for the future, instead of this old technology.”
Kips Bay Neighborhood Association Director Karen Lee agreed, saying she thought the city should look into newer waste management techniques.
“We’re planning like it’s the 1950s,” said Lee, who’s also an architect. “We’re putting half a million square foot garages in every district. This is not about LEED. This is not about solar panels. Sustainability for the DSNY is about how you pick up garbage, how you recycle. I understand that agencies in the city are like big ships that you have to turn, but you have to start somewhere.”
Another speaker, East Midtown Plaza resident Gerard Schriffen, accused the agencies of withholding important information with regards to plans for the bookend parcels, saying a page was missing from the agency’s application. Because of this, Schriffen dismissed the application as “invalid.”
Following the meeting, Mager said, “DSNY will carefully review all comments that were submitted.”
The DSNY has previously said comments from the July 15 meeting will be incorporated into a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Residents will then get a 30-day period in which to respond and then the final Environmental Impact Statement will be released. At a meeting in June, when asked if there was a possibility the garage would not get built at Brookdale, Brautigam said nothing was written in stone.
“We need to hear from you,” he said at the time, referring to the public hearings. “I wish this were already a done deal.”
Last week, the Brookdale Neighborhood Coalition started a change.org petition, which as of T&V’s press time, had over 900 signatures aimed at stopping the garage.