By Madeleine Thompson
What detracts most from downtown residents’ quality of life? At Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee meeting last week, the answer was clear: overcrowding. The area has tripled in size since the revitalization efforts and construction boom that have taken place since 9/11. “Just think of the amount of garbage we have,” said Pat Moore, the committee’s chairwoman. “Garbage and rats.”
On the agenda at the Jan. 19 meeting were two pieces of legislation that could, if enacted, have an impact on the congestion that plagues downtown. One, introduced by Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos, would limit the time that some scaffolding can stay in place. There are nearly 9,000 sidewalk sheds in the city, many of which have been up for years without reason.
“The key thing that I’ve been focused on is ‘where are there problems in government that are broken?’” said Kallos, who attended the CB 1 committee meeting to advocate for his bill. “I have a couple of tenants that have said to me that scaffolding goes up to force rent regulated tenants out of first- and second-floor apartments. How many of you have ever been caught in traffic for construction work on a roadway and then you get to the construction and no one’s actually there? Under the bill, [developers] would have to do the work within one hour of the cones going up.”
The committee was generally supportive of the bill, with caveats. Members asked Kallos about exceptions for certain kinds of buildings — like co-ops — and brought up the issue of pedestrians being struck and killed by falling debris. Scaffolding helps reduce such incidents. No action was taken on Kallos’ scaffolding bill, but the committee will take it up again next month.
The other item up for discussion was the Street Vendor Modernization Act, which was introduced last October by Lower Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin. The collection of bills would double the number of permits available to food vendors over seven years, create a dedicated street vendor law enforcement unit and establish a street vendor panel to monitor enforcement and make recommendations, among other things.
Several residents of 88 Greenwich St. waited patiently through the scaffolding discussion to get to the street vendor issue. Outside their building, they said, a vendor had recently appeared and would not go away. What’s more, residents added, the 9/11 Tribute Center will soon move into the commercial space on the ground floor of their building. They worry that visitors to the site will add to the congestion issues they already experience due to their proximity to the Rector Street No. 1 train station.
Moore, who lives only a few blocks from 88 Greenwich, understood their concerns. The 9/11 Tribute Center is currently housed in her building at 125 Cedar Street and she, too, has had problems with a street vendor on her block. “He threatened a lawsuit when we asked him to leave,” Moore said. “And he set a precedent, so now there’s another one. I feel it’s disrespectful to the 9/11 Tribute Center.” However, she added, vendors have come before the community board before and she is aware of the struggles they face as small-business owners.
The Quality of Life Committee has been going back and forth on the Street Vendor Modernization Act for months, but was determined to vote on a resolution last week. In a preliminary straw poll, all but one member planned to vote in favor of the legislation, but when the time came, the committee unanimously voted it down. According to Moore, committee member Bob Schneck made such convincing arguments against the bill that everyone else changed their minds. He expressed a strong desire for more details on how community input will be considered once the act is put in place, which streets will be included in the vending zones and how permit applicants will be screened. “[Schneck] had a really strong, valid point,” Moore said. “We can’t support it as written and we enumerated certain points we would like to see revisited.”
The committee will present its resolution against the Street Vendor Modernization Act this week for the full board to vote on.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org