Volume 21, Number 17 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Sept. 5 - 11, 2008
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Residents near Police Plaza have just filed a suit against the city’s plans to build an emergency center in this building next to police headquarters.
Residents file new suit on Park Row plans
By Julie Shapiro
Civic Center residents who hope to see Park Row reopened someday don’t want anything to stand in their way — especially not a new high-tech N.Y.P.D. command center.
They sued the city last week for not notifying the community that the N.Y.P.D. plans to build a $13.8 million emergency command center near One Police Plaza.
The residents, who live in Chatham Towers, Chatham Green and Southbridge Towers, say the command center will make police headquarters more of a terrorist target, endangering their neighborhood. They think the 22,000-square-foot center will require additional security, which would add another roadblock to getting Park Row reopened. Park Row was closed to traffic after 9/11 for security reasons, and roadblocks still sit at either end.
“That’s the worst place that the N.Y.P.D. could propose to put a high-level security facility,” said Jeanie Chin, member of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. “It’s just insane.”
The command center will go in a currently vacant building at 109 Park Row, which is attached to Police Plaza. The building used to house a cafeteria, storage space and Fire Department staff. Renovation of the building is scheduled to start next summer, though residents have observed workers gutting the building already.
At the technology-intensive command center, the Police Department would coordinate the city’s response to terrorist attacks and natural disasters, according to a document from the city Department of Design and Construction.
“The need for such a facility is imperative,” the D.D.C. document states.
At a press conference Wednesday, Civic Center residents and elected officials agreed that the command center is important — but they said it was too important to go in such a sensitive location.
“It’s not fair for the residents and businesses of our Lower Manhattan community to be expected to stand by while the Police Department attempts to turn this part of our neighborhood into a command bunker,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said. “These new plans for One Police Plaza are not welcome in our community.”
The command center is going to worsen the neighborhood’s traffic problems and lower air quality in the neighborhood, Silver said. He also expects that the center will require additional security, which will prevent the city from reopening Park Row.
Because of these concerns, among others, lawyers for the residents say the city should have put the project through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and a City Environmental Quality Review.
“The city can’t just unilaterally decide on its own what to do,” said Roy Taub, an associate at Dewey & LeBoeuf who is representing the residents. “It needs to be considered fully by the public in general.”
The Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Chris Reo, a lawyer for the city, said the city determined the project would not have a significant impact on the community.
“The appropriate environmental review was conducted here,” Reo said. “And this project, which is merely the rehabilitation of an existing building for use by staff that is already present at One Police Plaza, does not require a ULRUP review, as the petitioners suggest.”
A city official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Police Department already has an emergency command center in Police Plaza. It is a central conference room and group of desks where everyone gathers during an emergency to coordinate their response.
The renovation of 109 Park Row would move those operations out of Police Plaza’s main building, giving police officers more space, the official said. The project will not add any new floors to the building or any new employees to police headquarters, the official said, so the building’s impact will be minimal. The renovated building will have new computers and equipment.
The Civic Center residents doubt that the city would add 22,000 square feet of office space and not add any employees.
“It is an inconceivable waste of money if they’re not contemplating expanded employees and expanded function,” Silver told Downtown Express. And if the center does bring in new employees and new functions, Silver said, then it should not be built in Lower Manhattan.
Since the project received capital funding, the residents say it qualifies as a capital project. The placement of any capital project requires a public ULURP review, said Taub, the lawyer.
But the city official said ULURP is for capital projects that more drastically change the use of a piece of land, like converting an office building to a park. ULURP does not cover interior renovations or the movement of a city department from one building to another, the official said.
At Wednesday’s press conference, several speakers who opposed the new command center suggested moving the headquarters out of Lower Manhattan altogether.
“You don’t keep your most sensitive facilities in a place that’s a proven terrorist target,” State Sen. Martin Connor said.
The Civic Center Residents Coalition has sued the city before over the security surrounding Police Plaza, and they settled their most recent lawsuit earlier this year. During one of the meetings with the N.Y.P.D. that was mandated by the settlement, the residents asked about the new command center, which was first reported by the New York Post. The residents were not satisfied with the N.Y.P.D.’s responses and decided to file another suit.
At the press conference, Silver said the N.Y.P.D. should be more transparent with residents.
“You have to serve legal papers on the City of New York, and then somebody will talk to you,” Silver said. “That’s unfortunate.”