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On the Block: CCBA Concerns

BY BILL BOROCK  |  In the September 19, 2012 edition of Chelsea Now, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA) identified some community problems, then suggested possible solutions. In the spirit of Chelsea Now’s Progress Report, we happily accepted the invitation to update readers on the status of some issues we discussed and new ones that have cropped up in the ensuing four and a half months.

Possible Closing of Old Chelsea Post Office
Last week, CCBA found out about the possible closing of the post office (at 217 West 18th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. It is our understanding that the facility, which is government-owned, is under consideration to be sold, and that the goal is to find a smaller facility in the same neighborhood.

The Old Chelsea Post office is not one of the very large postal facilities. It is more like a mom and pop facility, easily accessible to many Chelsea residents. There would be a lot of inconvenience to many in the Chelsea community if it were to close. That is why CCBA has contacted our elected officials and Community Board 4 (CB4), asking them to work with the community to keep it open.

A letter and/or post card writing campaign, addressed to the Postmaster General, asking to keep the facility open, will be initiated.

Changing Police Precinct Coverage
CCBA was very disappointed to receive Police Commissioner Kelly’s December 24, 2012 letter to City Council Speaker Quinn — rejecting our request to change the police coverage for West 14th Street to West 26th Street, Sixth to Seventh Avenue, from the 13th Precinct to the 10th Precinct.

Kelly’s letter mentioned the recent precinct change made in Downtown Brooklyn, which was done to accommodate the building of the Barclays Arena and the impact it would have on that neighborhood. He cited the Brooklyn reasons below as to why he would not approve our Chelsea request:

• The boundary change was a significant task

• Implications are both near and long term

• The Department incurred considerable cost in terms of personnel, resources and technological reconfigurations

• Systems involved were complaint tracking, emergency call tracking and emergency dispatch

• The ability to compare past and present data would be undermined

• Absence of pressing public safety concern

The CCBA recognizes that change requires work — but if the community will benefit, then the work is worth it. In the short term, that means adjusting to changes. In the long term, East Chelsea would have better police services. As for costs, it’s probably a trade-off with regard to personnel, as some would be added to the 10th Precinct to cover the small addition of blocks and fewer personnel would be needed for the 13th Precinct, since their area of coverage would be reduced.

It’s important to note that in 1993, Commissioner Kelly approved a very similar change of Precinct request for the Murray Hill Section of Manhattan. A lot has changed since the 1993 realignment. Back then, the NYPD was able to change Murray Hill’s personnel, resources and the collection of statistics — and still make data comparisons.

Today, we have more advanced tools for assessing resource changes. The request we made could be dealt with much better and easier today with all of the technical advancements that have taken place, especially with the use of computers. As for Kelly saying that there is the absence of a pressing public safety need, tell that to all the residents and business owners who over the years have pointed out the long response time — and sometimes, no response to calls for assistance.

Pamela Wolff’s Talking Point (in the January 23 edition of Chelsea Now) pointed out that East Chelsea is the home of the very large Bowery Residents Committee shelter (on 25th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). Although its many programs provide a valuable service to those in need, its size — which many feel is much too large for the community — has impacted the surrounding neighborhood with far too many quality of life issues and complaints.

CCBA believes that the Police Precinct change we requested was not extensive and would not have been as costly, prohibitive, problematic and labor-intensive as Commissioner Kelly’s implied when he used the Brooklyn Precinct change as an example of why he decided not to approve the Chelsea Precinct change.

CCBA will continue to work towards changing our Police Precinct coverage from the 13th Precinct — which is not in our Community Board area and which does not serve [most of] Chelsea — to the 10th Police Precinct, which is in our Community Board, and which does serve Chelsea.

Sidewalk Cafe Applications
As was mentioned in the September 19, 2012 article, sidewalk cafes can be fun to go to — but they can also be troublesome. CB4 has continued to alert us when a restaurant is applying for a sidewalk cafe license and, in turn, CCBA reviews their proposals (and we meet with them, as needed, to discuss their plans). Recently, we had involvement with two such requests which were approved by CB4.

Liquor License Applications
As with sidewalk cafes, CCBA has continued to interact with CB4 with regard to liquor license applications for restaurants located near our member block associations and we recently gave our support for one located near the High Line.

Muni-Meter Change Request
CCBA supported the request of small business owners on the 100 block of West 17th Street, to change some of the Muni-Meters from three-hour commercial parking to one-hour regular parking — because the business owners felt that it would of benefit to them.

The matter was also supported by CB4 and the request was sent to the Department of Transportation (DOT), which approved the request. The changes were supposed to take place in December 2012, but were delayed because of Hurricane Sandy. We have been notified that the changes will be made within the next week or two.

Request to Install Flashing Arrow Lights on Traffic Signal
For many years, the 500 block of West 19th Street was experiencing cars entering their street in the wrong direction instead of turning uptown. CCBA coordinated the efforts to have the DOT install flashing arrow lights on the traffic signal which would direct the drivers to turn left uptown instead of going straight. DOT approved the request, the change was made and the problem of cars entering the wrong direction has effectively ceased.

Request To Stop Alleged Illegal Photo Shoots/Business Activity And Excessive Filming In A Residential Area

Complaints were being made about excessive alleged illegal commercial photo shoots and excessive filming happening on a specific block in West Chelsea, which is zoned as residential. CCBA coordinated a meeting with the Mayor’s Film Office, CB4 and others to discuss the situation. Follow-up on the matter seems to have resolved the problem.

July 24, 2012 CCBA letter to DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan
CCBA still has not received a written response to the letter we sent, which contained constructive suggestions with regard to milling and resurfacing work on streets. The suggestions included decreasing the lag time between the milling and the resurfacing, doing work during the day so residents won’t be kept up at night, installing signs to warn drivers of the bad/dangerous street conditions caused by the milling and replacing cross walk markings in a timely manner after they get removed because of the work being done. The letter was initiated by concerns raised by the 100/200 West 15th Block Association after work was done on their street.

CCBA was advised that DOT’s Road and Repair Unit would be reviewing our suggestions, and that DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner would be responding.

CCBA did get a verbal response from the DOT Chelsea representative to two of our suggestions but the responses still left questions to be answered. As a consequence, we will be attending the next CB4 Transportation Committee meeting to discuss our suggestions and concerns. We plan to pursue getting a written response.

Request for Bus Shelters
CCBA supported the 100/200 West 15th Street Block Association’s December 3, 2012 request to CB 4’s Transportation Committee asking for bus shelters at bus stops on West 14th Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenue. The block association received a written response from DOT Borough Commissioner Forgione dated January 31, 2013 which stated that the installation of bus shelters were not feasible for a variety of reasons such as the existence of a subway entrance, fire hydrant, building scaffolding, street light, tree pit, pay phone, electrical plate in sidewalk and manhole cover.

Steam Coming Up From Streets
A call was made to 311 a few weeks ago, about steam rising from cracks in the street and from metal plates and metal vents, all along Seventh Avenue between West 14th Street and West 23rd Street. A couple of locations had smoke stacks which directed the steam away from people. The 311 call was specific to the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and West 17th Street, where the steam was engulfing people and cars. The 311 response said that there was no problem.

The matter was shared with CB 4 — and on January 27, the following information was provided. “Con Edison places orange and white stripped smoke stacks over locations where steam is escaping from their steam system or water from the city water or sewer system is leaking onto their steam equipment. This usually happens in very cold conditions, especially if there is snow. The purpose is to vent the resulting vapor above the level of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The vapor does look denser in cold weather because the steam condenses back to water faster. There is nothing to be concerned about.”

A few days later, a smoke stack was placed over the rising steam on the northwest corner of West 17th Street, and people and cars are no longer being covered by steam.

Street Fairs: Notification to Block Association/Residents
Months ago, the residents of the 200 block of West 15th Street woke up to a Street Fair taking place on their block — and it wasn’t their Street Fair. The block association and the residents had not been informed about it. The event was disruptive, especially with loud music being amplified.

Subsequently, the block association and CCBA have been trying to find out how this happened, and to prevent it from happening again. As it turned out, the organization that was having the Street Fair was from around the corner (on the 200 block of West 14th Street).

One piece of information which still has not been confirmed as being true is that two-way traffic streets will no longer be allowed to have Street Fairs. If so, this will put more stress on the smaller side streets — and, if true, it would explain how the organization from West 14th Street (which is a two way street) ended up having the Street Fair moved to the next block on West 15th Street.

CCBA is following up on this matter and will be discussing it with CB4’s Quality of Life Committee and we also plan to try to talk to the City’s Street Activity Permit Office about it.

Cooperation Among Community Boards
CCBA will be following up the Borough President’s office with regard to seeking better ways to have cooperation with other Community Boards on issues which impact more than one Board. For example, earlier, mention was made of trying to get more bus shelters on West 14th Street. Those of us who live in Chelsea will walk to West 14th Street to take the bus. However, if there is an issue with the eastbound bus, it is covered by Community Board 2 (CB2), the Greenwich Village Board, and if it is the westbound bus that is being dealt with, it falls under the jurisdiction of Chelsea’s CB4.

Years ago, there was a 14th Street joint committee which dealt with West 14th Street issues, but it was disbanded (it was made up of CB2 and CB4 members). When it existed, it was cooperation between two Boards, the kind of cooperation CCBA would like to see still going on. The Borough President’s responsibility includes coordinating the Borough Service Cabinet (BSC) which deals with more than one Community Board. CCBA would like to see more use made of the BSC with regard to dealing with those community problems/issues impacting more than one Board.

Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District
Representatives from the Hudson River Part Trust who are in the process of trying to create a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) attended one of our monthly meetings and spoke with us about the NID they were trying to form, and why. They have asked CCBA to support their efforts. At our January meeting, CCBA voted not to take a position. It was our consensus opinion that the decision whether to have a NID or not should be made by the residents who live in the designated area and who are the ones who will be assessed a certain amount of money yearly. We reached this decision because only one of our block association members falls inside the area which will become part of the NID if it is approved.

Con Edison 1,500-Foot Extension to the Spectra Gas Pipeline
CCBA has concerns about the proposed 1,500-foot extension of the Spectra gas pipeline which would run from the vault in the basement adjacent to the Whitney Museum on Gansevoort Street, up 10th Avenue to West 15th Street. Months ago, because of our concerns about the possibility of being exposed to radioactive radon as well as a possible explosion (which has happened with similar pipelines), we supported the efforts of groups asking Speaker Quinn to have the City Council hold appropriate committees hearings to discuss the proposals with the goal of having experts speak about the pros and cons of the planned pipelines, and any potential health issues. We did not get a response to our letter, but we were verbally told something like the council has lots of hearings and they were not going to have any about the pipeline.

CB2’s Environment, Public Safety and Public Health Committee had a public hearing/meeting on December 4, 2012 — at which representatives of both Spectra and Con Edison participated. It is CCBA’s understanding that because of their concerns, they voted against the pipeline.

Because the Con Edison extension will come into Chelsea at 10th Avenue and West 15th Street, and because if an explosion were to occur it would impact more of Chelsea, we asked CB4 to hold a hearing and they agreed to do so. The Board’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee will be holding its meeting on Wednesday, February 14, 6pm (at 351 West 42 Street, in the Piano Room).

Chelsea Market: Letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Request to CB4
CCBA — which opposed the Jamestown Properties plan for Chelsea Market because it required changing existing zoning (which now allows office buildings to be built on top of the iconic Chelsea Market), and because we believed that there were alternative locations where Jamestown could have built and/or utilized other office space — is now taking the lead, along with Save Chelsea and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, in pointing out that the city’s agreement is lacking enforceability with regard to things they “agreed” to — and that the shortcomings of the agreement need to be addressed.

All three groups recently met with staff from Speaker Quinn’s office to discuss our concerns about the apparent problems with the agreement. Their response was something like, although all the things Jamestown Properties promised to do may not be clearly stated, they gave their word. If one reads the agreement, one will find phrases like “we will try” and “if we can do it.”

As a consequence, we have sent Speaker Quinn a letter outlining the parts of the agreement with enforceability concerns, and we are requesting that CB4’s Chelsea Land Use Committee address the matter.

—  President, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations

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