Southbridge residents oppose new garage rate

BY Aline Reynolds

Some residents in Southbridge Towers are circulating a petition in opposition to an increase in parking rates for the building’s garage.

Garage operator Icon Parking Systems recently requested a hike in the resident rates to $98.12 from $68.12 for one car; and $196.24 from $136.24, for the second car. The proposal was introduced to S.B.T.’s board of directors in August, where it was passed by a 12-2 margin.

The proposal now awaits approval by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

“While we regret that resident parking rates will increase, we believe that this is the fairest resolution to the contractual issues,” Dimson said in an August 5 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.”

According to the motion evaluated by the S.B.T. board, “As the expenses exceeded the proceeds, [Icon] is due a full rent credit for the two months in the amount of $191,000.”

The motion also states Icon is entitled to additional payments for garage repairs and a reduction in its monthly rent payments to S.B.T. for unusable car spaces during the construction.

“It’s important to remember the dangerous condition of the garages when Icon assumed operations,” Dimson said in the letter to the S.B.T. residents.

S.B.T.’s two garages contain a total of 776 resident cars, 115 over the city’s legal limit of 661. The board and Icon have therefore agreed to not let in any additional cars for the discounted resident rate until the garages fall below capacity again. “A resident as part of settlement would have to pay $253 per month until January 2012, at which point it goes to market rate,” Dimson said, explaining that the $253 is still a partial discount for residents.

Some S.B.T. residents who are unhappy about the proposal are accusing the S.B.T. board of giving into Icon’s demands at the shareholders’ expense.

“How does paying another $30, or more for a second car, alleviate the [overcrowding] problem? It would still be over-occupied, we’d just be paying more,” said former board member Joe Morrone, one opponent of the new rates. “And why is there no record of the 115 resident parkers?”

According to Dimson, Southbridge couldn’t obtain an accurate count of parked vehicles from the previous operator, Chelnik Parking, and that management surveys distributed to the tenants were returned by only 600 residents. He also said it was not until Icon assumed the operation of the garages that an accurate list was provided.

Morrone and resident Paul Hovitz, former chair of the board’s garage committee, have started a petition to protest the garage rate proposal. The petition states that S.B.T. shareholders have been provided with no financial analysis that justifies the new monthly fares and contests the other expenses owed to the garage operator, “all of which contravene a fully signed, sealed and delivered contract agreement.”

The petition continues, “the board’s very basis for requesting an increase is highly unusual and warrants further investigation, since it will inevitably call into question the very bidding process used to select the current operator…”

The petitioners request from D.H.C.R. an audit to disclose who is eligible for the shareholder rates, as well as a “ruling on why the board thinks it can take away the rights of shareholders to park in a garage that they own,” which they think will benefit Icon and burden shareholders.

Morrone and Hovitz have gathered close to 400 signatures and plan on sending the petition to D.H.C.R. for review at the end of the week. They organized a meeting last Thursday evening in the S.B.T. community room to further discuss the matter.

“It’s creating two classes of shareholders: one that can have cars and one that can’t have cars for the inside rate. It’s a travesty,” Morrone said.

The monthly residential fee for second car has already been doubled earlier this year, he added.

“We don’t want our commercial tenants to go out of business,” he said. “But somebody’s gotta be held accountable for saying, ‘we’re going to raise the rate by 40-something percent.’”

“I don’t think it’s fair,” chimed in resident Phyllis DuPont. “My 24-year-old son just got his [driver’s] license but he’s not going to get a car because he’s not entitled to the discount rate.” Morrone and Hovitz are requesting an open meeting with the S.B.T. board and D.H.C.R. to help clarify the issue.

In the meantime, D.H.C.R. spokesperson Andy O’Rourke said the chief administrator of this project would be reviewing all additional public feedback, including the petition, even though the official public comment period ended August 24.

“We’re here to serve the people,” O’Rourke said. “Everything and anything that comes in either during the public period, or that is generated by the public comment period, will be taken into account when making our decision.”

Residents, meanwhile, are already thinking twice about purchasing or leasing a new car. Morrone’s daughter, Frances, who has lived in S.B.T. her whole life, said she’ll have to forgo renting a vehicle because of the new garage fare.

“We definitely need a car,” with a seven-year-old son and a second child on the way, she said. “But with these new rules, we’d be paying almost as much in parking fees as we’d be paying to lease the car. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“I hope they take into consideration the economy, and people who have lived here their whole lives,” she added.