By Sabina Mollot
The year 2018 didn’t lack for major changes in the community from the transformation of East 14th Street into a (potentially full-time) construction zone to the maiden voyage of a ferry with a stop at Stuyvesant Cove to the axing of a courtyard full of beloved trees in Stuyvesant Town. There was also what appeared to be an uptick in crime perpetrated by youths and homeless men in Kips Bay as well as some political intrigue, with Congressional fixture Carolyn Maloney seeing her first serious competition in nearly a decade.
For more on the year that was, as covered by this newspaper, read on:
- There is no doubt at this point that 2018 was the year of L hell. (The day after Town & Village went to press, Governor Cuomo announced his alternative proposal.) Long before the dreaded L train shutdown even would begin, residents of the street have been impacted by the loss of 60 parking spaces, constant noise and clouds of dust from the vehicles going in and out of the construction area along the north side of the street, all while construction on developments goes on along the south side of the street. Local elected officials have been pushing the MTA for some concessions and have won a few so far, like better lighting along the construction barriers, sound reducing blankets and the installation of air quality monitors. But the effort has remained to reduce evening and weekend hours of work to give neighbors — some suffering from respiratory problems — a break. At one point, a lawsuit that had been filed to stop or delay the L train work due to accessibility and congestion issues was expanded to include the misery felt by residents whose apartments face the construction zone between Stuyvesant Town and the East Village.
- The Lower East Side route of NYC Ferry was launched on the morning of August 29, making stops at Wall Street, Corlears Hook, Stuyvesant Cove, 34th Street and Long Island City. After the ferry’s maiden voyage, a roughly 34-minute trip, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “Our waterways ended up feeling like a disconnect,” said De Blasio. “People were separated by water. NYC Ferry changes that.”
- In August, the city and the owner of Waterside Plaza, Richard Ravitch, reached a tentative agreement that would preserve affordability in some fashion at 325 apartments, in exchange for lowered Payments in Lieu of Taxes to the city as well its blessing to extend the property’s lease to 99 years. The affected apartments would be those that were originally protected under the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program but went private when the program expired. Depending on tenants’ income, the affordability deal would give them rent reductions, rent freezes or limited rent increases. Tenants meanwhile have asked the city to sweeten the deal further by asking if another aspect of the agreement, which would include tenants who are retiring in 2019, could be extended by several years. Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal has said this would help quite a few tenants who are approaching retirement age but are not quite there yet.
- A nanny was convicted of attempted murder after shoving a baby wipe down the throat of the infant she was babysitting at Waterside Plaza in 2017. She’d attempted to argue the wipe could have been placed in the baby’s mouth by his toddler sister but the court didn’t buy it. The nanny, Marianne Benjamin-Williams, is facing up to 25 years in prison for the attempted murder charge.
- As part of the preparation for the L shutdown, 20th Street east of First Avenue has been redesigned with the goal of enhancing traffic safety along the route to the new ferry. However, the project, which came with no warning and included the permanent removal of 12 parking spots, has only managed to infuriate neighbors who’ve been getting their cars ticketed and towed for parking in formerly legal spots, and who say it now feels less safe thanks to a bus stop being moved to an island outside a protected bike lane.
- While the year was mostly filled with political intrigue in Albany and the White House, Manhattan’s East Side also saw some action with a contentious race for the congressional seat that’s been occupied by Democrat Carolyn Maloney for the past 25 years. Despite not being an open race, Maloney’s leading primary opponent, hospitality executive Suraj Patel, who’d previously worked for the Obama administration and campaigns, managed to out-fundraise the incumbent at points. He ran a somewhat guerilla campaign, talking politics at local fitness classes and getting staffers to contact people via dating apps, though the move was widely blasted. Still, Patel got more votes than Maloney did in the Brooklyn section of the tri-borough district, securing over 40 percent of the vote. Maloney’s remaining opponents in the general election were a homeless Green Party activist and a Republican who owns two clothing boutiques on the Upper East Side, both of whom she easily clobbered at the polls.
- Following the cutting down of 18 mature oaks around Stuyvesant Town’s Playground 1, numerous residents made no secret of their fury at the loss, since the trees had been around since the complex’s early years. Stuy Town employees, on the receiving end of some choice language for the move, explained that the trees were in a state of decay with some even posing a falling hazard. The tree stumps have since been replaced with Princeton elms, with the playground slated for a renovation.
- The Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a controversial piece of legislation that had been stalled at City Hall for nearly a decade, finally took a step forward last October with a long-awaited hearing. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, is aimed at getting businesses in good standing an automatic ten-year lease extension. The real estate industry has been fighting the bill, including at the hearing, by referring to it as commercial rent control and insisting that it has legal problems. Mayor De Blasio is not in favor of the bill, and representatives from the city’s Small Business Services agency argued against it at the hearing. Rodriguez’s office has said the next steps are to find ways to respond to some of the arguments made against the bill at the hearing.
- In the first course of action in years relating to the recovery of contaminants beneath the soil in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village from the days the property was home to Con Ed gas tanks and holders, wells were dug around the complex by Con Ed in June. Those wells, now installed, will be checked or semi-annually based on how much material they collect, the utility has said. The material of concern is coal tar and the purpose of collecting it is to prevent it from getting into the East River.
- The year 2018 saw a rise in crime perpetrated mostly by youths staying at the Administration for Children’s Services on First Avenue as well as homeless men in the neighborhood, which houses the city’s largest shelter on East 30th Street. Crimes included a fatal beatdown of a homeless man by two other homeless men in August, the rape of a homeless woman by a homeless man in December and countless robberies and assaults of people who happen to cross paths with ACS teenagers on the street and in parks.