Southbridge parking rate increase?


BY Aline Reynolds

The battle is on about whether to increase garage rates for residents of Southbridge Towers.

Wally Dimson, president of the S.B.T. board of directorsm, and garage contractor, ICON, have mutually agreed to increase the garage rate for residents by $30 per monthcausing uproar among some S.B.T. residents. ICON will collect 80 percent of the revenues, while S.B.T. will get 20 percent.

“While we were able to reach an agreement that will permit everyone who is currently parked in the garage to continue to receive a discounted rate, it will be necessary to raise the rate that is currently paid by resident parkers,” said Dimson in an August 5th letter to S.B.T. residents. “A resident rate of $98.12 per month is far below prices that are paid in most Manhattan cooperatives, including those that are part of the Mitchell-Lama program.”

Southbridge Towers is currently in the legal process considering whether or not to reconstitute as a private cooperative and leave the Mitchell-Lama program.

There are currently 776 resident vehicles in housing complex’s two garages, 115 more than the legally allotted number of 661. Dimson argues that a fare increase is necessary in order to steer clear of additional payments to ICON, a dispute that would have likely ended up in the courts.

“The choice became whether…to provide additional rent credits [to ICON], or those who are over parked in the garage to pay a proportionate share,” Dimson said. “We felt it was fairest that the people who park shoulder the increase to allow everybody to continue to park and not risk the litigation on it at this point.”

ICON’s proposal to remove 115 cars using a lottery system, as a solution to the problem, was immediately repudiated by the board.

“It would be arbitrary and unfair to the 115 Southbridge residents,” Dimson said in the letter to the S.B.T. residents.

The proposed rates are part of a modified contract with ICON that requires approval of the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal, which is responsible for the supervision, maintenance and development of affordable housing.

If the increased fares go through, none of the excess cars will be kicked out. But new resident parkers won’t be allowed in.

“No new cars will be accepted at the resident rate until the number of resident parkers drops below 661 vehicles,” according to Dimson’s letter, a solution some residents find unfair.

“Just because you haven’t had a car in the past, you should not be penalized for wanting to have one now,” said S.B.T. resident Paul Hovitz, a former board member and ex-chair of the board’s garage committee, who opposes the new contract.

Hovitz said that he and other opponents of the new fees are contemplating filing a class-action lawsuit to contest the fees when and if they are enforced.

“All shareholders came into this development with the right to have the car at a [discount] resident rate,” Hovitz said, adding that the board promised shareholders earlier in the year that the rates would not increase once ICON took over the garages.

“Can I afford this money? Yes. And yes, it’s still a good deal. But there are [residents] here who this will have a much greater impact on, particularly in this economy,” said Hovitz.

ICON’s contesting of the number of parked cars at the residential discounted rate is “really ludicrous,” he added.

In a letter to D.H.C.R., resident and former board president Victor Papa said, “There is no justifiable reason to grant ICON any increase based on the assertions Mr. Dimson claims, much less pass on the cost of that increase to [Southbridge Towers] shareholders, whether having one or more parking space[s].”

Papa also argued in his letter that the board should have obtained the parking count prior to entering into an agreement with ICON.

Dimson faults the former garage contractor, Chelnik Parking, for not disclosing an accurate count of the number of resident parkers in the garages. Management surveys sent out to S.B.T. residents “were returned only by 600 residents,” Dimson said.

Papa and other Southbridge residents also question why S.B.T. would get any of the revenues, claiming the new agreement is a disguise to make the building complex more eligible for privatization.

As board president, Wally Dimson is not authorized to comment on the privatization due to a gag order placed on the board by the attorney general’s office.

The amended contract is currently in a ten-day public comment period phase that will end on August 24th. D.H.C.R. said it has already been inundated with letters from community members.

“Given the amount of feedback so far, a decision won’t be made until late September,” said Andy O’Rourke, assistant public information officer for D.H.C.R.

Meanwhile, ICON is reconstructing both of the 40-year-old garages, which have dilapidated over the years, per the terms of the contract.

“Years of neglect had resulted in falling concrete and exposed rebar that placed sections of the garages in danger of collapse,” Dimson’s letter stated.

Temporary fixes were made so that the garage could stay open until ICON began reconstruction earlier this year. The $3 million construction project is moving along as planned and should be completed by next spring, according to Dimson.