Mulry clan pans fans as Transit gets earful

By Albert Amateau

Members of the Mulry family — great-grandchildren of Thomas M. Mulry, the early 20th-century philanthropist for whom the intersection at Seventh and Greenwich Aves. was named — have a lot to say about New York City Transit’s proposal to build an emergency subway ventilation plant on Mulry Square.

They don’t like it, according to the e-mail that seven of them sent to Community Board 2. One message from a Village resident, Mary Mulry, of 10 Downing St., was read at the Tues., Sept. 24, meeting about the project that has neighbors fearing the worst.

Mulry descendants from Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Texas echoed several of the concerns that Villagers had at the meeting, arranged by State Senator Tom Duane to allow neighbors who missed an official July scoping session to weigh in on the project.

Mary, the Village Mulry, was worried about the effect of construction vibrations on the homes and buildings in the area dating from the early 1900s.

All the Mulrys referred to promises by the city and N.Y.C. Transit that the lot at 61 Greenwich Ave. — where after Sept. 11, 2001, people hung painted ceramic tiles on a parking lot fence in memory of the World Trade Center attack — would become a park.

Their illustrious ancestor, Thomas Maurice Mulry, who died in 1916, lived at 10 Perry St. The intersection where W. 11th and Perry Sts. also converge, was named after him in 1920. Mulry was a prominent Catholic layman, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Tammany board member and president of the Emigrant Savings Bank who was honored by President Theodore Roosevelt. He helped fund the Fresh Air Fund and the Boys’ Club among his many good works.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, Emil Dul, N.Y.C. Transit environmental engineer, said the plant proposed for one of nine Mulry Square locations, whether above or below ground or a combination of the two, would essentially be an immense vault with a row of three huge fans, each 10 feet or 12 feet high.

But even before the formal introductions were over, a strong voice from among the 100 Villagers present at the meeting declared, “No towers.” The opinion that nothing should be built above ground was almost unanimous at the meeting.

The memory of a similar subway ventilation project a block away from Mulry Square on Sixth Ave. at 13th St. — which took five years instead of the expected two and a half years and wasn’t wrapped up until earlier this year — was frequently invoked.

“It was the most disruptive project in memory,” said Tobi Berman. “It was five years of hell.”

The likelihood that the redevelopment of St. Vincent’s Hospital at the same intersection might happen at the same time was another concern. The effect of noise, dust and vibrations from the construction was a big worry, and the possibility of noise and vibration from the completed plant also came up.

Dul and Adrian Taub, N.Y.C. Transit community liaison, said a draft environmental impact statement could be ready for public comment in late October or early November and a final E.I.S. incorporating public concerns would follow at the end of the year.

“There will be continuous opportunity for public comment,” said Taub. But many in the audience were skeptical about how seriously N.Y.C. Transit would take public concerns. “As if we thought of them ourselves,” replied Taub.

However, the authority is not yet able to say which of the nine sites — six street-bed sites for underground construction and three off-street sites for either above, below or a combination of below and above ground — will be chosen.

Bergman suggested that the site at 76 Greenwich Ave., popularly known as the St. Vincent’s Garden, bounded by Seventh Ave. and W. 12th St., is a preferred site because it is excavated below the surface. The site, however, is used by the hospital to store oxygen tanks. Nevertheless, Bergman said he hoped that if the site were chosen for an underground ventilation plant it could become a real garden accessible by the public.

Andrew Berman, head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, urged that the plant be located somewhere other than Mulry Square because many of the buildings are fragile.

“This is the worst possible location for the project,” Berman said, referring to the nine alternative sites.

But Dul explained that a prime purpose of the plant is to remove smoke in an emergency from the segment of the Eighth Ave. I.N.D. subway line between W. Fourth and W. 14th Sts. The line at that point is under Greenwich Ave.

A secondary purpose, if feasible, is to build the plant so that it could also serve the same purpose for the Seventh Ave. I.R.T. line between Christopher and W. 14th Sts. That line is under Seventh Ave.

N.Y.C. Transit surveyed the 252 track segments between stations in the entire subway system and assigned a priority number to each for emergency ventilation needs. Dul said the I.N.D. line between W. Fourth and W. 14th St. is near the top of the priority list at 10. The Seventh Ave. segment between Christopher and 14th Sts. is low on the priority list at 179.

Sarah Lutz, of 211 W. 11 St., a house built in 1841, said a wall still has cracks from a water-main replacement project a few years ago.

Ann Arlen, a Village environmental advocate, called for assurance that low-sulfur diesel fuel with filters would be used to power the plant generators in the event that Con Ed has a blackout.

In response to a question from Duane, Taub said N.Y.C. Transit officials have been talking to St. Vincent’s Hospital about the possibility of joint excavations to avoid the necessity of disrupting the same site twice.

“Listen to us. We’ve been through this before. Let’s think about the potential for public space. Let’s be sure that a 60-foot tower is not an option here,” Duane said at the end of the meeting.