Park Row lawsuit continues as talks stall

By Sascha Brodsky

Police say the barriers sprouting up around City Hall are there to deter terrorists. But residents of two Downtown housing complexes have been saying for more than a year that the barricades are turning their neighborhood into a virtual prison.

Now, the residents of Chatham Green Houses and Chatham Towers are suing the Police Department over proposed permanent security barriers on Park Row and Worth Street.

“My biggest concern is that they are enclosing our buildings, they are actually going to place barricades north of our driveway,” said Ed Lam, a resident of Chatham Green. “This could be a permanent enclosure.”

Citing security concerns, the Police Department closed Park Row between Worth St. and City Hall to civilian cars on Sept. 11, 2001 and to M.T.A. buses in May of 2002, and it has remained closed ever since. The Police Department recently proposed the installation of barriers at both ends of the closed section. Local residents are worried that the move signals the department’s intention to make the closure permanent.

In a court appearance last Wednesday, the residents asked for a restraining order against the city and the New York Police Department and against the installation of permanent street barriers around police headquarters. The judge denied the restraining order because the barriers are temporary. At the hearing, lawyers for the city said they would meet with the residents to discuss their concerns and try to come to an agreement to head off the suit.

Another court hearing was set for May 9.

In the meeting Monday between residents and the city, a police official defended the temporary barriers by saying emergency vehicles will always be allowed through, according to tenant leaders.

“But I am concerned that this could lead to a dangerous situation which will be permanent,” said Danny Chen, a member of the board of directors of Chatham Green.

Chen said the residents would proceed with the lawsuit because the city refused to guarantee that the barriers would be removed or to make any promises.

Another meeting between residents and the city is scheduled for May 13.

Residents of the two Downtown housing complexes have been arguing for more than a year that the barriers are unnecessary and are hurting the local economy and impeding access to the area.

“What the police have done with these barriers is to make life very difficult for us and it doesn’t do much to stop potential terrorists,” said Chen.

“The community hopes to impress upon the judge that the City and the N.Y.P.D. has for 19 months been engaged in an emergency response that has given little or no consideration for the health, safety, and welfare of thousands of residents of the area surrounding police headquarters,” according to a news release by the residents in the suit.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was among the politicians who recently signed on to the lawsuit.

“The residents of these buildings have suffered a severe and prolonged reduction in their quality of life as a result of a decision that was made in private and without any significant community input,” Silver said in a statement. “For months, I have worked to reverse this policy and secure a constructive role for the affected residents and businesses in the decisions being made. This lawsuit is truly a last resort, but it is needed given the refusal by the N.Y.P.D. and the city to acknowledge and address the community’s concerns.”

“Closing a primary access road without a plan even for an ambulance to get to sick residents is sheer callousness,” Councilmember Alan Gerson said in a statement. “The unilateral taking of a major artery serving the Chinatown community, not to mention denial of residents’ free access to private property, is unacceptable.”

Court papers filed by the residents last week complain, “Habitability is adversely affected by the lack of access of emergency vehicles and increased traffic congestion and pollution caused to the neighboring streets.”

Residents say that the many elderly and disabled people living in the area have been particularly inconvenienced by the street closures.

One resident named in the lawsuit, Marian Lizzio, said in court papers, “On one occasion I was denied access to my residence one evening and was told to drive away and ‘park somewhere else and walk’ to my residence. I protested, as I had my wheelchair-bound mother in the car with me. A police officer advised me that I could not enter my own home. I had to pay to park six blocks away and wheel my 89-year-old mother in her chair along very torn up and bumpy streets on a very cold night.”

The lawsuit also says that residents have suffered because of the street closures adding, “This is particularly tragic in the wake of September 11th for a community already ravaged by the events of that date.”

Calls to a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, who is named in the lawsuit, were not returned by press time.



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