By Maria Rocha-Buschel
On Tuesday, the mayor was grilled about the proposed sanitation garage for East 25th Street by neighbors who attended a town hall.
The hotly-contested issue was the topic of discussion at numerous Community Board 6 meetings when it was first announced in 2012 but the plan has stalled in the last two years, and Mayor de Blasio said at the town hall, which was also hosted by Council Member Dan Garodnick, that the issue will be reviewed again once the next term for City Council begins.
“The fundamental problem is that the facilities are concentrated in Lower Manhattan so we need some kind of facility to serve this area and so far this seems like the most viable site,” he said. “But there should be a real conversation about what the community needs.”
East 25th Street resident Nancy Schneider said that she had objections to the location because of its proximity to healthcare facilities and Waterside Tenants Association president Janet Handal, who has been staunchly against the plan since it was announced, suggested putting it farther away from the neighborhood.
“We’re trying to figure out something that makes sense geographically,” de Blasio said of siting the garage in a different area. “The notion of serving several communities from neighborhoods away is not ideal. It would need to have enough community benefits. Having sanitation vehicles drive long distances doesn’t reduce congestion and pollution.”
The mayor also personally accepted a position paper on the topic from East Midtown Plaza resident Peter Goodman, who originally sent the paper into city agencies when the plan was announced and during the meeting, de Blasio also handed off copies of Goodman’s proposal to representatives from the Department of Sanitation, the Environmental Development Corporation and the City Planning Commission.
Goodman briefly explained that his paper strongly discouraged siting the garage at the East 25th Street location because the available land would give the city the rare opportunity to create more affordable housing or educational spaces.
“This piece of land is a unique opportunity that could be a model for the city or the country,” he said.
The mayor responded that discussions on the space and about the garage will start from scratch in the next few months.
“We’re needing to start afresh and create a vision that makes sense for everyone,” de Blasio said. “We don’t want you to think it’s either/or. You could do a lot of housing on that site, a lot of job creation, educational uses. It could be a combination of those and it could still have room for the kind of sanitation facility we’re talking about. This site will walk and chew gum. It will do more than one thing in my opinion and can only do it through public process with the City Council and the City Planning Commission.”
Garodnick added that part of the reason for the delay in the plan was due to his objections.
“I was dissatisfied with where things stood and thought the process needed to include more of this conversation, and this conversation will start anew in the next term,” he said.
ST-PCV Tenants Association president Susan Steinberg asked the mayor how the city and state can incentivize landlords to keep rent protections for tenants and the mayor said that he is optimistic.
“Current rent regulation is too weak and leaves too many issues unaddressed, and these are fixable problems in Albany but I think for the first time in a long time that is a winnable battle in Albany in near future,” he said.
Steinberg noted that protections for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village’s Roberts tenants last until 2020 when the J-51 tax abatement expires with built in five percent increases after that for five more years before the units become market rate. The mayor said that the protections actually last until 2025, but this was in reference to the five additional years in which Blackstone can increase rents on those units by no more than five percent per year.
Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer added that without the deal, Roberts tenants would have lost rent protection completely in 2020 so the five years of limited increases still extends affordability slightly.
“It was a worthwhile investment for the protection of tenants,” she said. “We spend a lot of time working with landlords and tenants to extend affordability and to prevent actions from bad actor landlords.”
Torres-Springer added that the city wants to encourage tenants to also apply for programs available to renters such as the rent freeze program for seniors and those with disabilities as well as legal services for tenants.
Since the town hall took place in Midtown East, many of those in attendance were more concerned about zoning laws that allow for development of the skyscrapers planned for Midtown than residents farther downtown. However, residents from neighborhoods throughout Garodnick’s district (which sprawls across the East Side from Stuyvesant Town to the East 90s) who attended were concerned about the effect large developments, and especially the impact for small businesses.
The mayor said he is especially frustrated by landlords who get rid of small businesses and increase the rent on spaces that ultimately sit empty because the owners can’t lease them, and he said there would ideally be a ban on landlords throwing out existing tenants, although he did not mention the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would guarantee lease renewals for small owners.
De Blasio also suggested tax credits as a way to help the business owners but was hesitant to commit fully to the idea.
“Tax credits would mean that money wouldn’t be going to other things like schools and roads,” he said.
Multiple attendees also brought up the issue of bicycle safety and the dangers of crossing the street with so many scofflaw cyclists.
Deputy Inspector Nicole Papamichael of the 17th Precinct, which covers parts of the East Side above 30th Street, said that the precinct is dedicated to enforcing the law for bicyclists but doing so sometimes presents challenges for officers.
“Safety can be an issue when chasing after cyclists,” she said. “That’s the biggest issue. It can be difficult to stop them.”
The event’s co-sponsors included Manhattan Community Boards 5, 6 and 8, the Waterside Tenants Association, the ST-PCV Tenants Association and the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.