Bowery, Bialystoker, bikes, buses top town hall list


By Lesley Sussman

A new grassroots organization that is trying to gain landmark status for the historic Bialystoker Nursing Home building, at 228 East Broadway, has won the support of state Senator Daniel Squadron, who said that he favors such a designation.

Squadron made his remarks at a “Community Convention” follow-up meeting on Tuesday evening at the Bowery Residents’ Committee Senior Center, at 30 Delancey St., in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.

The meeting was attended by about 100 residents from the East Village, Lower East Side and Chinatown, many of whom had attended a Community Convention last March that was sponsored by the state senator. This week’s meeting was designed to give Squadron an opportunity to address many of the concerns that were raised by local residents at the prior convention.

Squadron heard from Mitchell Grubler, a member of the Friends of the Bialystoker Home and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN), who told the state senator that the new grassroots group wants to preserve the historic former nursing home, which was built in the Depression era.

The financially struggling nursing home is no longer operational, and the Bialystoker Home’s board of directors hopes to transform the building into a residential apartment complex.

Grubler described the nine-story art deco brick institutional building, which dates back to 1929, as an “architectural treasure that deserves landmark protection.”

He said a “request for evaluation” had already been filed with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee by Linda Jones, a Lower East Side preservation activist and Community Board 3 member, who is one of the founding members of the Friends of the Bialystoker Home.

Squadron said the nursing home’s closing was a “terrible loss and not a solution” to the problems the owners of the facility were facing.

“Losing the building would compound this issue,” Squadron said. “We’re looking very closely at the situation to see if we can make a case for landmarking the building. I’ve also urged the state attorney general to look very closely at this.”

On another issue, Grubler told Squadron, “We’re losing the Bowery” to hotel and high-rise developers. He said BAN has called for height restrictions for any new hotel or other building constructed on the east side of the Bowery.

Grubler explained that the gritty boulevard’s west side below Houston St. is protected from high-rise development because it is part of the Little Italy Special Purpose District, while above Houston St. much of the Bowery is located within the Noho Historic District Extension.

Squadron told the community activist that he, too, was concerned about what was happening along the Bowery, “but I haven’t yet looked at your new proposal.”

After the meeting, Grubler said, “We already see a 23-story hotel at Cooper Square, an 18-story hotel that just went up on the corner of Hester St. and a threatened 30-story hotel just north of Delancey St. Can you imagine that?”

Squadron responded to a potpourri of other concerns that were raised at the two-hour meeting, ranging from reckless cyclists who endanger pedestrians, to poor bus service on the Lower East Side and the threatened reduction of funds for programs geared to the elderly and childcare in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Michael O’Connor, a resident of Seventh St. and Avenue B, told Squadron, “I’ve been hit by bikes three times and a bicyclist ran over my dog’s tail on the sidewalk.”

O’Connor said that over a six-month period, “I’ve counted seven bicyclists flying through red lights.” He added, “The Department of Transportation says bikes have made the streets safer. I say they have made them more dangerous.”

He also said that traffic enforcement officers have told him they have orders not to ticket cyclists.

“That’s crazy to hear that traffic enforcement cops can’t write tickets for bikers,” Squadron responded. “We need to have an increase in enforcement and we also need to have a culture of people who follow the rules of the road.

“I’ve been pushing for a while for a culture of compliancy,” Squadron continued, “and I’ve also been pushing the Police Department for stricter and better enforcement. Cyclists should not be speeding down the sidewalks or racing through red lights.”

Squadron also heard from local resident Marilyn Cooper, who told the state senator that bus service on the Lower East Side “was getting worse and worse.”

“It’s not fair for the city to have reduced bus service in a neighborhood where there are many senior citizens,” she said. “We have the worse service in the entire city.”

Cooper further complained that buses often arrive in bunches or after a long wait.

“There’s either bunched buses or no buses,” she said.

Squadron told her and other residents to note down the numbers on those buses they observe arriving in bunches and to forward the information to his office.

“We’re gathering a big dossier and pushing the M.T.A. wherever we’re getting a lot of complaints,” he told Cooper. “The M.T.A. planners don’t understand that this is an area not served well by subways.”

Squadron described the M.T.A. as a “problem child.”

“We have to give them extra attention and love,” he said of the authority. “The truth of the matter is that the state government has not funded the M.T.A. adequately. We have to do a better job of funding the M.T.A.”

Po-Ling Ng, director of the Project Open Door Senior Center, 168 Grand St., stood up to laud Squadron for all his efforts to preserve senior citizen and childcare services in Chinatown and elsewhere on the Lower East Side.

“Please continue to do your wonderful job and keep these senior and childcare centers open,” she said. “Don’t let them cut senior programs, youth programs and childcare programs. We feel that Chinatown and the Lower East Side are being ignored and that services will be cut here.”

Squadron replied, “That I take it as a challenge to continue all these programs. We’re going to have to fight cuts that are being proposed in all these areas.”