Parking garage plan divides Chatham Green

By David H. Ellis

With the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation considering the Chatham Green Houses complex as a potential site for an underground parking garage, the building’s shareholders and board members are already split as to whether the project would be a blessing or a boondoggle.

Believing that the structure would pose serious threats to their quality of life, about 25 of the building’s nearly 1,000 residents gathered in a conference room above Mott St. on Tuesday to speak out against the project which was proposed nearly two months ago by the L.M.D.C.

“I don’t think it’s to our advantage – it would disrupt our lives,” said one woman during the meeting. “I don’t think it’s worth the money.”

According to Ed Lam, a board member of the 419-unit Chatham Green complex, he believes this could be a boon for the cooperative and its shareholders, even though the project is still in the preliminary stages,

“At this time we think it is a good idea, but we don’t know enough details and that’s the biggest issue — right now it’s just a thought,” said Lam in a telephone interview July 1. “Our board consists of professionals and business owners so we tend to think it through, do the analysis and make the right decision. We are anticipating if it all works out, our tenants would greatly benefit from having it in place.”

Although further studies would be required to determine the costs, the project would have about 750 parking spaces that would be primarily located underneath the landscaped section of the site. The L.M.D.C. is also considering the former Collect Pond site near the courts at the intersection of Lafayette and Leonard Sts., as part of its study to improve Chinatown traffic and parking conditions.

In the summer of 2001, the Police Department closed a nearby municipal parking garage. After 9/11 the police scrapped its plan to build a 911, calling center at the garage site, but kept the garage closed for security reasons.

During the meeting, residents questioned the risks and rewards of the project, stressing issues such as security concerns, while many were fearful of how the garage’s presence would affect traffic flow along St. James Pl., which has become more congested since the police closure of Park Row. Other concerns included the unforeseeable construction complications that might arise because of the building’s location above a potential underground stream, while other shareholders were not sure if they would reap any monetary benefits after this investment.

“For the pain we would have to go through for that garage, how much of that revenue are the shareholders going to see?” said Danny Chen, a resident and shareholder in Chatham Green. “That’s the big question.”

Lam said that since the building would not likely have the funds to pay for the whole project, he believed financial support would have to come from city, state or even private sources. As property owners however, Chatham Green would lease the garage to a parking company who would manage the space.

The board and shareholders would have to vote on the issue before any further action is taken.

“The board has had a history of not working with us,” said Chen, referencing disagreements over the operation of the building corporation and receiving nods of agreement from other residents at the meeting. “We’re trying to make sure this time around that we’re not sold short. We’re making sure the board adheres to the best interests of the shareholders and not to any other interests.”

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