Editorial: Save mom and pop from scam suits

Just in case anyone was thinking that things are just too easy these days for proprietors of small businesses in this city, here is yet more proof that their problems are a lot bigger than Amazon and changing consumer preferences.

Many mom-and-pop shops, who already face an uphill battle thanks to the uncertainty of lease renewals, endless fees and fines from the city and rising rents, generally cannot afford to get tangled up in lengthy litigation battles. So it wasn’t surprising to learn that at least a couple of local businesses blinked when threatened by a potential lawsuit from a serial plaintiff charging discrimination against the disabled.

Access for wheelchair users and other people with mobility challenges is very much a real issue; one that is thankfully finally getting some attention thanks to a recent lawsuit that is trying to stop the L train shutdown.

That litigation has already successfully drawn attention to the willful ignoring of the needs of the disabled to get around the city on mass transit like anyone else. However, that isn’t what was filed by plaintiff Arik Matatov, a wheelchair-using man and his attorney, against dozens of small businesses in Manhattan, while, the New York Post revealed last week, he can actually walk.

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Gramercy shop sued by wheelchair plaintiff closes

Aug2 Asia Market

Asia Market on Third Avenue (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, a disabled resident of Queens who was suing around 50 business over lack of access to him in his wheelchair was revealed to be able to walk in an article by the New York Post. The paper then went on to report that all the lawsuits were being dropped by the man’s attorney, Jeffrey Neiman, who claimed he had no idea that his client’s claims of being unable to walk weren’t legit.

Meanwhile, one of the businesses targeted by the plaintiff, Arik Matatov, was Asia Market, an Asian grocery store in Gramercy that closed on Tuesday. The store has been open for about a year on Third Avenue between East 18th and 19th Streets.

Reached by phone on Monday, a woman who introduced herself as one of the owners, said the lawsuit, despite having been reportedly dropped, was a factor in the decision to close.

Naomi Kwong said, “It is one of the reasons,” saying that she was first contacted by an attorney earlier this year with a Fed Exed complaint of inaccessibility. Thinking it seemed fishy, she then looked up Neiman and his client online and found information on what appeared to be a quickly drafted website that was created in January.

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Bellevue South Park users ask for ADA-compliant dog run

Christopher Crowley, landscape architect for Parks, pictured with Kips Bay residents involved in planning for the temporary dog run (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

At a meeting aimed at getting community feedback, Kips Bay residents told city officials what they want in a redesign of Bellevue South Park is a permanent, fully accessible dog run. They also want to separate the play equipment from where adults congregate.

The Parks Department’s meeting was held last Thursday, when the landscape architect for the city agency, Christopher Crowley, told neighbors this is the first step in the process for the project.

“We don’t have a concept plan in mind,” Crowley said. “That’s what this meeting is for, to find out what the community wants in this park.”

Steve Simon, the chief of staff for the Manhattan Borough Commissioner at the Parks Department, said that the input from the meeting will help the agency create a preliminary plan that will be presented to Community Board 6 in the fall.

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L train lawsuit partially settled

Apr5 14th St coalition Schwartz Prentiss

Arthur Z. Schwartz discusses the litigation at an April press conference. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In April, Arthur Z. Schwartz, an attorney for Advocates for Justice, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the L train shutdown planned for 2019. The litigation, filed on behalf of a coalition of West Side residents living on or near 14th Street and disability advocacy groups, was over the lack of access for disabled passengers in the plan to upgrade various stations along the L train route.

The lawsuit is also over area residents’ concerns about traffic congestion, due to a planned “busway” on 14th Street and expanded sidewalks causing traffic to be congested on surrounding streets. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Transportation Authority were named as defendants.

However, Schwartz, who’s also a Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, announced late last month that the suit was partially settled with the MTA proposing to make the Sixth Avenue station accessible to the disabled. Previously only two stations included in the renovation plan (Bedford Avenue and First Avenue) were slated to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In exchange, the part of the lawsuit alleging disregard for disabled New Yorkers has been dropped. This was first reported by The Villager.

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Rivera doesn’t want busway to be 24/7

Council Member Carlina Rivera (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Council Member Carlina Rivera is hoping to limit the hours of the planned busway on 14th Street during the L train shutdown that is beginning next year.

The Council Member sent a letter to NYC Transit President Andy Byford earlier this month, arguing that the busway should only operate between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Instead of banning private vehicles throughout the whole shutdown, Rivera said they should just be off the road for the aforementioned hours.

Rivera said she agreed with transit advocates who’ve said that a busway operating only during rush hours would not be sufficient but she argued that the busway didn’t need to be in effect overnight because vehicular traffic along the corridor is significantly lower on weeknights anyway.

John Blasco, a community liaison for Rivera, gave an overview of the letter at the June meeting of the Community Board 6 transportation committee, which supports both extending the busway to Avenue C and giving buses priority at all times instead of limiting the hours.

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Disability advocates rally for subway accessibility

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, City Council Member Keith Powers and State Senator Brad Hoylman (along with Hoylman’s daughter Lucy) rallied with disability advocates for more accessibility in the MTA last week. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Disability advocates and elected officials braved the rain last Thursday to demand that the MTA increase accessibility in the system during the L train shutdown. The advocates and politicians met in front of the Third Avenue L station, one of the stops being closed during the shutdown that won’t be getting an elevator and which is currently inaccessible.

“New Yorkers who depend on mass transit are being locked out,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Less than a quarter of the stations have elevators and on a good day, 10 percent of those aren’t working. We need to tell the MTA to do better.”

Hoylman brought his young daughter Lucy in her strolled to help demonstrate that parents, as well as people with mobility challenges, are often affected by the lack of elevators in the system.

“Think of the lack of vision that the MTA is demonstrating by trying to fix stations with new lights and paint,” Hoylman said, referring to recent station improvements the agency has done throughout the system. “That’s like putting down new carpet when you don’t have a roof.”

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Cyclists, ‘busway’ concern L train neighbors

Commissioner of Transportation Polly Trottenberg (center) (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

L train riders at a recent town hall on the upcoming shutdown are saying they’re concerned about an increase in bike traffic as a result of the mitigation and the plan to make 14th Street primarily a thoroughfare for buses, as well as accessibility for seniors and disabled residents. The meeting’s venue, The New School’s West 12th Street auditorium, was packed with more than a hundred community residents with concerns about the plans on Wednesday, May 9.

The first question came from an attendee who didn’t mince words.

“How are you going to train cyclists so they don’t kill us?” asked David Hertzberg, a West 16th Street resident. Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg admitted that the increase in cyclists would be a difficult responsibility.

“Cycling will be a hot topic,” she said. “We’ll be working with the NYPD on enforcement and we know we’re going to have a big safety challenge.”

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When stores denied this disabled woman’s service dog, she sued

Cheryl Krist, pictured with her husband Joseph and her service dog Bocci in Stuyvesant Town last year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last summer, Town & Village published an interview with Cheryl Krist, a Stuyvesant Town dog owner, who spoke about how her service pooch, Bocci, once saved her life. Krist, who walks with the aid of a cane due to a neurological condition that gives her tremors, had fallen backwards into a dip on the road after becoming started by a wild turkey. (This was in a rural road in Pennsylvania.) When Krist was unable to get back up, Bocci blocked his owner when a car came down the road, by standing up on his hind legs in front of her. Meanwhile, Krist also mentioned then as well as in prior interviews with this newspaper that she’s often had Bocci denied entry to neighborhood stores.

On Sunday, The Post published a story about two disabled New Yorkers who’ve filed lawsuits against various businesses over access issues, including Krist, who, according to the paper, has filed a total of seven.

Reached at home this week, Krist (who recently moved from Stuyvesant Town to Riverdale), declined to get into detail about specifics for the cases that are pending. One, however, she said she won last year against Gracefully. The store paid her a sum she said she isn’t allowed to discuss as well as a fine to the city. (A call to Gracefully wasn’t returned.) Another suit, against a local diner, she lost. But, according to Krist, there’s never a reason to deny her dog entry because Bocci wears a jacket that identifies him as a service dog.

“It saves a lot of questions,” she said.

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Kips Bay residents ask for temporary dog run

At a Community Board 6 meeting, delays on getting the funding for the dog run for Bellevue South Park were explained. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Dog owners in Kips Bay are pushing the Parks Department to consider a temporary solution for the lack of a dog run in Bellevue South Park. Members of multiple neighborhood groups made their case at a recent Parks Committee meeting of Community Board 6, arguing that a temporary run near the basketball courts would give residents an immediate place to play with Fido instead of having to wait at least five years while the Parks Department completes additional renovations on the park.

Kips Bay Neighborhood Association member Karen Lee said at the meeting that there is an area north of the basketball courts that is already fenced in and the group has submitted an application for a grant for $280,000 from Borough President Gale Brewer’s office to make changes to the space, such as an access ramp, a nonskid surface and automatic openers for the entrance gates. Lee said that the funding is mainly necessary to make the space accessible for residents with disabilities, which she said is one of the main motivations for pushing for the dog run in the first place.

“Dog runs in the city aren’t ADA compliant,” she explained prior to the meeting. “This would be the first dog run in the city that is ADA compliant. Hospital row is right there and there’s a huge community of disabled people in this neighborhood who already use this park.”

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New Kips Bay building includes housing for the disabled

Adam Weinsten, president of Phipps; Aaron Humphrey, Community Board 6 member; Claude L. Winfield, CB6 vice chairman; Jill Schoenfeld, representative of Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh; Pedro Carrillo and Gene Santoro, CB6 members; Council Member Rosie Mendez; Raj Nayar, CB6 Housing Committee chair; and Howie Levine, representative of Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photos by Michelle Deal Winfield)

Adam Weinsten, president of Phipps; Aaron Humphrey, Community Board 6 member; Claude L. Winfield, CB6 vice chairman; Jill Schoenfeld, representative of Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh; Pedro Carrillo and Gene Santoro, CB6 members; Council Member Rosie Mendez; Raj Nayar, CB6 Housing Committee chair; and Howie Levine, representative of Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photos by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

A new building in Kips Bay, which includes some housing for disabled residents, is now ready for occupancy. The completion of the project comes seven years after it was first discussed by Community Board Six’s Manhattan’s Housing Committee and Full Board.

Henry Phipps Plaza South Development — now referred to as 325 KB — is located at 325 East 25th Street, between First and Second Avenues.

The newly constructed building was built on a vacant lot that had been used as a basketball court. Phipps is awaiting a Certificate of Occupancy which the owner expects to receive in two weeks. It consists of 55 rental apartments: 10 studios, 18 one-bedrooms, 27 two-bedrooms, and the superintendent lives on the first floor. Forty percent of the apartments are affordable, which in this case means under 80 percent of the NYC area median income (AMI). The other 60 percent of the units range from 20 percent at 120 percent of the AMI, 20 percent at 145 percent of the AMI and 20 percent at 165 percent of the AMI.

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