Community opposition is building to city plans that could allow developers to knock down two local schools and build luxury high-rises with new schools in their place. If the city moves ahead, PS 191 on 61st street and PS 199 on 70th street would be demolished as soon as 2015. But numerous community leaders, nearby homeowners and others have begun speaking out.
The plan, which we first wrote about a couple of weeks ago, has progressed to the point that developers have already submitted proposals detailing how they want to redevelop the sites. The city told the developers that they could build luxury housing on the sites without the public review process (called ULURP) that usually accompanies large building projects.
When parents began asking questions, a city official said that the ULURP process will be used (but…Educational Construction Fund Executive Director Jamie Smarr, the official who made those promises, has since stepped down from his position. It’s not clear who will be the new executive director). PS 199 President Eric Shuffler and others are trying to get that ULURP pledge in writing.
The Department of Education has said that if it chooses one of the proposals for either of the schools it will then consult the community about what people want. The department is expected to decide whether it will move ahead with particular proposals by June 2013. But the remaining questions about the proposal and the fact that it was essentially hidden for months, have left many people unsettled.
Local opposition has taken various forms:
- People who live in buildings close to PS 199 are concerned about the construction, and are urging neighbors to fight the project. Residents at 210 West 70th street plan to come to tomorrow night’s community board to protest. They say: “PLEASE WRITE AND CALL AND PROTEST A.S.A.P. The infrastructure of W. 70th Street cannot sustain any more construction nightmares, noise & filth, rats, mice etc. We need the Sunlight that’s left…The neighborhood is over-populated as it is. Subways are full, taxis are scarce. Traffic would increase! The School Children, Parents, Teachers and Community must not be displaced in this irresponsible manner!A new fight for what’s right! Heaven Help Us.”
- Some want the city to immediately involve the community in the process before the DOE chooses a proposal to push forward. City Council candidate Mel Wymore says he is “indignant at the lack of consideration shown to us, and resolved to have it corrected as soon as possible…For the city to even consider privatizing public spaces, it must begin with the consultation, assent, and constant engagement of the people for whom those schools, or parks, or hospitals were built to serve. That’s why I proposed a resolution at Community Board 7 calling for a formal structure that explicitly includes community participation in all discussions related to the future of PS 199 or PS 191 starting right now.”
- Similarly, the Ansonia Independent Democrats and the Park River Independent Democrats want public hearings before anything happens: “It is hereby further resolved that the failure the Department of Education to inform the community of PS 199 of its proposals to demolish PS 199, sell the land to a developer so that it may build a high rise building on a low rise brown stone block represents the arrogance and high-handedness of an administration with little regard community’s opinions and concerns; and It is hereby further resolved that no further action should be taken in regard to the demolition and sale of PS 199 prior to the conduct of public hearings before the appropriate public bodies to determine the best solution to the educational problems confronting the PS 199 community.”
- Gale Brewer and Scott Stringer say that demolishing the buildings would waste millions in taxpayer dollars that had been spent in recent years to upgarde the schools. “Most recently, l allocated $900,000 to PS 191 for the creation of a multi-media center and renovated schoolyard, and PS 199 will soon open their library media center which received $115,000 from my office, in addition to a greenhouse and Science Pavilion to which I allocated $165,000. These taxpayer funds, as well as those used for building upgrades through the Five Year Capital plan, including light fixture remediation at PS 199, would be wasted should either building be demolished for development.”
- Given its history, there is no reason to trust the Department of Education, say others like City Council candidate Noah Gotbaum: “Given our community’s experience with Bloomberg’s DOE over the past 5 years, I believe that they simply can not be trusted and we will have to fight like hell to prevent them from underbuilding our schools and overbuilding our neighborhood – and to have ANY say whatsoever in the process.”
We have also heard some positive comments about the plans, however.
- City Council candidate Helen Rosenthal says that her friends on the East side were happy with the process to build a school using similar tactics. “I don’t understand the rush to hold this [proposal] at bay,” she said in a meeting, according to DNAinfo.
- Gothamist writer Garth Johnston, who attended PS 199, says that the school is a dump and should probably be rebuilt. “Twenty years ago P.S. 199 was a mess of a school building and we can’t imagine its gotten any better. Yes, students will have to go to school elsewhere for a while, but these things happen.” A Gothamist commenter who said she had taught at the school wrote: “I think they have cleaned up the school a lot since you have been there.”
The proposal will be discussed at a Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday night starting at 6:30 p.m. at Jewish Home Lifecare, 120 West 106th Street (it’s unlikely that city officials will be there; this is just an opportunity for the community board to hear opinions and possibly pass a resolution).
What do you think? And what’s the best way for locals to respond?
Thank you to everyone who has been sending in tips and comments.