Waterfront, health cuts, bike paths on C.B. 3 agenda


By Lesley Sussman 

It was a hard day’s night for a representative of the Department of City Planning who appeared before the full Community Board 3 meeting on Tuesday, March 23, at P.S. 20, 166 Essex St., to talk about the city’s new waterfront redevelopment plan.

City planner Arthur Huh showed up for the 6:30 p.m. meeting to invite residents to participate in a public hearing scheduled by City Planning to discuss its new citywide comprehensive plan. The hearing will be held 6 p.m. on Thurs., April 8, at Murry Bergtraum High School, 411 Pearl St.

But board members dashed cold water on his presentation after the city planner said he knew nothing about C.B. 3 ’s longtime involvement in the East River waterfront portion of the redevelopment plan.  

“As you know,” Huh told about 100 local residents who attended the meeting, “the original waterfront development plan was first issued in 1992. But I’m here tonight to announce that the department’s kicking off of an ambitious public review schedule for our new, comprehensive waterfront development plan. We’ve been asked by the City Council to re-examine the plan every 10 years, beginning with this year.”

After his remarks, C.B. 3 board secretary Lois Regan asked the city planner, “How does all this relate to our own board’s plan, which has been in place for five years and has already been approved by the city?”  

The C.B. 3 plan covers an area stretching from East River Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. It calls, in part, for the construction of two new pavilions under the F.D.R. Drive near Rutgers Slip to be used for community-based dance, exercise and recreation purposes.

Huh seem flustered by the question, admitting that he was unaware of any such plan. 

“I’m just here to announce the process to develop a new plan so that we can get feedback on all the issues,” he said.

That answer didn’t seem to satisfy C.B. 3 Chairperson Dominic Pisciotta and Second Vice Chairperson Anne Johnson, who pressed him further on the matter.

“What’s not clear here is that Community Board 3 already has a plan for the redevelopment of the East River all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge,” Pisciotta said. “What’s happening to the plan that we’ve already put forward and we’re awaiting action on it?”

Once, again, Huh replied that he had no answer and would have to report back to the board.

Johnson, meanwhile, asked the planner why he was so unprepared for this meeting.

“Aren’t you aware that there’s a plan out there?” she asked. “No offense to you personally, but why did they send you out here without giving you any details? It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to us.”

Huh reiterated, “I’m not here to describe the plan, because there really isn’t one in place at this point. The process now is to finalize a new, overall framework for the new plan and that’s what this series of public hearings will be all about.” 

Health program cuts

In other business, the board also took sharp aim at the mayor’s preliminary executive budget, which calls for cuts to vital public health programs in the East Village and throughout the city.

The board unanimously passed a resolution calling upon the City Council to restore its proposed cuts to public health programs and services in the area, such as a $6.1 million cut to child health clinics, eliminating nurses in elementary schools with less than 300 students, and a $3.5 million cut to the Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative.

Other proposed budget cuts for next year include:

• $4.2 million from case-management services provided by the Human Resources Administration’s H.I.V./AIDS Services Administration;

• $300,000 deduction from H.I.V. prevention and services this year and $750,000 in coming years;

• $1.4 million from mental health, mental retardation, and developmental disability services;

• $1.6 million cut in mental health treatment programs for children under age 5;

• Elimination of administrative oversight for the Physically Disabled Children’s Program.

• Layoffs at various health agencies.

 The board also called upon the city Comptroller’s Office to investigate and track how the city used its Federal Medicaid Matching Assistance Percentage increases, and to advocate for those dollars to be partially used to maintain public health programs and services.

 Several C.B. 3 members expressed particular concern about the proposed laying off of school nurses.

Meghan Joye, C.B. 3 assistant secretary, said, “It’s hugely important to keep nurses in schools on hand,” and called upon the community board to “take a strong stand” against any such layoffs.

Also speaking out on the subject, board member Vaylateena Jones said that with more and more school children suffering from asthma and type 2 diabetes, “We really need a nurse in all our schools. The Board of Education is reviewing its wellness policies, but it takes a lot more than nutrition to keep kids like these healthy.”

After the meeting, Pisciotta, the board’s chairperson, spoke more to The Villager about the proposed cuts

The cuts, he said, would have a “tremendous impact on our community, which has a lot of seniors living in it, as well as people in public housing who need such services. We’d definitely like to see all the funding restored.”

He added that the board will continue to relay this message loud and clear to councilmembers who are now working on the city’s executive budget. 

“We have a close relationship with our city councilmembers and we are staying on top of it,” he said. “We’ll take any action that we need to do.”

New bike lanes

On another matter, members of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives organization — a group dedicated to making city streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists — expressed their support for the Department of Transportation’s plans to install bike lanes on Stanton, Rivington and Suffolk Sts. that would make access to the Williamsburg Bridge easier and safer.

Carolyn Samponaro, T.A. director of bicycle advocacy, said the Williamsburg Bridge was the most popular bridge for cycling in New York City, and that bike traffic had increased enormously over the past nine years. She added that many cyclists now use heavily congested Delancey St. to enter and exit the bridge, and that in past years there have been many serious accidents and at least one fatality. 

“Conditions for cyclers along Delancey St. are very dangerous,” she said. “And because the Department of Transportation doesn’t want to address the issue of bike lanes along Delancey St. right now, these proposed bike lanes are really essential safety improvements for people who choose to bike in the neighborhood and through the neighborhood for transportation. It’s a way for them to get crosstown without having to use Delancey.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Ian Dutton, vice chairperson of Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee, who said there was once a similar problem along Houston St. in the West Village, where conditions were “as hazardous and deadly as they are along Delancey St.” He added that new bicycle lanes that the city has installed along Prince and Bleecker Sts. have improved matters significantly. 

“It’s a much more bicycle-friendly environment in the West Village since bike lanes have been put in,” he said, “especially along Prince St., where in the mornings during rush hour, you’ll see more bicyclists than cars driving by and the number of cyclists on Houston St. has dropped.”

C.B. 3, meanwhile, also threw its support behind D.O.T.’s efforts to install new protected bicycle lanes in the East Village. The board adopted a resolution that stated that the proposed bike lanes would provide a “safe network for cyclists to and from the Williamsburg Bridge rather than Delancey St.”