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BY ALEX ELLEFSON
Community Board 1 members tore into the Battery Park City Authority Tuesday, accusing it of disregarding the board’s work on a 2013 South End Ave. traffic safety plan in order to advance a more costly and ambitious overhaul of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare this summer.
“This took years of planning. The entire community was involved,” said Tom Goodkind, a member of the CB1’s Battery Park City Committee at its Sept. 6 meeting. “And what we are doing now is scrapping the whole darn thing and saying: ‘Oh, let’s have the authority do it all over again.’ It just seems very, very wasteful.”
On Tuesday, the committee hosted a well-attended presentation of the board’s proposals to improve pedestrian safety and traffic flow on South End Ave. that it created in partnership with the Department of Transportation back in 2013 — three years before the BPCA launched its initiative to remake the development’s main street.
Board member Tammy Meltzer said the board started working with the DOT back then at the community’s behest after 14 crashes occurred in the area between 2007 and 2011.
“There had been several accidents along South End Avenue and we were trying to be on the proactive side and see what DOT could come up with,” she said.
Meltzer said the DOT, after receiving further recommendations from the board, was prepared to move forward on the project — and in 2014 did implement some of the changes deemed necessary for traffic safety, such as new crosswalks, stop signs, and a pedestrian island at W. Thames St.
But the rest of the proposals — such as adding pedestrian islands and building out the sidewalk at the Liberty St. to slow traffic — stalled, she said, because the BPCA wouldn’t cooperate.
Committee chairwoman Ninfa Segarra said board members wanted to ensure that residents had a “historical perspective” about traffic safety issues and the planning that has already been done before the BPCA moves forward on new the plans for South End Ave. the authority floated over the summer.
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting — attended by dozens of residents as well as local Assembly candidates Gigi Li and Yuh-Line Niou — pilloried the BPCA’s proposal as unnecessary and expensive. They particularly faulted the survey the authority’s proposals were based on, which the consulting group Stantec was awarded a $272,000 contract in part to conduct, complaining that its small sample size and poorly framed questions could have yielded unreliable or misleading results on questions with very high stakes for the community.
“We have a $272,000 study that leads us into, if we adopt any of these measures, a multimillion dollar expenditure. It’s going to disrupt the whole community,” said Battery Pointe board president Pat Smith. “The arrogance and the ignorance behind this borders on the criminal.”
The BPCA recently introduced three design concepts based on results of a neighborhood survey that polled 568 of BPC’s 13,386 — about 4 percent — plus South End Avenue business owners and tourists. The proposals include traffic calming measures as well as changes to the covered arcades intended to increase storefront visibility. One concept proposes filling in the arcades with retail space.
Residents were then invited to give feedback at a series of presentations last month, which some residents complain were deliberately scheduled when many locals were away for the summer.
The authority said it will use the responses provided this summer to whittle down the designs to two options and present them to the community again this fall.
BPCA spokesman Nicholas Sbordone said in a statement that instead of disregarding the work of CB1 and DOT, the authority’s proposals build on those efforts.
“Our South End Avenue / West Thames Street study, rather than replacing the Department of Transportation’s previous suggestions for South End Avenue improvements, seeks to optimize them — and minimize attendant construction time — by taking a comprehensive look at potential improvements to the streetscape. This includes traffic and parking concerns, public amenities, and street vitality and appeal.”
But committee co-chair Jeffrey Mihok said that the BPCA’s track record of making unpopular decisions without regard to the views of the community does not bode well for the process of deciding what to do with South End Ave.
“That we have to be telling the authority that is collecting millions of dollars from our community not to ruin it is very vexing,” he said. “No one wants the arcades gone. It’s just a terrible set of ideas from an organization that has proven themselves not to be trustworthy.”
The future of the arcades has emerged as one of the main flashpoints since the rollout of the BPCA’s effort to transform South End Ave., with some residents suspicious that the supposed traffic-safety project is merely cover for the real agenda of creating additional retail space that will generate more revenue for the authority.
Goodkind worried that eliminating the arcades and hiking the commercial rents would not only destroy the character of the neighborhood, it could also turn the area into a retail desert.
“Landlords are holding out for higher-end stores like they have been doing in Tribeca,” he said. “If the Battery Park City Authority is replacing these stores or building them out — I think that’s why they are trying to get rid of the underpasses — to have bigger names, I think we are going to have a lot of empty stores like Tribeca does.”
Segarra said the committee plans to draft a resolution, based on Tuesday’s discussion, that will take a position on the BPCA’s South End Ave. proposals. She would not speculate about what the resolution will say because the other committee members must review it before the resolution is introduced at next month’s meeting.
However, she had strong words during the meeting for the BPCA’s process for engaging the community on the South End Ave. plan.
“The question is: what is the premise? The premise is faulty because the survey is faulty,” she said. “There was a robust amount of community engagement [for the DOT plan] and the authority chose not participate.”